Creating a siege mentality from time to time isn’t a bad idea, especially if your resources dwarf that of your opponent. But ahead of Everton’s clash with Manchester United, Roberto Martinez has urged his side to break away from their underdog mentality and attack rather than keep the score line respectable.
It’s the legacy David Moyes has left at Goodison Park. There was a lot of talk about what Martinez could do with a side who were already very good and well organised at the back. He’s since improved the attack and the balance has worked well in these early stages of his tenure.
Moyes has spoken of wanting to leave places like Old Trafford “alive” while he was in charge at Everton, a mentality that falls in line with the club’s horrible away record under the Scot: zero wins from away games at Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
Arguably that mentality of damage limitation followed him when he took over from Alex Ferguson this past summer. The match and result against Chelsea would testify to that. But Everton under Martinez have only lost one game in the league this season, away to the notoriously difficult Manchester City. Despite a blip which saw back-to-back nil-nil draws in November, this new Everton have learnt how to be adventurous and enterprising.
The important factor in this is that Everton play their own game when travelling away to the big clubs. They need to look like they belong if they’re to sustain this challenge on the top four. They looked good going forward in the Merseyside derby, where had it not been for a wasteful Gerard Deulofeu (or a good Simon Mignolet in goal), Everton would have added to their three goals scored.
Make no mistake, Everton have the personnel to get good results away from home. Many of the top clubs in the league will put forward their interest in Romelu Lukaku at the end of the season when he returns to Chelsea; Leighton Baines is regularly linked with a move away, with United consistently leading the chase; Kevin Mirallas was close to signing for Arsenal before he decided on Everton; Gareth Barry is a title winner with Manchester City; and Ross Barkley has the makings of a future star at international level and one who is now a regular in the Everton team. It’s a “mental barrier that needs to be overcome, not a technical one,” as Martinez put it.
And it would be wrong to overlook Martinez’s willingness to play attacking football. Wigan, often terrible at the back, would on occasion cause problems for some of the better teams in the league. Martinez’s Wigan have in the past won away to Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool, and beat Manchester City at Wembley last season to lift the FA Cup. The Spaniard’s teams may have been poor and eventually unable to avoid relegation, but he’s not an advocate of defensive football.
Getting a result from Old Trafford isn’t an insurmountable task. Southampton have shown this season what a well organised side can do, while West Brom took all three points upon their visit in September. It’s not impossible. Bar Everton’s 4-4 draw at Old Trafford two seasons ago, it’s difficult to think of a time where Moyes urged his team to go for a positive result. It speaks of him rather than the club as a whole, especially considering the length of his stay at Everton.
Martinez has a chance to put that right. Of course, a swing in mentality and a dramatic improvement in results won’t happen overnight. But the Spaniard can announce himself and a new era at the club by ridding the team of the underdog tag and playing this newly-adopted attacking brand of football.