Following last week’s white-knuckle Derby, and with both Manchester United and Arsenal to face in the coming weeks - there was something inevitable about Everton chalking up three points against 16th-placed Stoke. But no one, least of all Roberto Martinez, could have foreseen how comfortable and stylish the goals and overall performance would be.
Everton simply glided through this 4-0 battering of Mark Hughes’ team, as the blues’ now-familiar possession game was beautifully complemented by exquisite finishing. There could’ve been many more goals, only prevented by one of the oddest phenomenons in professional football - a losing goalkeeper playing ‘a blinder’. Asmir Begovic, despite tamely letting four in, made some incredible saves against an unstoppable home side.
Everton had a different look about them. Leighton Baines is out with a busted toe, so was replaced by forgotten stopper Bryan Oviedo. Kevin Mirallas was dropped for Catalan Joe 90 Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley made way for Leon Osman. The players who came in were equal to the task and performed like the first three names on the teamsheet.
Osman was wily and inspirational, starting moves and linking-up play like a vintage Peter Beardsley. Oviedo attacked down the Potters' right side at will, he covered a lot of ground throughout and was a key part of Everton’s most effective attacks. But a special mention must go to Deulofeu, who looks to be finally adjusting to English football and seemed to test Stoke’s panicky defenders at will.
Like Juninho in his Middlesbrough pomp, the 19-year-old looked deadly with the ball at his feet. On one occasion he carried it 50 yards with obvious intent, beat three Stoke players but was denied brilliantly by Begovic. Lukaku was in a better position to score and angrily told Deulofeu as much afterwards, but expecting him to lay it off after a run like that would be like cutting short a famished Alsatian’s tour of a sausage factory.
During another period of play, Deulofeu went close with a low free kick and shortly afterwards did 300 stepovers before hitting it straight at the Stoke keeper. He finally made it 1-0 after a nippy one-two with Gareth Barry. After working some space in line with Stoke’s right post he smashed it into the top corner.
The first half also saw a wonderful chance by a settled-looking James McCarthy and a lot of clever, purposeful football by Steven Pienaar, Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka among others..
Just three minutes into the second half, Seamus Coleman added his name to the possible man of the match, with a strangely improvised goal that saw him slice/place the ball into the right corner of Begovic’s goal. It finished a brilliantly fluid move from back to front, guided by Deulofeu, that was Globetrotter-esque in its inevitable conclusion.
After a second-half corner Oviedo, a very left-sided left-footer, collected the ball just outside the Stoke Box and ran to his right, quickly taking up a “he’s-got-to-hit-it-from-there” position, as if there was never any doubt. Evertonians had probably just witnessed a player reborn. When Oviedo arrived from FC Copenhagen, it was hard to assess the Costa Rican because of Baines’ consistency. We kinda all knew he had pace, but few of us realised he could strike the ball so cleanly with his wrong foot.
Stoke, for their part in this one-sided Riverdance, had two or three reasonable chances - one of which should’ve been put away by Peter Crouch. Sporting a Movember tache that made him look like a comedically stretched On the Buses conductor, Crouch was denied a goal by Tim Howard who deserved kudos for reacting so sharply after having so little to do for most of the game. The American showed his worth again though, with a brilliant ball thrown outfield to a cantering Deulofeu, who nearly went on to score.
The fourth, by Lukaku, was arguably the best move of the lot. Oviedo, doing a great impression of Baines, carried it down the left and placed a precision pass right at Lukaku’s feet, he couldn’t miss. What made the goal all the more satisfying, was seeing the huge Chelsea exile visibly getting the idea to attack the space ahead of a Stoke defender, where he could easily tap it in. The big lad might be a genius.
So, an impressive day’s work against a side that brought little to the table. But what conclusions can be drawn, with both Arsenal and Manchester United to face in the next several days? December could turn out to be the most important month of Martinez’s Everton career so far. If he gets something from those two big games, might it be possible to say this is a club whose heartbeat corresponds precisely with the tiki-taka ticker of its boss. Everton have long punched above their weight under David Moyes, but the Spaniard has added a sense of style and entitlement. His teams win matches using art, not warfare and amazingly, Everton are unbeaten at home this year. Isn’t it fair to say that the team, when they play like they did against Stoke, are now a pound-for-pound match for any Premier League rival?.