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Nobody can draw lazy Roberto Martínez comparisons with Marco Silva anymore

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Everton’s current boss is succeeding where the Spaniard failed at Goodison Park: learning from his mistakes

Everton FC v Watford FC - Premier League
Silva has shown an admirable willingness to adapt while at Everton
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Saturday, October 19, 2002. A 16-year-old named Wayne Rooney has just unleashed a stunning last-gasp strike to seal a 2-1 home win for Everton over Arsenal, ending the Gunners’ 30-match unbeaten run in the Premier League and netting his own first goal in the competition.

Goodison Park erupts with joy, literally shaking to its foundations. The Blues’ manager, David Moyes, often a model of composure and serenity, is left darting about his technical area almost uncontrollably. ‘Remember the name: Wayne Rooney,’ commentator Clive Tyldesley exclaims. But in all likelihood, Evertonians will doubtless find it harder to forget this moment of sheer unadulterated euphoria.

What they may find more difficult to recollect are the weeks that followed after that for the men in royal blue. Not because the momentum failed to carry, but because Moyes’ side were comparatively unremarkable thereafter.

1-0 win followed 1-0 win for five consecutive games, culminating in a Tomasz Radzinski winner against West Bromwich Albion leaving the Blues third in the top-flight in late November. If Rooney’s grand entrance was the breakneck thrill of the night before, then this run was the perfect follow-up the morning after.

It was a similar tale under Moyes when Everton cracked the top four code two seasons later; many of their 18 league wins in 2004-05 were edgy, nail-biting affairs, but 11 of them came with the welcome addition of a clean sheet. A 7-0 drubbing at Arsenal aside, the Toffees were blessed with the foundation of a miserly, astute back line which won them more points than anything else that year.

Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - Everton v Fulham
Moyes’ Everton sides were built on defensive stability
Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images

Fast-forward to the early months of this calendar year and you wonder whether, had you asked him then, current Everton boss Marco Silva would scoff at such records during Moyes’ tenure.

In particular, after the embarrassing FA Cup exit at Championship strugglers Millwall in January, when all three of the Lions’ goals came from Everton’s propensity to not defend set-pieces adequately. Or, following the two home defeats to Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City less than two weeks later, when both Raúl Jiménez and Aymeric Laporte were left with the freedom of the Gwladys Street penalty area to head home from free-kicks.

Rightly or wrongly, these galling yet repeated errors earned Silva comparisons with Moyes’ successor, Roberto Martínez, in some quarters. And though it seemed a facile, simplistic parallel to draw, there was certainly some weight to the argument.

In essence, both had seen their commendable yet patently flawed philosophies act as Everton’s main impediment to progression during their time on Merseyside. Encouraging your players to play like unshackled, carefree kids on the streets is all well and good, providing you remind them to bolt the back door shut on their way out.

Once this became a glaring issue for Everton under Martínez, his obstinate or even ignorant approach to rectifying it ultimately cost him his job. In truth, his obituary was written from the moment that quotes from his assistant, Graeme Jones, surfaced in Leon Osman’s 2016 autobiography, suggesting set-pieces were not on their to-do list at Finch Farm.

Crystal Palace v Everton - Premier League
Martínez’s inability to focus on defending cost him his job
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

And for some time last season, it seemed Silva would be the sequel to this sorry tale of an amiable Everton manager blinded by his own managerial shortcomings.

Now, though, that could hardly be further from the truth. Not only has Silva heeded the cautionary tale of the ill-fated last days of the Spaniard’s Goodison reign, he himself has adapted by virtue of it, for the betterment of Everton as a squad.

So much so, in fact, that Everton have yet to concede a single goal in their two matches so far this season, or in their six home games since that 2-0 defeat to City on February 6, including such opponents as Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Not only that, but goalkeeper Jordan Pickford now boasts ten clean sheets in Everton’s last 13 league games; a feat unmatched by anyone else between the sticks in the Premier League. The debacle at Newcastle United in March aside, he has improved immeasurably since his own personal nadir at Anfield last season under Silva’s tutelage.

Everton FC v Watford FC - Premier League
Pickford (left) is in the best form of his Everton career
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

So too have the men immediately in front of him; not least the rejuvenated Michael Keane, who was as dreadful at Everton before Silva’s arrival as he has been excellent since. Compare that with the defensive regression in fellow centre-half John Stones’ game, for instance, the more that Martínez fawned over him and encouraged him to be more cavalier.

By contrast, it is a testament to Silva’s superior man-management skills that he has not just saved Keane’s Goodison career from what seemed the point of no return, but helped establish him as Everton’s first-choice central defender. Indeed, there have only been five of the 40 league games since Silva’s arrival in which Keane has played no part. Of those, Everton won just one of them.

The way in which Yerry Mina has slotted in seamlessly alongside Keane in Everton’s two games this season also speaks volumes about how well-drilled the Blues’ defence are under Silva, compared to the slapdash shambles often assembled seemingly as an afterthought by Martínez. A bit-part player last term due to the faultless Chelsea loanee Kurt Zouma, Mina was as colossal in the opening-day draw at Crystal Palace as he was in Saturday’s 1-0 home win over Watford FC.

Wigan Athletic v Everton - Pre-Season Friendly
Mina and Keane have the makings of a strong defensive partnership
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Every supporter watches his or her team to be entertained, to celebrate, to bathe in the sort of ecstasy that Rooney triggered among almost 40,000 Evertonians 17 years ago. But these moments are only so memorable because of how sporadic and unique they are; no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot replicate them.

Were they to happen on a weekly basis, the magic would eventually wear off. Much as you yearn to see your team win in style, there will be no longevity in it if not fused with substance, and sometimes churning out a hard-fought 1-0 win, as Everton did on Saturday, is really where the bread is buttered.

Moyes, while limited, was canny and pragmatic enough to recognise this. Martínez, though a highly likeable and admirable man, fell on his sword at Goodison through his refusal to accept it.

And although it looked for some time that the same failings would cost Silva the same job, his emphatic response has surely left Everton in as safe a pair of hands as they have found themselves since Moyes’ departure.