So the Premier League is back and so are the frustrations where Everton are concerned. A trip to Leicester City on day one of the Premier League was never going to be an easy task, as with all promoted teams they have something to prove and still have that promoted club bounce.
Beforehand, I may have even said that a draw would not be a disaster given Everton’s disrupted pre-season preparations due to the World Cup amongst other things. Only getting some players back a few days before kick off never helps preparations and so it was unlikely that they would hit the ground at full speed.
Losing Ross Barkley the day before the campaign starts did not help things either and forced Roberto Martinez into a reshuffling of his side. Barkley’s absence will be a big blow to Everton as they simply do not have another player like the talented 20 year old in their squad (although in fairness neither do most clubs). Maybe this will be Martinez’s biggest challenge trying to fill the void left by Ross for the next couple of months.
The team that Martinez sent out on Saturday was attacking and good enough to earn all three points against an enthusiastic but limited Leicester City side. As expected record signing Romelu Lukaku started up front with Steven Naismith employed just off him in Barkley’s role. John Stones filled the right back role with Seamus Coleman not quite ready to start the season.
Everton quickly gained control of the game and their passing game that had been missing in pre season came back as they stroked the ball about comfortably and forced their hosts into hopeless long balls down the pitch. In the early exchanges the Blues got themselves into good positions but the rustiness was evident with the final ball not being good enough.
However, they got themselves in front with an absolute stunner from Aiden McGeady who in the process scored for the first time in an Everton shirt. The January signing has showed his quality in flashes and Evertonians will hope that he can produce it on a more regular basis. His goal on Saturday was majestic, picking the ball up from a save by Kasper Schmeichal there was litte goal to aim for but McGeady curled his finish into the top corner despite Leicester having players on the line. It was a top draw finish that should fill the lad with massive confidence and hopefully convince some of the more critical Evertonians that he has the ability to be a very good player for Everton.
I said immediately after the goal went in that we needed to keep it tight for 10 minutes and strangle the game, but within 90 seconds the hosts were level. Another long punt into the penalty area saw Phil Jagielka wrestled to the ground as he cleared the ball and it was a clear foul but the hapless Mike Jones gave a corner to Leicester City. From the resulting corner Sylvain Distin made a mess of the clearance and new signing Leonardo Ulloa (which was almost guaranteed beforehand) slammed home his first goal for the Foxes to level the game up at 1-1. I have to say that it does worry me that at either end we are awful at set plays and I think it is something that Roberto really needs to address if we are to continue to grow as a team.
What Everton did do really well was to get straight back on top and control the game and after a couple of near misses they restored their lead with a brilliantly well taken goal from Naismith. A great move between Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar, who was brilliant all afternoon, saw Pienaar divert the ball to Naismith who rattled home his first of the season to put the Blues back in charge.
The second half did not see the same level of performance from Everton although they still controlled the game they looked slow and lethargic in the final third of the pitch. McGeady and Lukaku’s influence faded as the game went on and Naismith despite working hard just didn’t get hold of the ball enough in his role as the link man. Naismith will be vital for Everton this season in a number of roles but for me on Saturday I would have replaced him in the last 20 minutes with Kevin Mirallas playing through the middle. What the game was crying out for was somebody to pick the ball up and run at Leicester centrally, dare I say a Ross Barkley, so that it could create space for Lukaku, Pienaar or McGeady but it just did not happen.
The referee’s performance in the second half got worse also as he booked Gareth Barry for an innocuous foul, yet allowed Paul Konchesky to come steaming through the back of McGeady yet escape a booking. Then he only booked Liam Moore when he deliberately stuck an arm out when Lukaku was in behind him, possibly could have been a red. Then later on missed a deliberate stamp on McCarthy’s shin and then failed to even book Chris Wood who nearly took Phil Jagielka’s head off ! Anywhere else on the pitch and I am thinking it would have been a red card but not for our friend Mike Jones.
Anyway, the game went on Mirallas came on for Pienaar but in the wrong position for me. Coleman came on for McGeady which I didn’t really get to be honest and we appeared to just coast through the last 20 minutes and that allowed us to drop our level slightly and ultimately two points.
Kevin Mirallas had the ball on the wing and really should have kept the ball but he tried to showboat and lost the ball and from then on it was really poor defending. Baines should have stopped the run of Mahrez then Barry got turned too easily and then when the ball ricocheted kindly to Wood he put the ball past Tim Howard (too easily for me) to rescue a point for Leicester.
It was really disappointing to drop those two points by poor defending rather than anything that Leicester had done and that is the frustrating thing for me. If we had been hanging on then you would have to say that they deserved it but that certainly was not the case at the weekend. Still we did not lose and I suppose it is a starting point.
The plus points from the weekend are the fact that Lukaku got 90 minutes under his belt and although he was clearly running on empty after an hour it will have done him good to get that in the tank. The return of both Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman are big boosts and another week of training for Christian Atsu and Muhamed Besic will further integrate them into the squad. Also Steven Naismith scoring again will continue to boost his confidence and like I said earlier he will be a big player for us this season as he has always got a goal in him.
We still need another 2/3 players in my opinion though and are desperate for another centre forward, which was again evident on Saturday. Once everyone is fit again then we will have a really good squad for me, the return of Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone will be massive for us given we didn’t really see anything of the latter two at all last season. If we bring in 2 more to go with those players and the likes of Luke Garbutt, Tyias Browning, Chris Long and Ryan Ledson all get involved in the squad then we can comfortably compete on all levels but we definitely need another striker like Loic Remy (only wishful thinking at this point) to give us that edge on the other sides around us.
Anyway, the season is back and it will be some ride as Roberto continues to build his dream at Everton. It will need all of to be positive and back the lads and manager together and who knows what we can achieve together this year !