So here we are. Judgements are traditionally held until ten games in to the season and that milestone was reached with the frustrating 2-1 reverse at what FC United’s twitter intern would call the Some Corporate Sponsor Stadium. It’s a good time to look back on the season so far and compare it to Martinez’s first two campaigns. A fair warning, this is a bit dry. I’ve put some of my own interpretation in there but largely this is a look at the cold facts of how we are looking two years and 10 games in to the Martinez era.
It’s been quite difficult for Everton to get going this season, with the familiar two-steps-forward one-step-back pattern of results that has plagued us for some time now, with just three wins (none of them back to back) and a drab goal difference of zero. But how does it compare to the first barnstorming season under Bobby and last year’s stuttering campaign?
So there it is. Currently, we are where we are twelve months ago. It’s worrying that this represents the lowest goal return after ten games under Martinez’s tenure, couple that with the fact that just four players have scored in the league for us this season, compared to eight in each of the first two campaigns. No winger has scored a goal for Everton this season. They simply have to step up if we’re going to go anywhere this year.
Quality of Opposition
What immediately jumped out when the fixtures were released back in June was just how much of an abject piss take our first ten games were. Yes, you play everybody twice, but injuries take their toll through the season, and full fitness is hard to come by in the early weeks. All things aside, you ideally want an even spread of top sides and struggles as the season progresses, but it is what it is.
The easiest way to compare the relative quality of the opposition is the average finishing position the year before (with newly promoted sides taking the corresponding 18th, 19th and 20th positions). The standard of opponents in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons was pretty consistent, with average finishes of 10.7 and 10.8 respectively. This year it’s 6.8. That’s a pretty unforgiving start. All things considered, we’ve handled it well however, with a net point increase of 1 on like-for-like games last season.
Home Woes Continue
Another worrying statistic that jumps out is the relative performances home and away. Last season was one of the most poisonous at Goodison that I can remember, with jeers during the QPR win setting us up for one of the worst losing streaks since the Mike Walker era. That was reflected in the fact that we took just 5 of our 13 points from home matches last year, and unfortunately that’s the case again this year. To compound the misery, it represents a net loss of three points on like-for-like fixtures from last season (albeit an opening day draw to a newly promoted side is scarcely comparable to a routine mid-season win against a team bound for the drop).
Who Played, Who Scored?
It may surprise some to learn that, even though injuries have necessitated changes to the starting lineup throughout the season so far, just twenty players have turned out for the blues this term, a low at this stage of a Martinez season. Only Darron Gibson is without a start. Consistency was the name of the game in Bobby’s first year, with no fewer than six ever-presents in the first ten matches. This was reduced to four last season, as Kevin Mirallas endured a fragmented start to the campaign and Sylvain Distin’s head and legs both fell off spectacularly. This year, we’ve got the spine back, with Lukaku, Barkley and Jagielka joining the midfield duo of Barry and McCarthy on ten starts. As for the wings, Roberto seems unsure of his best attack, with nobody making more than five starts.
As mentioned earlier, eight players got on the scoresheet at one time or another in the first two Martinez campaigns, but this season just the three strikers and Barkley have managed to find the net. We seem to be really suffering from injuries in the full-back area, and although Brendan Galloway has been a revelation, he doesn’t have the same instinct in attack as Baines. Simply put, more players need to step up and take some responsibility in front of goal. One bright point is despite accusations of laziness, Romelu Lukaku is keeping pace with his scoring record at this stage of the season, with 5 goals equalling his haul at this stage from 2013-14.
Return of the Subs
An accusation levelled at Martinez last season was that he had lost his ability to change the game with substitutes. The Southampton loss was a real low point, as the manager did his best Emperor Nero impression, twiddling his thumbs whilst the seven players behind him shook their heads in disbelief. In his first year, three players had scored from the bench at this stage of the season, with Rom’s winner at West Ham and Pienaar’s petulant backheel against Hull proving decisive to the result. The third, Leon Osman at Villa Park, capped a brilliant individual performance that truly turned the game. In comparison, last season just one goal came from the bench in the first ten games, as the poison dwarf Samuel Eto’o netted a consolation against former club Chelsea.
This year its back to business, with Kone playing the role of super-sub for the blues, netting us 3 points between the Watford and West Brom games. Naismith’s hat-trick against Roman Abramovic’s own personal Chernobyl speaks for itself, and between the two of them that’s six of our 13 points that have come from the bench. Let’s hope this continues as the season goes on (although the arl fellas would still say it shows he can’t pick a starting XI).
It’s easy to get disheartened as the wave of euphoria following the West Brom comeback has been dampened by a single point in three games, with back to back losses. Hopefully some of the details above (like-for-like improvement, Lukaku still scoring, subs changing the game) have made a stuttering start to the season look a little less bleak. The hard games are out the way now and with a cup game on Tuesday (a cup we were out of at this stage last year no less) there is reason to be optimistic. Our next four games are more than winnable, and the Christmas period looks less than ominous. Baines, Cleverley and Pienaar will hopefully return in the weeks to come, so there is more than one reason to think Everton’s half term report will look a lot brighter.