Everton beat Hearts at a canter on Sunday, coming out as 3-1 victors over the SPL side. Although a win over the lesser opposition doesn't mean a huge amount in the long run, there are some things to be learned from the encounter.
Set piece issues
First of all and perhaps most obviously, is that the team still has some issues with defending set pieces. In what has become a hallmark of the Roberto Martinez era, Hearts' single goal came from a corner. The shoddy defending from these will surely have to improve if anything like the performances from the Catalan's first season are to be replicated.
It appeared that the Blues were implementing a zonal marking system for the ball in, which is all well and good when done properly. However, one important part of using a zonal system is that players still attack the ball. Callum Peterson, the Hearts centre-back, got a good run at the ball and ended up beating three blue shirts to head home.
This was while the three defenders, Leighton Baines, Gareth Barry, and perhaps most embarrassingly Romelu Lukaku, largely stood in their pre-assigned positions, only panicking and trying to clear the ball when it was too late.
If something so simple is going wrong, it could be a sign of major issues in either the coaching setup, or in the players' ability to implement instructions.
4-3-3 the future?
However, there are also some signs of hope, especially in the form of Lukaku. At times last season the Belgian cut an isolated figure, with little in the way of support or the right kind of service being given to him. Against Hearts this wasn't the case though, with a hat trick the result, albeit with two of the goals coming from the spot.
The Toffees lined up in a 4-3-3 system on Sunday, with the 22-year-old up top next to Arouna Kone and Kevin Mirallas. With the two forwards able to support their teammate far more was created, and Lukaku looked far more comfortable. This was similar to the way they played against Arsenal last Sunday, but with their first choice striker in the side this time round. The repeated use could mean that it will feature more during the next ten months, with the regular 4-2-3-1 taking a back seat.
During the last campaign the formation was largely used as a defensive tool, with Mohamed Besic, James McCarthy, and Barry forming a block in front of the back four. It was a far more offensive beast on this occasion, perhaps due to the creativity of Leon Osman in the middle of the park. With the diminutive midfielder now 34-years-old though, it is debatable how regularly he will be able to do this in the coming season. This could make Tom Cleverley's introduction to the team all the more important.
So overall it would seem that while some of the problems of last season are still on show, Martinez has worked to solve some issues. If the side are able to score more freely than last time round, as they did on Sunday, it could give some hope that the turgid displays of the second half of the season are behind them.
However, this was against a weak team, and conceding yet another goal from a set piece is a worrying sign. There are still several matches to go until the next campaign and this could yet be an isolated instance, but after the last campaign I think we all know it probably isn't.