TEAR down the tree, bin the presents and switch off the fairy lights. It won’t be a Blue Christmas this year.
Everton are heading for the foot of the table rather than the top, Barkley’s being sold to City in January and Lukaku is a bust. Right?
You might think so if you spend too much time on Twitter (we all do it…) after a result as wretched and dismal as a 3-1 against QPR.
A 3-1 win remember.
Some of the doom-mongers among the Everton faithful would have you believe it’s all about to go pear-shaped after a slow and often shambolic start to the season.
But I’m not buying that particular poison.
OK, we all groan when another Baines corner fails to clear the first man, when Howard coughs up another juicy rebound, or when Lukaku puts in another shift that makes him look more like a £28 player than a £28m one.
But this season was never going to be as easy as it was last time around.
It’s an easy excuse to blame the Europa League, and it doesn’t tell the whole story. But it has an effect.
Everton have only won two out of the six games they’ve played after a European tie, and those were against Burnley and QPR.
The grind has also meant big players like McCarthy, Baines, Coleman and Mirallas have missed key games and played others only half fit.
But there is another factor too. Opposing teams have worked Everton out. They’ve had a whole pre-season to figure out how to stop Martinez playing the way he wants.
You don’t see so much of Baines and Coleman flying down the wings because teams now do everything they can to stop that happening.
More and more teams are parking the bus against Everton and trying to hit them on the break. It’s a compliment really, and it can be frustrating to watch.
But it’s an inevitable result of how well they did last season, and how much other teams fear them. It’s the kind of thing sides like Chelsea and City face almost every week.
Everton haven’t yet quite worked out how to cope with that. But they will.
Personally, I see progress this season. I see Naismith having a breakout year, becoming the player who makes Everton tick up front.
I see Barkley developing into one of the best players in the Premier League. Everything that was good about Everton against QPR came through him. He’s the one who can unlock the door.
I see Mo Besic showing glimpses of the absolute star he could become. I watched all his games at the World Cup and was there when he got stuck into Argentina and Lionel Messi.
I liked what I saw then, and I like what I see now too. He was a wrecking ball against QPR, has a great engine, and reads the game superbly.
Yes, he makes mistakes. Sometimes costly ones. And when you put him under pressure, he often gives the ball away far too easily. But he has huge potential, and I’m confident he will realise it.
Believe it or not, I even see progress from Martinez. One of his biggest failings last season was believing he could go anywhere, play anyone, and still boss a game.
It worked at Arsenal, in probably the best game I’ve seen Everton play for years. But it was found out badly at Anfield, when Everton basically committed suicide and were rightly punished for it.
Some say he never changes his philosophy. Well he did in this season’s derby. Playing three holding midfielders may not have been pretty, and it certainly surrendered the initiative to Liverpool.
But it was a necessary evil for me. And it worked (eventually) when they escaped with a draw instead of a hiding.
The final straw was probably the 6-3 at home to Chelsea. Everton exposed themselves more often than a cheap stripper on a double shift that day. It hasn’t really happened since.
Take the game at Old Trafford. Many were expecting another win there. Martinez understood it wouldn’t be so easy, and played a cautious, more defensive game.
Sometimes that is the right thing to do. He lost that day. But when Everton went for it in the last 20 minutes United could barely get out of their own half, and only De Gea saved them.
This Everton team is still learning when to stick and when to twist. When to dominate teams and when to back off. It’s about finding the right balance. But it will come.
Personally I would rather see them dig in for a draw sometimes away to a bigger club than risk a spanking by opening the game up like they did everywhere last season.
It may not always be pretty to watch. And it’s frustrating when you remember the thrill of moments like Deulofeu at Arsenal or Oviedo at Old Trafford.
But it’s a step in the direction for me, and should only make Everton stronger and more savvy in the long run.
Many people hate the Europa League. I love it. I bet anyone who went to Wolfsburg does too. It’s massively important to Everton.
This club needs to be in Europe every year. It needs to learn how to cope with all the extra fixtures, to raise it’s profile abroad so it can attract better players, and face different styles of football on a regular basis.
It is also winnable. I would rather win the Europa League than the Capital One Cup, wouldn’t you? Only one has a Champions League place as a prize.
I’m not saying Everton will win it. But they have a chance. It’s going to hurt their league form. But it’s worth a gamble – especially as there are no massive Champions League dropouts in it this year.
So if the Blues are labouring to a dull goalless draw with Southampton this weekend, and another corner has just failed to beat the first man, don’t boo.
Think of the bigger picture. Think how much Martinez has transformed this club, and what prizes are still up for grabs this season.
And enjoy a Blue Christmas whatever happens.