In recent weeks and months Everton have lacked that killer instinct they possessed last season, they’ve lacked composure at the back and creativity going forward. There has been a lack of organisation, clean sheets and most importantly for any Football Club – a lack of wins. On Saturday afternoon at Goodison Park we saw all of the above and got ourselves a morale-boosting, vital three points against Aston Villa and we started to see glimpses of the Everton we came to know last season under Roberto Martinez.
Admittedly we were not up against one of the League’s greatest sides, but the win was crucial after a disappointing run of results since the beginning of the current campaign. Villa came on the back of three successive defeats and the Toffees added to Paul Lambert’s woes with a comfortable win with goals from Phil Jagielka, Romelu Lukaku and Seamus Coleman. The victory meant the Blues rose to thirteenth in the Premier League and now face a run of games in the coming weeks that will hopefully see us continue to climb the table as we attempt to put behind us a poor start and frustrating time with injuries.
Our first goal came from the right hand side when some clever play by Baines carved out the opening for Jagielka who continued his scoring run for Club and Country by nodding home at the Park End on 18 minutes. Romelu Lukaku got our third at a crucial stage of the game just moments after the restart, firing a low, left-footed effort through Guzan in the Villa net and the Villa ‘keeper should have done much better. But we didn’t complain and we got ourselves a two-goal advantage which settled any half time nerves we might have had of a Villa comeback. We deserve praise for continuing to press Villa and we eventually put the game to bed with a third when Baines crossed perfectly for Coleman to touch home for 3-0 at the Street End. Great to see those two linking up again and they are without doubt the best full-back pairing in the Premier League. To score three times and keep a clean sheet against any side is a boost, but after the start we’ve had this result was just what we needed and it was enjoyable to watch – something which we haven’t said often this term.
Martinez was finally boosted by the return of James McCarthy to his line up and long-term absentees Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley also returned to the fold and it was the latter who provided the home side with that cutting edge in the final third. Throughout Saturday’s game Barkley did what he does best; create space in dangerous areas, bring other players into the play and draw the opposition into making tackles by gliding past them and looking to pick holes in the Villa back line. The England man has been sorely missed and to see him back in a royal blue shirt was a sight to behold for all Evertonians who are filled with excitement every time he touches the ball. With the likes of Mirallas on the treatment table and Pienaar only coming back to fitness we’ve been lacking in the creativity department in recent weeks so Barkley’s inclusion was a major boost going into the game. He did not disappoint and put in a confident performance and I’m sure it is just a matter of time before we see him back to full fitness and driving this team on in the coming months. His involvement also had a positive effect on Lukaku, who linked up well with the 20-year-old last season. Lukaku has had a frustrating time in the Everton attack but with Barkley behind him providing much-needed service, you could see a difference in his play already and the duo linked up for Rom’s goal in the second half. It’s a blossoming relationship and one that I look forward to seeing much more of as the season progresses.
Barkley wasn’t the only shining light from the Villa game, I thought Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines were both great and the pair ended up having the final say with the creating and scoring of our third goal. Baines looks back to his best this season and he continues to provide assist after assist for his team mates (2 more on Saturday), meanwhile Coleman, like Barkley, has been a notable absentee when not involved so to see him return was another major positive from the game against Villa. James McCarthy ran himself into the ground – as he always does – and his midfield compatriot Gareth Barry was up there with the Man of the Match contenders with a brilliant display at the centre of Martinez’ side. Barry is always available and whilst he makes the simple but effective passes and breaks up the play, McCarthy heads off on an energetic rampage to retrieve the ball for his side, which couldn’t have been better represented than his last-ditch first half tackle to deny Villa at the Gwladys Street End.
Two other Everton players who deserve a mention are Antolin Alcaraz and Steven Naismith and I could probably write ten paragraphs about the latter so I’ll start with Alcaraz first. I don’t know the details of the Distin situation but I’ve heard all sorts of rumours and although Roberto said he was fit to take part in the Villa game he wasn’t included in the squad. Distin is a divisive figure amongst our fans – many believe he still has a lot to offer but others feel he isn’t good enough to still be in our side, and recent whispers suggest he has thrown a hissy fit because he was left out for a particular game last month. But from what I saw from Alcaraz on Saturday I can’t exactly say we missed Distin, and if anything Alcaraz looked more comfortable with and without possession at the heart of our defence. With only eight starts to his name since joining the Toffees Alcaraz is seriously lacking in first team action, but he started against Villa and he didn’t look out of place. Deployed at right centre back, the Paraguay international saw a lot of the ball and I thought his distribution was both useful and assured. As for his defending he isn’t the fastest, but he suits our style and Martinez wants his centre halves to pass the ball out from the back – something which Alcaraz doesn’t seem fazed by. If Stones was fit then obviously both Distin and Alcaraz would be fighting for a place alongside the Blues prospect but would probably find themselves behind Jagielka in the pecking order, so now that we don’t have any other alternatives it will be interesting to see who Roberto picks as our central defensive pairing as the games continue to come thick and fast. For me Alcaraz warrants a place in the team to face Lille but baring in mind his fitness record and age he might not be able to play two full games within a week so Distin might make a reappearance in the Europa League clash. With a trip to Burnley just three days after our fixture in France it wouldn’t surprise me if both of the aforementioned pair took turns and swapped places in each game but I have to say from the 90 minutes Alcaraz put in against Villa I am hoping that he does get a run alongside Jags and we can finally see the experienced defender in action for more than just a game or two.
Lastly, but by no means least, I’d just like to compliment Steven Naismith on his latest fine performance for Everton at the weekend. Naismith has been a revelation under Martinez and he has built on his performances last season by looking hungry and brimming with confidence in each and every game already this term. Naismith works tirelessly for the cause, chasing every ball and every man and in his eight starts this season he has weighed in with four goals – at the moment he is the first name on the team sheet. Who would have thought that 18 months ago? Nais is also in good form for his country too and he is playing football with a smile on his face, and during our frustrating start to this season he has continued to be a positive throughout. The Scot is useful in the air too and although he is half the size of some of the defenders he is up against he out jumps them, doesn’t fear a challenge and chases every lost cause – take note Romelu Lukaku is what I say! In Naismith’s 40 appearances for Everton he has hit 17 goals, not a bad return is it for someone who was much maligned at one point. I was one of those people who couldn’t see Naismith lasting long at Goodison Park but I am happy to eat humble pie and watch the 28-year-old continue to prove me and many, many others wrong on a weekly basis, and long may it continue.
Overall it was a satisfying victory and as I said in the week building up to the game I hope this week is a springboard where we can build momentum, form and put ourselves in a better position after a frustrating few months. Up to now we’ve done well in the Europa League and with tens of thousands of Blues expected in France this week I believe we can get another positive result at Lille before heading to lowly Burnley on Sunday who will provide a different challenge in different surroundings. With Pienaar, Barkley and Coleman returning and the likes of McCarthy, Barry and Naismith working tirelessly to get us back on track, my mood is much better than it was a fortnight ago following the defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. We have to put our slow start and injury woes behind us and continue to take each game as it comes as, it is still relatively early days in the season and there is still an awful lot to play for.
Thankfully on Saturday we began to see the Martinez-Everton we got used to last season and hopefully that is the Everton that is here to stay. The Villa victory is only our second League win this term but let’s hope it is a turning point and we can now finally kick on and look forward to the rest of our campaign with excitement and belief.
Up the Toffees.