Everton became the only unbeaten team in the Premier League courtesy of Leighton Baines’ free-kick double and Romelu Lukaku’s late intervention at West Ham in a result that demonstrated the resolve within Roberto Martinez’s squad, the options available to the manager, and his willingness to try new ideas when the old ones haven’t worked.
Martinez understandably started with the XI that beat Chelsea but the first-half was shorn of the drive that saw off Jose Mourinho’s side. A deflected goal sent Everton in trailing at the break and Martinez responded with two substitutions, Lukaku and James McCarthy on for Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith.
The interval was the first realistic chance Martinez had to change things around and he took it. Many of his counterparts and, indeed, his predecessor would likely wait 15 minutes to see how the second-half began but in this instance, Martinez made an instant switch. Everton had been somewhat lifeless in the opening half but the introduction of two new signings, one for his debut, almost guaranteed the team would liven up a little.
That Martinez was able to bring on a £13m midfielder and one of the league’s leading scorers last season is testament to the depth within the side. Even with a handful of injuries – Steven Pienaar and Darron Gibson – the manager has strong alternatives in most positions, a legacy of the positive transfer deadline day that saw three arrivals and two departures to go with the four signings made early in the summer.
David Moyes used fewer players than any other manager last season and it told at times, when the team looked heavy-legged and lacking inspiration. Moyes had more replacements available than the statistic suggests but was at times reluctant to use them. Martinez has shown himself to be more willing to turn to the squad players, although Lukaku and McCarthy cannot be considered mere back-ups.
Martinez has also driven down the average age of the side, with the players chosen in the final home game of last season against West Ham, under Moyes, coming in at 27.9 to Martinez’s 24.7 against the same team. The presence of Ross Barkley is the main reason for that but along with the passing and possession stats, it’s another number that speaks of a positive start for the former Wigan boss.
However, possession does not win points. Fortunately for Martinez, Baines’ free-kicks do, and likewise brave Lukaku headers even if the scorer has no memory of the goal. Everton had 59% of the ball but only four shots on target out of 10 attempted, indicating that West Ham were content to defend deep in numbers and tempt Everton into inaccurate shots from distance. It was a theme established at home to West Brom and one Everton have to prevent becoming more commonplace as the season goes on.
Baines cannot score two free-kicks in every game, so more reliable ways of getting goals must be found. Lukaku, with the right service could be one of them, but a little more is still needed from his teammates to ensure this dramatic triumph isn’t eventually for naught.
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