Evolution and DNA have become marketing buzzwords for Everton, the former tagged on to the unveiling of the re-designed club crest and the latter used on adverts for the new away kit, and while Everton have not quite yet evolved to play Roberto Martinez’s desired brand of football without fault, the win over Chelsea was borne of a strand of the club’s identity that dates back to the Spaniard’s predecessor.
Such hard-fought victories over the better-financed clubs in the Premier League were a staple of the David Moyes years, memorable triumphs over Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City coming fairly regularly at Goodison Park. The old ground saw a series of changes over the summer but the retention of the fighting spirit within the team and the ability to generate of a cacophony of noise from the stands evidently remains, as in the second-half Everton’s resilience was astounding and matched by the fervour from the supporters.
But it could all have been so different. Chelsea had ample opportunity in the first-half to put the game out of sight – indeed, the visitors recorded twice as many shots as the hosts over the course of the game as a whole, and took the majority of possession as well. If Everton had been a few goals down at the break they could not really have complained and they would have only had themselves to blame.
Watching Everton in possession in their own half during the first 45 minutes was akin to watching an acrobat walk the high wire; both only one slip from disaster. Everton contrived to lose possession in the most dangerous areas possible, including their own six yard box, and had profligate Chelsea finishing and superb recovery tackles, particularly from man of the match debutant Gareth Barry, to thank for avoiding the punishment their sloppiness deserved.
Tim Howard’s blunder in particular, where he passed the ball straight to a Chelsea attacker inside the penalty area, was reminiscent of the mistake Joel Robles made last season for Wigan, when his hurried clearance struck Gareth Bale and cannoned into the goal. Barry saved the United States international’s blushes and Howard soon made a stunning save to keep out Ramires, but on another evening the game would have been gone long before Steven Naismith’s poacher’s effort on the brink of the interval.
To their credit Martinez’s team improved after half-time, cutting out the mistakes but staying true to Martinez’s principles. Chelsea still had plenty of possession and Everton were reduced to counter-attacking through the powerful running of Ross Barkley, but mistakes were fewer and further between and Phil Jagielka, in particular, grew in stature in defence. It was still Barry, however, who was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch, belying his lack of match action this season to enter a super performance.
Too often under Moyes these sorts of performances were quickly undone with a poor result against less glamorous opposition – think beating Chelsea on penalties in the FA Cup then losing at home to Reading in the next round. Martinez has the perfect springboard from which to launch his Everton tenure and clearly the makings of a solid team, one starting to take on his image but recalling a little of what worked in the past.
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