A fixture Evertonians having been dreaming about since the top four finish of the 2004/05 campaign; Everton vs. Real Madrid produced an intrepid performance from the Toffees despite it being a friendly and a loss. Los Blancos came away from the game with a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil. Blue fans however will take a positive in the fact that Nikica Jelavic scored another goal in preseason to add to his two against Blackburn Rovers after a barren first full season at the People’s Club.
Arriving at Dodger Stadium, Everton would have been high in confidence after their penalty shootout victory against Juventus in the early hours of Thursday morning (UK time). Furthermore, fans arriving at the stadium would have been ecstatic to hear that Madrid would be fielding a full strength side with the likes of Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Mesut Ozil, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo all starting the game. For the Toffees there was a first preseason outing for experienced Dutch international John Heitinga – playing in role floating between centre midfield and centre defence. It was also a second start for newly signed striker Arouna Kone although Evertonians only had the first half to have a look at their new number nine in the blue shirt of Everton.
The game opened as a ‘scrappy’ affair with the opening exchanges being stunted with free kicks being given to either side. It was Everton who had the inaugural effort on goal although Kevin Mirallas’ left footed shot after cutting inside was wide to the right of goal. In exchange Real Madrid’s version of Kevin Mirallas; Cristiano Ronaldo struck a right footed shot over after being assisted by Sergio Ramos. However seven minutes later Ronaldo made no mistake in rectifying his goals to shots ratio by sending another right footed shot this time to the bottom left corner; assisted by German international Mesut Ozil.
The Toffees came back well in reply with a Leon Osman shot missing to the right and a couple of corners and freekicks being won. Then in the 25th minute last season’s top scorer Marouane Fellaini hit the right post with a header coming from a Leighton Baines cross; a partnership rumoured to be on their way to Old Trafford following David Moyes. Then in the 31st minute, Ronaldo returned the favour to Mesut Ozil in providing him with an assist which the 24 year-old dispatched with his trusty left foot into the bottom right corner of Tim Howard’s net.
At the start of the second half the 2012 Spanish champions made six changes; bringing on Angel Di Maria, Nacho, Fabio Coentrao, Diego Lopez, Daniel Carvajal and Casemiro who replaced Isco, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Iker Casillas, Alvaro Arbeloa and former Tottenham man Luka Modric. The Blues made just one change bringing Jelavic on for the ineffective Kone. It was Real Madrid who started the half better with Karim Benzema having his outside the box attempt saved by the American Howard.
Everton then began to grow into the half with Kevin Mirallas’ direct running and pass into the box being met by a flick from the substitute Jelavic only to be saved by Diego Lopez. Then a camera save for his viewing home country from Tim Howard from a Di Maria effort after it taking a deflection off Leon Osman. One of the biggest cheers of the encounter came for the arrival of young Spanish midfielder Jese although it was Cristiano Ronaldo who he was replacing.
It was obviously Ronaldo’s defensive qualities that Madrid were missing as a minute after his departure Everton’s Nikica Jelavic capped off a well worked move by the Toffees with a left footed shot on the half turn. Kevin Mirallas ran inside from the right flank giving the ball to Fellaini who seen the overlapping run of fullback Seamus Coleman and set him free to cross (slightly over hit), Steven Naismith won a header he had no right to against the towering Daniel Carvajal and finding Jelavic. The young Jese skinned three Everton players and released a right foot shot to Howard’s right, who saved superbly with his right boot a couple of minutes later in response.
Another of the biggest uproars came for the entrance of Kaka to proceedings, American fans obviously having longer footballing or ‘soccer’ memories than we give them credit for. Three minutes before that Everton brought Darron Gibson and Ross Barkley on for Heitinga and Fellaini and the introduction of the pair was not too dissimilar to the introduction of Andrea Pirlo for Juventus against the Toffees two days earlier. Everton began to keep possession even more but at this point with a purpose and intent, and began to look more likely to find an equaliser.
Both sides exchanged parting blows with Jelavic and Jagielka going close from a free kick and a header from a corner respectively, and Di Maria and Jese both sending shots wide for Madrid. In 83rd minute Blues fans were provided the opportunity to see on-loan Barcelona midfielder Gerard Deulofeu in an Everton shirt for the first time when he replaced the allusive Belgian Mirallas. Deulofeu showed he can beat a man when he skinned his opposition fullback Fabio Coentrao in the 89th minute although over hitting the resulting cross to the onrushing Nikica Jelavic looking for his and Everton’s second goal of the game. Apart from that instance it was a subdued end to the game with Real coming close through a Coentrao header and a blocked Denis Cheryshev shot from outside the box.
There were various positives and negatives the Toffees and Roberto Martinez can take from this friendly heading into more friendlies and then the upcoming 2013/14 campaign. Firstly Everton can be optimistic from their performances against a side of the stature of Madrid and also in their previous game against Juventus. Furthermore, the few glimpses of Steven Naismith playing central behind Nikica Jelavic and coming infield from the left showed him to be a completely different player to the one struggling on the right last season; these being positions he his more accustomed to from his time at Rangers. Additionally, Ross Barkley coming on did not look out of place and that must be seen in positive fashion given the calibre of Los Blancos’ midfield and neither did Seamus Coleman showing that he will be Everton’s first choice right back for years to come; coping with the likes of Ronaldo, Di Maria and Coentrao and then finding the time to get forward and create various openings for the Toffees. Finally the entrance of Darron Gibson constructs the impression that many of the Blues attacks will start through his excellent passing and playing out of defence as Martinez insists on will mean that Gibson and his midfield partner must be free at all times in order to not lose possession.
However in terms of negatives evident from this game is that Martinez’s style of play is not always effective when a team presses high up the pitch as Real Madrid did and also when Everton are looking for a goal the style of play is less effective than when in front. Moreover, without Pienaar most of the creativity had to come through Kevin Mirallas and because Fellaini was playing deep Jelavic and in the first half, Kone looked extremely isolated. Heitinga floating from defence to midfield at times was a wasted position considering Fellaini and Osman were playing deep and it took Martinez until the 68th minute to change this fact. Even more, some players do not look comfortable playing the ball out of defence; for instance, Tim Howard, Sylvain Distin and at times John Heitinga look flappable when teams are pressing high and centre midfielders are not available for the pass – which results in a loss of the ball or a ‘hoof’ up the pitch, I’m not sure which Martinez is displeased more with. In America the defence has looked solid enough in defending but it is when the defence has the ball which is going to be the main upheaval in the transition from Moyes to Martinez. In attack when there is no Pienaar or Mirallas Everton’s creativity is low and it will probably be up to Barkley and Deulofeu and definitely Baines and Gibson to solve this creative dilemma. However when on the ball and creating opportunities the football is not deviating to that of which Moyes was playing especially in the latter part of last season which has to be considered as a positive to any Evertonian or even any fan of football viewing or attending games that the Toffees will be involved in this upcoming season.