After 90 days of purgatory, competitive football returned with entertaining vengeance at Carrow Road on Saturday. The early stages set the tone; Everton bossed possession and dictated play as if they were the home side. Purposeful from the off, the away side employed their new patient possession-based style with reassuring ease.
The ideals of Roberto Martinez were clear from first whistle to last in the 2-2 draw. Enjoying 68 percent possession, with 88 percent passing accuracy, the Toffees had Norwich penned back throughout. The occasional absence of a final ball and two moments of lax defending were the only blemishes on an otherwise positive start.
Out of character with the rest of the match, Norwich took the lead shortly after the interval. Steven Whittaker delivered his best Cafu impersonation — maybe it was the yellow kit. Aided by a slice of fortune along the way, Whittaker curled an effort onto the post before netting the rebound.
Instant question marks arose over the defending. Nonexistent tackling allowed the full-back to advance towards goal while snail-like reactions greeted the rebound. Ironically, however, the goal seemingly brought the best out of Everton.
Although dominant in the first half, the football lacked urgency and a cutting edge. Receiving the proverbial kick up the backside due to the shock of falling behind, Everton cranked up the pressure.
Easily the best player on the pitch and belying his relative inexperience, Ross Barkley drew Everton level to crown a performance dripping in quality. Midway through the second half, Norwich clinging to their lead, the youngster unleashed a missile into the far corner.
There was the shimmy inside, the rifled finish into the corner; the only omission was Clive Tyldesley proclaiming “remember the name”. After all, netting his first league goal courtesy of a thunderbolt from distance, the Wayne Rooney comparisons appear inevitable.
Direct in his running, decisive with his passing, Barkley dragged his team into the ascendency at a time when the visitors could easily have buckled. Minutes later, Seamus Coleman reacted first to a saved Nikica Jelavic effort and Everton were ahead.
Repaying the pre-match faith of his manager, Barkley has all the skills to carve out a place in the advanced midfield position. Barkley flourishing in the advanced role enabled the return of Marouane Fellaini to his favoured position and, the Whittaker goal aside, the Belgian showed why central midfield is the best place for him.
Everton continued to boss proceedings after taking the lead and few could complain given their level of control. Unfortunately, as was the case for the first goal, bad luck and sloppy defending conspired against the Blues.
Experiencing the most fortuitous of days, Whittaker sliced an effort skyward, which floated towards debutant Ricky van Wolfswinkel. Rising above the leaden-footed Phil Jagielka, the Dutch forward steered a fine header beyond Tim Howard for the game’s final goal.
Goals and individual performances aside, another pleasing aspect was the arrival of “Martinez’s Everton”. Preseason offered promise tempered by concern, but this was a team comfortably playing in the style attached to the new manager.
The team took the opening Norwich goal in stride; there was no panic or altering of approach. Everton stuck with the measured passing method. Players not at their best still looked to influence the match; there was a willingness to accept possession in tight spaces.
Martinez succinctly described the Norwich goals as ‘soft’, and there was an overwhelming sense of frustration as the final whistle sounded. Having controlled the match, Everton ought to have emerged victorious. Martinez will hope the individual errors leading to Norwich goals swiftly depart.
Nevertheless, there were positives aplenty. The composure in the possession allowed for eye-catching football from a team playing with an abundance of self-belief. Overall, there were many talking points; none more so than the coming-of-age performance from a certain midfield prospect.
Ross Barkley is currently available on the transfer list for £4.5m