Five wins, four draws and just one defeat in Everton’s opening 10 games in all competitions represents a satisfactory start to the 2015-16 season.
Roberto Martinez’s side are currently seventh in the Premier League after having faced five of last year’s top seven already. They are also through to the League Cup fourth round for the first time since 2011 after coming from behind to win two games away from home. It paints a much more settled picture heading into autumn after another turbulent summer that threatened to derail their start to the season.
Top five highlights
1) Supersub Naismith stuns Chelsea
Thankfully there is plenty of choice when it comes to highlights but Steven Naismith’s perfect hat-trick against champions Chelsea is a clear winner in my eyes. Chelsea’s failed summer pursuit of John Stones provided a feisty backdrop, with Evertonians gleefully reminding Jose Mourinho that even with Roman’s roubles at his disposal, the England defender wasn’t for sale. Naismith was an unlikely match-winner, mainly because he started the game on the bench. But his early introduction for the unlucky Muhamed Besic proved the catalyst for a fine all-round display and one of the most satisfying wins of the year – made even more sweeter by Mourinho’s post-match rant.
2) Rise of the youth
They may not be big spenders in the transfer market but when it comes to developing young players Everton are amongst the best. Their rapid rise to the senior side has helped to add much-needed depth and competition to the squad at a time when it has been stretched by injury. Ross Barkley has led the youthful revolution and looks ready to put his ‘difficult second season’ well and truly behind him after a fine start to the year. John Stones has also put transfer speculation behind him to become one of the most consistent defenders in the country. His heir apparent appears to be Brendan Galloway, who has rapidly improved with each game he has filled in for the injured Leighton Baines. Throw in 21-year-olds Tyias Browning and Gerard Deulofeu as well as 24-year-old Ramiro Funes Mori, and all of a sudden the future looks very bright indeed
3) Money can’t buy you Stones
The best non-transfer of the summer? Chelsea pushed every boundary in their attempts to land John Stones, with Jose Mourinho, John Terry and Gary Cahill all keen to have their say over the summer to try lure the England international to Stamford Bridge. Their aim was to unsettle the defender and push him into handing in a transfer request, thus weakening Everton’s bargaining position. That duly happened, but Everton, emboldened by the second year of a lucrative TV deal, turned it down and with Stones unwilling to take any further drastic action, Chelsea had little choice but to accept defeat.
4) Comeback kids
Everton had not come from two goals down to win a game since the famous Wimbledon match in 1994. They have now done it twice in the space of a month. At Barnsley they found themselves both 2-0 and 3-2 behind but came back to win 5-3 in extra-time. Four weeks later they were once again two goals behind at West Brom but came back to win 3-2 - their first away league victory after being two goals down since 1985. To steal a phrase from our dearly departed manager across the park – they certainly showed great 'character'.
5) The complete away performance?
Everton went into their second game of the season at Southampton under something of a cloud. The Stones saga was rumbling on, that ‘number 10’ still hadn’t been found and the opening day draw with Watford had done little to convince sceptical supporters that Martinez had learned from the mistakes of last season. There was also the small matter of a flypast protest against the club’s board with tensions simmering to the surface. A big performance was needed, and thankfully they got one. It a fine display of counter-attacking football Everton coasted to a 3-0 victory, their first at St Mary’s since 2002. It was a throwback to Martinez’s first season in charge, with fine performances from Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Arouna Kone, suggesting this season may not be so bad after all.
The low lights
1) A case of the blues
Everton’s only defeat is an obvious low point, but given it is surrounded by a number of good performances the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City is not disastrous. City were rampant at that stage and made it three wins out of three with a comfortable victory at Goodison, highlighting once again the gulf between the billionaires at the top and those striving to get there.
2) Howard’s form a concern
Don’t get me wrong, Tim Howard’s performances have been much improved this season and he turned in a man-of-the-match display at Spurs. But once again I look at some of the goals we have conceded and question whether another ‘keeper could do better. The two that stick out are Aleksandar Kolarov’s opener for Man City, which saw Howard beaten at his near post, and Danny Ings’ header in the Merseyside derby, with Howard rooted to his spot. Roberto Martinez has always been full of praise for the 36-year-old but he surely now must recognise the need to find a replacement sooner rather than later.
3) Injuries – and not just hamstrings
An Everton supporter posted a great photo taken in the stands during last weekend’s derby draw. It was of all the Everton players unavailable to Roberto Martinez through either injury or suspension. They included Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman and John Stones (three of Everton’s first choice back four) as well as Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar. You also have to remember that Muhamed Besic is out with a hamstring strain and Tom Cleverley’s fine start in a blue shirt was cut short by a nasty-looking knee injury at Spurs, making the team’s decent start all the more admirable.
4) Calling number 10
Despite a summer of rumour and speculation, Roberto Martinez failed in his principle objective of signing a ‘number 10’ . A number of players were linked, including Dynamo Kiev’s Andriy Yarmolenko, but no move materialised, leaving Everton short in offensive areas. Lukaku also needs some more support – both on the pitch and as a back-up. I dread to think what would happen to the side’s form should the big Belgian pick up a serious injury.
5) Could it have been better?
Ok, I may be being harsh here, but could have Everton’s start been better? The opening day draw against Watford was hugely frustrating and should be classed as two points dropped. They created numerous chances against Swansea but failed to take them and although it looks like a good result on paper, again it was a game where a more ruthless side would have taken the points. Then we have the derby, with Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers on the ropes, it was a huge opportunity to finally get one over the old enemy. Frustratingly, despite having more of the ball, the blues failed to show their ruthless streak in the second half and appeared to settle for a draw for fear of losing.
Top five performers:
1) Romelu Lukaku
If he can stay injury free there is no reason why Lukaku can 25 goals for Everton this season. Seven goals from his first 10 games is a good start, with his fine aggressive performance against Liverpool a highlight.
2) Ross Barkley
With three goals and three assists to date, Barkley already has more goals and more assists than he accrued in the entirety of last season.
A wildcard pick I know. But look at how far Kone has come in a short perod of time. He was booed onto the field on the opening day against Watford, yet during Sunday’s derby the crowd were chanting his name before he even came on. He’s no Lukaku, that’s for sure, but he could well be a lot more effective than we first thought.
4) John Stones
A true Rolls Royce footballer, John Stones has the ability to to the very top. Despite all the speculation he has continued to not only play, but excel, making Chelsea’s failure to sign him in the summer all the more satisfying.
5) Brendan Galloway
Given his performances so far there is no reason why Galloway cannot become a similar player to Stones. Playing out of position at left-back the 19-year-old has shown great maturity and composure on the ball, as well as sound defensive awareness. It is exciting to think that Galloway and Stones could be our centre-back partnership for the next decade.
Special mentions go to: Steven Naismith for ‘that’ hat-trick against Chelsea. Tyias Browning for some encouraging performances covering for Seamus Coleman and Tom Cleverley, whose fine start to the campaign was cruelly cut short by injury.