Everton have acquired the unenviable tag of notorious slow-starters in recent years, underwhelming beginnings now an accepted and well known fixture of the David Moyes regime.
The worst of their recent starts is documented in the following statistics:
2003/04 – 4 points from the opening 6 games.
2005-06 – 4 points from the opening 10 games.
2008-09 – 9 points from the opening 10 games.
2010-11 – 2 points from the opening 5 games.
David Moyes has been at the helm since 2002 – he is the third longest serving manager in the Premier League (no prizes for guessing the first two). The most striking (or depressing, depending on which side of the argument you are on) feature of his time as Everton boss has been his shrewdness in the transfer market. Moyes has operated on a shoe-string budget in the last decade which makes his achievements even more remarkable.
There has been a cycle of alternating between the top and bottom half of the table during the Moyes era, consistency proving an elusive element. The club has a history of coming on strong in the second half of the season but the woeful initial stages of the campaign leave a black mark on their season and have cost them a place in Europe more often than is acceptable.
The primary characteristic that stands out in any David Moyes side is the solidity and sheer work ethic drilled into every single unit of the team. The current squad is no exception to that rule.
So when Manchester United rolled into town on the opening weekend of the season, there was an air of inevitability about the result, Everton would be thumped given their recent history of shaky starts. As it turned out, Everton proved to be Manchester United’s reckoning. Maruoane Fellaini’s afro cut everted a magnetic effect on the ball as United’s makeshift defence crumbled.
Where Moyes relied on Fellaini to provide the attacking thrust, Pienaar and Osman brought the technical. They never stopped hurrying and harrying the United midfield, which has shown a tendency of giving the ball away under sustained pressure. Moyes had done his homework and his ever-willing players came up trumps when it came to executing the plan to the hilt.
Moyes has always believed in building from the back – a water tight defence is a pre-requisite no matter the circumstances. Phil Jagielka has started the season like a house of fire, 2 outstanding tackles on Danny Welbeck lending more value to the claims that he is one of England’s finest central defenders of this generation. Johnny Heitinga and Sylvan Distin provides the no-nonsense approach alongside Jagielka in the center of defence. Leighton Baines, boyhood Everton fan, has been the most consistent player in the side since his arrival. He has been linked incessantly with Manchester United in the last couple of seasons but he stayed put, another player ingrained with the that rare David Moyes philosophy – loyalty.
Up front, Nikica Jelavic has gone a long way in filling the hole left by Tim Cahill. There was a nagging sense of doom when Cahill’s form dropped last season and the goals dried up, but Jelavic’s arrival in January has prompted a renewed feeling of optimism around Goodison Park. Quick footed and a clinical finisher, he is the perfect fodder for Fellaini to play off in between the opposition defence and midfield. They proved to be too hot to handle for Aston Villa on matchday 2 as Fellaini kept drawing out one of the two Villa central defenders to make space for Fellaini to run into.
With two huge wins in three games (one certainly hopes the defeat at West Brom was a minor blip rather than a major upset), and the ghost of the the traditional slow start emphatically buried, this season could see Everton upset the odds and challenge the hierarchy of the top four.