Replacing a legend is never easy. Despite what the naysayers might claim, that was David Moyes. For Roberto Martinez anything other than a top 7 finish would have been viewed as a disappointment. Thankfully Martinez rose to the challenge in every way possible.
The appointment of the former Wigan manager was greeted with what was best called cautious optimism. An FA Cup victory coupled with relegation led many fans to wonder just how good the Spaniard was. Obviously keeping Wigan afloat for so long was a job well done, but relegation always carries a stigma in the English Premier League. It was hard to believe that a manager of a relegated club could jump to a side with an outside chance at Champions League football.
Everyone was won over pretty quickly though, especially in the transfer window. Martinez's initial moves seemed to be a classic case of a manager bringing in players he's comfortable with, but deadline day is where Martinez continued the tradition Moyes started. McCarthy, Lukaku, and Barry would form the nucleus of the team this year. In Lukaku Everton finally had a real striker, and McCarthy and Barry were the perfect compliment of defensive prowess and ball control that Martinez's tactics require. While Marouanne Fellaini departed for a hefty sum, thanks for that David, there weren't many fans who were truly upset about it. With plenty of reinforcements coming in this was not a Joleon Lescott saga.
And after the transfer window we saw where Roberto excels, tactics. With the exception of 2 or 3 games, Martinez's tactics were spot on. He was able to increase Everton's possession and with it the ability to score. While the pundits are all about possession and passing stats, the important thing is scoring goals, and that is where the tactics really showed.
Under Moyes the general plan was to work the ball around, get it wide, and cross it in to the box; one of the most inefficient methods of scoring goals. With Martinez, the emphasis was on movement in the final third and attacking through the heart of the defense. This led to some scintillating goals from all corners, punctuated by a Ross Barkley wonder strike against Manchester City.
Martinez also loves playing out of the back, and even Sylvian Distin has looked comfortable with the ball at his feet. The system is designed to stretch the opposing defense. Make them pressure the Everton defense and then 3 passes later the Toffees are in the opposing teams box. Not a bad system, and pretty effective.
We've also seen a big resurgence in the youth movement. Ross Barkely and John Stones played huge parts in the campaign. Seamus Coleman continued to grow as a footballer, and even in the academy there is talk of the next generation of Everton stars. With Moyes that talk remained talk, under Martinez it can manifest in an actual factual first team player.
But the single biggest thing Martinez has done isn't seen in the stats. Martinez has brought hope and belief to an Everton side grounded in pragmatism. No longer does Everton sit back and absorb pressure just hoping for a counter. Now Everton takes the game to the opponent. Sometimes it ends poorly like the Merseyside Derby. Other times we see results like Manchester United in December and Arsenal in April. Beautiful displays of football where you believe Everton could win against anyone. That mentality is needed heading into Europe.
Moving forward the real question is can Martinez take the next step? It is one thing to maintain success, another to get to the Champions League. The squad is a few pieces away from realistically competing, but it is a hard step to take. It will require significant investment and a keen eye in the transfer window. Martinez will not be afforded any mistakes going forward, but the future finally looks bright and it may be now.