To be fair to Roberto Martinez he managed to be really positive following an absolutely miserable performance in the final friendly before the start of the Premier League Hunger Games.
The new Everton boss, presiding over his first game as the home manager at Goodison, said: “Football is about finding the way to be competitive.
“Today we saw what this dressing room has – an incredible competitive edge. As you could see early on, we couldn’t find the simple pass.
“I wouldn’t say that physically we were tired, but we were mentally lethargic. It was difficult to be ourselves but the manner that we reacted and defended with intensity was great.
“Betis are a side that I admire. I think they did extremely well last season and are well-organised. They can test you massively and I wanted that.
“We allowed them to press us high up and we wanted to stop them.
“In many ways it was a perfect pre-season game to finish on. To be able to overcome all of the travelling and demands we had and win was great to see.”
Fair enough, if that’s how he saw it, but as a supporter it was disappointing to say the least. The fact that we beat Betis thanks to a well-taken Nikica Jelavic goal in the first half and a horrendous goalkeeping error in the second did not gloss over the problems with the football Everton played.
Not a single Martinez signing started the match but they all managed to somehow play like strangers. There is clearly some very specific method in mind, especially when the central defenders continually push out to the fullback positions and one of the midfielders drops to the edge of our penalty area, but against a much better organised Betis team all it did was invite pressure. The fullbacks’ starting positions are further up the pitch as well – instead of arriving a bit later and bursting onto the ball, Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines spent most of the game mired down in tight spaces facing their own goal.
As far back as the Blackburn game there was a concern that the emphasis on possession meant that players would attempt to take unnecessary risks and here again the only real sign that this new Everton are a devout ‘footballing side’ was a succession of panicky passing triangles by our own corner flag. Perhaps that’s not surprising when instead of moves being initiated by Baines’ wand of a left foot, more often than not Tim Howard was rolling the ball out to the 1970s calliper adorning Sylvain Distin’s left peg.
In terms of the overall system Everton looked a fucking mess, but thankfully a number of individuals looked on form, not least Kevin Mirallas who crafted the opening goal with a positive run down the right-hand side on 35 minutes. His low cross eluded the recovering defenders and found Jelavic who took an assured first touch before tucking the ball home. Granted, he was put clean through early in the second half before smashing the ball hopelessly wide, but the Croatian continues to look a lot more like his old self.
Thankfully, Howard also played well, denying a neat and tidy Betis team with a string of excellent saves.
At the other end though, Stephan Anderson was less impressive. The Betis keeper was distinctly underworked as Everton mostly noodled away in their own half, but when he was required to claim a straightforward, over-hit cross from Mirallas his greasy hands only succeeded in dropping the ball into his own net.
The visitors’ best player by some distance was the central midfielder, Nosa Igiebor. Even before Darron Gibson was withdrawn with a knee injury that could rule him out of the season opener at Carrow Road, the Nigerian was running the show. If Everton were willing to look further afield than East Lancashire for new players then he definitely looks the part.
Brian Rodriguez scrambled home a last-minute consolation for the visitors, to the delight of their synchronised hand-clapping knot of travelling supporters kettled in the Family Enclosure, but Everton secured the win on an afternoon when a lot of questions were asked and few real answers were supplied.
Granted, as ever we have to remember it was only a friendly, but it’s probably fair to say that most Evertonians expected that lack of competitive edge to allow the Blues to at least knock the ball about well. The most striking aspect of the whole performance though was just how bad the passing and the movement were – the few decent portions of play were down to players producing moments of skill off the cuff.
With doubts remaining over the futures of Baines and Marouane Fellaini, who was rested for this game, and the squad looking some way off being able to comfortably execute Martinez’s ‘vision’, it’s hard to know what to expect from this coming season.
It’s difficult to find any real positives from this match really, apart from the fact that the club have yet to replace the crests on the Main Stand with the new badge – presumably that will take place this week. Plastering the result of your most recent major embarrassment on the side of the ground is the equivalent of the BBC sticking with Jimmy Saville’s face on the their stationery, but Alan Myers insists that it is important the club’s branding is consistent. In other words ‘we’ve paid for these stupid fucking things so we are going to use them’.
Roll on the Canaries.