Tuesday 20 March 2018

Martinez bids to kickstart Toffees reign

Roberto Martinez
Roberto Martinez

Tim Rich

The season starts now, said Roberto Martinez. It is a fact, universally acknowledged from those who captain Nether Wallop Thirds to the gods who oversee Bayern Munich, that the phrase "the season starts now" is uttered by those who have not had a particularly good start to their season.

At Everton's training base at Halewood, you had to concede that Martinez had a point. Much has been made of the fit and the cut of the shoes David Moyes had to fill at Manchester United but the imprint he left behind at Goodison Park was almost as big.

Alex Ferguson may have bequeathed a statue of himself and his name in vast letters on Old Trafford's great North Stand but when you turned into Goodison Road, Moyes' face on a banner hanging from the Main Stand was the first thing you saw.

This evening, Goodison stages its first grand occasion without him in more than a decade and it is a fixture that Chelsea have rarely enjoyed. However, Jose Mourinho has never lost here.

Martinez may be searching for his first win but he has done more to reshape his club than Moyes has at Manchester United. There have been five major signings, three amid the last knockings of the transfer window.

Critically and unexpectedly, he has hung on to Leighton Baines. The defence, anchored around Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin, is Moyes' finest legacy, especially for a man like Martinez who at Wigan was betrayed too many times by an unreliable back four.

And, if he has said so long to Marouane Fellaini, it has been for £27m, double the cost of James McCarthy, while the loan deals for Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku were intelligent strengthenings of areas where Everton have been lacking.

One of Fellaini's underappreciated strengths was as someone who could knit the midfield together while the decline of Nikica Jelavic, who has managed a single league goal since December, meant someone such as Lukaku, who is prevented from playing against Chelsea by the terms of his loan agreement, was needed to sharpen an increasingly blunt spearhead.

But Everton have not won since Moyes made his dignified farewells to the old stadium in a victory over West Ham United that felt like an independence day of sorts.

Martinez used to loathe international breaks as his disparate group of players made their way back to Wigan from Honduras, Ivory Coast and Paraguay.

Now the distances are shorter and the international fixtures more recognisable. Two of the most interesting figures returning from World Cup qualifiers in eastern Europe were McCarthy and Ross Barkley.

Having won the FA Cup with Martinez at Wigan, the young Glaswegian is a huge fan, saying that his manager's tactics "were so smart it made you feel as if you had an extra man at times". McCarthy, said Martinez, could become "an Everton great" and not just because he once rejected a move to Liverpool.

"James has not been trying to jump on the first train to success. He makes decisions on where he is allowed to have an important role," Martinez said. "At 22, he has already played 100 games in the Premier League.

"To go to a big club at 16, you see time after time that it's not the perfect move for youngsters. I know we say: 'if you are good enough, you are old enough' but that's not right in football.

"It is not about how quickly you can get there but how well you can get there." (© Independent News Service)

Everton v Chelsea

Live, Sky Sports 1, 5.30

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport