Everton have no fear with Roberto Martinez at the helm in Goodison
WHEN Roberto Martinez was at Wigan Athletic, he would sign off his programme notes with the Spanish words "Sin miedo".
The message was simple: no fear. He no longer uses it as his sign-off as Everton manager, yet it is a philosophy that is already beginning to permeate the old fabric of Goodison Park during what has been a hugely impressive start for the Spaniard on Merseyside.
Instead of the widely anticipated awkward transition from the David Moyes era, Everton have lost just once in the Premier League this season and will actually travel to Old Trafford for tomorrow's reunion with Moyes two points and three places better off than their old manager's Manchester United side.
It is their best start since 2004/05 – the season Moyes led them to fourth place – and as befits the style of their relentlessly positive manager, Martinez now wants Everton to go to Old Trafford and do something they never managed under his predecessor: win.
"We need to address that," he said yesterday. "We have had one defeat in 13. It is the next test and the next challenge – can we go to the big places like Old Trafford, the Emirates, Anfield and Stamford Bridge and get wins?"
With Wigan he achieved victories at Anfield and the Emirates and his reflections on the mental approach required for such successes was instructive. "When you go into those environments you have individual performances and sometimes players get hyper. Others get a little big cagey and can't be themselves. Then you have the manager's mentality which in a way sets the performance."
Martinez's 'sin miedo' approach is about his team being themselves – to "be brave and (try to) win games rather than just being in a position where you want to keep a clean sheet" – was evident in the Goodison derby two weekends ago when his response to Leighton Baines' injury was to send on winger Gerard Deulofeu.
Phil Jagielka admitted at the club's player of the month lunch last week that at the time he could not understand how such a change would work yet it did as Everton took the game to Liverpool, creating chance after chance in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
"Under David Moyes it would be a like-for-like change but Roberto saw the opportunity to get the young kid on and take the game to Liverpool and it worked," said Graeme Sharp, the former Everton striker.
Reflecting on Martinez's overall impact, Sharp believes the signings of James McCarthy, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku have been pivotal.
Indeed, in Chelsea loanee Lukaku, Everton have the scoring threat Moyes seldom enjoyed at Goodison, where only in one season did he have a striker, Yakubu, breaking the 20-goal mark. Another positive for Sharp has been Martinez's willingness to give Ross Barkley the prominent role he was still waiting for under Moyes.
Of course the playing style has changed too. "He's got them playing more football from the back," Sharp said. "You've seen Jagielka and (Sylvain) Distin have more possession than they ever had under Moyes because it's very much the two centre-backs who get it and start attacks at the back."
The statistics from Prozone Sports show that Everton are averaging more possession than last season – 55.66 per cent compared with 51.53 per cent last term.
There have been times they have looked ponderous with all their possession and, curiously, they have both scored and conceded fewer goals than they had at this stage last season, undermining the simplistic perceptions people might have of both Moyes and Martinez.
The Spaniard himself praised the inheritance Moyes bequeathed him and said his ambition was only to add to it. "I've always said I want to change many things without losing anything – that means what was done previously worked, it was successful.
And what will the Scot see of his old team tomorrow? "There are different players now. We have four or five players who never worked with him. I think we've got players who are refreshed, ready for this week and all I want is for them to enjoy their football."