As Roberto Martinez casts his eyes down the fixtures for the 2015-16 season that were released today, he will, hopefully, see his task this season crystallised by what is, by any measure on paper, a tough assignment for the first quarter of the campaign.
A home game against newly-promoted opposition in the form of Watford offers an excellent opportunity to get a jump start off the blocks before meetings with all of the top eight teams from last season in the space of nine fixtures.
The manager will already have plans in place to avoid the shambolic preparations of last summer that helped scupper the Blues' 2014-15 season before it had really begun, but as he plots his way through those first 10 games he will know that there will be no room for the slow starts that have characterised his first two seasons in charge at Everton. There will be far less scope for his usual strategy of building momentum over a season to reach peak performance by the final quarter of the campaign.
There were, of course, mitigating circumstances in the first three games of his tenure as his side settled into a new way of playing under a new manager but last August's uninspiring start on the back of a disjointed, World Cup-affected pre-season offered plenty of lessons that will hopefully have been learned this time around.
Given his optimistic bent, though, Martinez will see opportunity in the challenge the fixture list has thrown up if he can get the bulk of his summer transfer business done and his squad primed in time to hit the ground running when things kick off on 8th August. The start to any season usually involves a period of readjustment and settling in as teams make the transition from friendlies and summer tournaments while bedding in new signings and that will suit those sides who can find an early rhythm.
The prospect of facing so many teams who finished above us last term and who would, we hope, be our rivals in the quest for qualification for Europe and taking points off them early is a potentially exciting one and it could really define Martinez's all-important third year at the helm if he can recapture the spirit of his maiden campaign.
Granted, in that season the corresponding 10 games (with Watford substituted for Cardiff City) yielded only 15 out of a possible 30 points but huge wins over the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal at home coupled with the near-victory in the Goodison derby and the stirring draw at the Emirates set the tone for an adventure that almost ended with Champions League quaification. (Indeed, the tally of 72 points would have meant a top-four finish in four of the preceding five seasons.)
If the Blues can pick up wins in those same games while improving on their recent results at the St Mary's, the Etihad and White Hart Lane then they could find themselves in an excellent position by the end of October when – again, on paper – things finally look like they will ease up.
Martinez has alluded to how much he believes his players were hobbled pyschologically by dropping vital points from winning positions in the first two matches last season against Leicester and Arsenal last year and the catastrophic start his side made in the home game against Chelsea that left them with just two points from a possible nine by the start of the September.
Equally, if his team of the year before showed anything, it was just how key a role confidence and mentality can play in results. Through a seven-match winning streak between March and April 2014 that looked at one stage like it might propel the Blues into the Champions League, Martinez's men found ways to win where as there were times last term that they were more apt to finding ways to throw leads away.
It's clear, therefore, that the priorities for the manager and his staff this summer will be as much in the physical conditioning of the players as it will in the mental. The belief that the Blues can make a strong start and get a significant haul of points on the board from that daunting run of opening games must be instilled in the team so that they are fired up and ready when they take the field against Watford in August.
By doing so, they will also be able to harness the power of an enthused Goodison Park and banish the nerviness and agitation that permeated the Grand Old Lady at times last season. Onward and upward, as they say!
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