Cardiff City 0 Everton 0

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Four games in and already these match reports feel a bit monotonous.

Faced with another side who Everton really should expect to beat, they once again dominated the possession but never really looked dangerous for any sustained period. And when you hear people saying we look like Liverpool did when Brendan Rodgers first arrived, and mean it in a positive way – as in ‘and look at them now’ – you know things aren’t going exactly to script so far for Roberto Martinez.

In his defence, Everton were denied a copper-bottomed penalty when Gary Medel’s on Leighton Baines was so late it actually started off in black and white, but there is still much work to be done if the Blues are going to finish around the position that we have all become accustomed to.

As someone commented on Saturday, the basics of the football we are playing are sound, but it just has to be done so much quicker. We have players like Kevin Mirallas, Steven Pienaar, Ross Barkley and Leighton Baines who are clever and great at exploiting space, but the ponderous approach denies them any to work in. Eventually every move seems to break down with one of them vainly trying to ‘McFadden’ their way past a defender from a standing start. Either that or a wacky, off-balance shot from long distance.

Not having a competent centre-forward doesn’t help matters though. It’s still too early to pass a definitive judgement on Arouna Kone, but the biggest criticism of the Ivorian is that he has yet to do enough to convince the manager to start him ahead of Nikica Jelavic.

The notoriously harsh Everton supporters have been patience personified with the Croatian, but his performances seem beyond a joke now. One deflected header that forced a brilliant save from David Marshall, and a cross that Mirallas should have buried, were about the sum total of his contribution to the game. The rest was painful to watch.

However, he’s never been the best target man, which is why David Moyes used to deploy Marouane Fellaini up front. Martinez seems reluctant to do that – preferring to let the Belgian play in the withdrawn role that he favours, presumably because it allows him to gambol about playing when he feels like. It’s a waste – further forward Fellaini is forced to get involved and use the attributes that make him a unique threat. Phil Neville can play the role he’s fulfilling at the moment.

This is more than likely going to be a moot point by Tuesday though, with the Belgian press apparently letting slip that Fellaini is definitely on his way to Old Trafford. Fancy that.

It remains to be seen whether Baines will follow him there – some papers seem to think that Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand is already lined up as a replacement.

If selling one or both of those players allows Martinez to bring in individuals who can make his system work better than perhaps it will be for the best in the long run because so far, against pretty modest opposition, the players he has inherited are struggling to make any real impact.

Everton 2 Real Betis 1

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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.

Friendly Fire

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The Premier League season lurches ever closer and Evertonians continue to try and get some indication of just how different Roberto Martinez’s team will be to that of David Moyes.

If you are hoping to get some indication here, with in-depth analysis of the two recent friendlies against Euro-behemoths Juventus and Read Madrid then you are in for something of a disappointment, as staying up until all hours to watch an exhibition game on the internet is the behaviour of the serious oddball.

Kevin Mirallas scored a good breakaway goal against Juventus but the Italians drew level thanks to a lovely swerving drive from Kwadwo Asamoah. The ball only broke to the Ghanaian thanks to some slack control by Leon Osman but he still ‘had a bit to do’ as he leathered it first time from long range.

Osman also missed in the ensuing penalty shootout but apocalypse survivalist Andre Pirlo put his kick wide before teenage defender John Stones chipped the ball home in a manner that could only be described as ‘impish’.

Everton won then and earned the right to face Real Madrid on Saturday night. In what sounded like an open game, Cristiano Ronaldo broke twice from deep, first rounding Tim Howard to score and then teeing up the startled Mezit Ozil for a tap-in. There was talk off off-side for both goals, as well as a disallowed Everton goal and calls for a penalty.

Nikica Jelavic scored a consolation in the second half with Aroune Kone yet to impress, by all accounts.

As ever, you can’t read much at all into these games. It’s only in the high pressure atmosphere of the Premier League that we will get a real indication of any real change in Everton’s style. Knocking the ball around the back at a leisurely pace is all well and good on a balmy evening on a baseball diamond – it’s what the Blues’ defenders do when getting kicked up the arse by Romelu Lukaku, with Cockney fatties screaming ‘kill the Scouse cunt!’ from the sidelines that will be the true measure of the new continental approach.

After all, there is only so much you can alter when using the same players and thus far, despite being linked to all sorts, there hasn’t been any movement on that front since the initial flurry of purchases from Wigan Athletic. Presumably the funds for James McCarthy, Tom Ince, Aiden McGeady or any of the long list exotic foreign midfielders Martinez is reported to be interested in will only become available as and when Leighton Baines or Marouane Fellaini are sold, and the understanding seems to be that the ‘transfer merry-go-round’ that will probably whisk one of those two away will only really get going when Real Madrid finally locate a stick big enough to put the moon on as requested by Tottenham Hotspur as payment for Gareth Bale. Plus cash.

An odd news story in the week concerned Manchester United’s written apology to Everton over the way they recruited David Moyes. Presumably Bill Kenwright is too classy to wipe his arse on it and send it back. After all, if they were sincere they had plenty of opportunity to act completely differently and above board but chose not to. On the other hand though, it still seems incredible that the Everton board had no idea at all that something was afoot all the while that Moyes was sitting out his contract. The whole thing is distinctly iffy, quite frankly, but ultimately it’s irrelevant – the idea in the papers that Everton’s displeasure about the way it was all handled could sandbag a deal for Baines is phoney. If they offer enough money and Baines really wants to go there then it will happen, apology or not.

Blackburn Rovers 1 Everton 3

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Oh man, don’t you wish the Blues would hurry up and get snotted by Juventus just so we can read something on Newsnow other than ‘United interested in Belgian midfielder’ or ‘Blues consider McCarthy bid’?

Even the ‘outrage’ by Liverpool cyber-puritans about the inevitable salty banners at the game against the Italian champions will be some diversion from endless ‘Baines an option for Moyes?’ waffle.

That said, we are still going to go over this old ground again in a manner that some observers could legitimately label ‘hypocritical’.

Firstly, Baines. One of the many talking points in the frankly hilarious footage of him giving a gang of school bullies a lift to the Blackburn game was the fact that when asked whether he was going to sign for United he was at best non-committal. Seriously, with a bunch of Everton Taliban right up in his grill and wondering whether to skin up on his UK Road Atlas he couldn’t bring himself to outright lie and say something approximating: ‘Fuck that, lad, why would I, the naughtiest left-back in the world, sign for them, lad’.

According to Alex Buttner and his agent any deal for Baines seems to hinge on Patrice Evra leaving Manchester, presumably for Monaco. When the outcome of the Frenchman’s situation is known it appears that United will decide whether Everton can keep Baines or not. And yes, that is starting to fucking grate.

Similarly with Marouane Fellaini, the papers seem to think that Moyes will ‘settle’ for the Everton midfielder if he fails to recruit the completely different type of player he really wants, Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas. The slightly unseemly pursuit of the Spanish snide is reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac, with Moyes singing sweet nothings under his window while his grotesquely ugly but worldly-wise mate feeds him lines from the shadows.

It’s probably nothing like that at all, but it’s an enduring image, isn’t it.

Occasionally Evertonians suggest that once Fellaini’s release clause expires – the one that’s moved more times than the Mayan end of the world – then the real bidding can begin. However, this seems to overlook the fact that anyone paying above the stipulated price once that date has passed would have to be some sort of fucking simpleton. That £23 million or whatever is the absolute maximum that anyone who doesn’t want to be carpeted by their boss the next day would even dream of paying. Everton’s best hope of getting decent poke for Fellaini then is that someone under pressure to make a signing blinks before their competitors and offers to cough up the lot, more than likely at the very last minute.

Does any other scenario look even in the slightest bit feasible? He’s no one’s first choice, let’s be frank, so we won’t be holding anyone over a barrel, Daniel Levy-style.

Going back to Saturday, Everton had the proverbial ‘good workout’ against a clearly religious Rovers team. Well, Ramadan was the excuse Sylvain Distin used for Aroune Kone’s performance on the game’s periphery, and the Blackburn team definitely looked, well, actually, is it considered offensive to say Islam can make you shit at footy?

They were, anyway.

Everton played a 4-2-3-1 in the first half with Darron Gibson dropping deep to start moves off every time Tim Howard had the ball. Against a dreadful side they got away with some of the aimless passing and hopeful side-footed clearances into the midfield space that would be punished ruthlessly at the top level, but as Roberto Martinez stated, these games are all about trying new things. There was definitely a feeling of all foreplay and no fucking before the break though, despite Kevin Mirallas opening the scoring and Kone’s one notable contribution – almost breaking the crossbar when through on goal.

The introduction in the second period of Nikica Jelavic and, more notably, Leon Osman and Seamus Coleman, saw Everton’s ‘tempo’ increase though and more of the good work done in the Rovers’ half. Let’s be honest, if there’s ever a game that’s tailor-made for Osman it’s a friendly on a gorgeous day against a gang of half-starved Muslims.

Jelavic scored twice, heading home Steven Pienaar’s corner and then converting Coleman’s low cross at the second attempt. The Croatian remains an immensely popular player despite being absolutely shite for most of last season and the Everton crowd being notoriously quick to criticise – most Blues would like to see him at least get a chance to show what he can do under the new manager before being released to some rather uninspiring side like Hamburg or West Ham.

The Blues have been linked with a possible replacement, Austria Wien strike Phillip Hosiner, however the tabloids can sing his name ‘til the break of day; it still seems an unlikely move.

‘Oh no he di’n’t’

‘Oh yes he di’’

Scott Dann headed a late consolation when Joel Robles got caught under a far post corner, but other than that Everton could only be pleased with the work they did.

Anyway, that’s it for now then. Swear down, lad.