Roberto Martinez characterised his side’s emphatic win over Aston Villa this weekend as ‘phenomenal’.
Fair enough. He’s allowed to be optimistic. After all, Everton are now up to 6th place. And with last season’s Europa League planning headache a thing of the past, Everton can now afford to concentrate on the league and possibly climb the table to finish a lot higher than they did last season.
Last season was a blip along the road as far as Everton’s progress is concerned. Last season’s 11th placed finish simply wasn’t good enough as far as the Toffees will be concerned. Finishing closer to the relegation places than the Champions League places really isn’t what Everton should be aiming for, especially after Roberto Martinez’s promise that he would get Everton into the Champions League.
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You get the feeling, though, that this season is a good chance to do well, to play some nice football, and to finish in a Europa League spot again. Only to repeat the cycle of Thursday-Sunday madness that left them in the lower reaches of the table last season.
Of course, they’re better for the experience. More mature and more likely to do better the next time they have a European adventure. But this season is more of a transition season for Everton, at least they hope it is.
With Everton playing a more pragmatic and counter-attacking style than we’re used to seeing, there are some similarities with Arsenal this season.
Arsene Wenger is still stuck in some of his ways. He’s still the kind of manager who looks win things without compromising some very serious principles. If you win, that’s all well and good, but you have to do it in style. Winning is secondary to the style with which you do it, and having your team dominate the game is what matters. The idea is that if you dominate the game, that means you have more chance of winning. So even if you lose but dominate, that’s better than winning but being outplayed, because dominating the game bodes well for future games.
But the revelation of Francis Coquelin, the addition of pace up front for Arsenal, the fact they’ve spent money on Ozil and Sanchez, and the fact they bought Cech – a man the wrong side of the big 3-O – all show that Wenger is becoming more pragmatic in his approach.
The same can be said for Martinez.
His side this season have greatly benefitted from the power, pace and directness of Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Arouna Kone. They have conceded too many goals this season, but they’ve still been better organised defensively than they were last season. Last time they were simply awful at the back, with mistakes every other week, this time the mistakes have been less important as Everton have at least had the ability to defend well enough to keep teams at bay long enough to win the ball back and launch a counter attack.
This is the transition from a Roberto Martinez team who play pretty football and dominate games into a team with pace and precision who can punish you on the counter attack. Everton are becoming a more modern team, a more practical team, and they’re climbing up the league because of it.
They sit six points off a Champions League spot, but if it weren’t for a few poor attempts at defending set-pieces from Tim Howard at the Emirates, Everton would be level on points with Arsenal and not six points behind them.
That’s how tight the margins are in the Premier League, Everton are getting stronger and more solid, but there are so many teams around the league that can say the same thing