From Arsenal to Andros Townsend, form and class seem to have been confused a lot this season. The wider picture of the Premier League at all levels is taking a long time to emerge, and we still don't really know who's going to be involved in the title race, the relegation battle, or the fight for the Champions League places. But Roberto Martinez's Everton have been one of the few examples of form backing up a more tangible rise in stock.
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The appointment married both a club and a manager who had been associated with slow starts and irresistible finishes, so it was a surprise to see Everton get off to such a great start in their campaign. If the fabled late charge of both comes to fruition, then Everton will once again be serious competitors for the Champions League places -- no mean feat for a squad that is far less impressive than any of their rivals.
Part of this is owed to some remarkably smart business in the window. Gareth Barry has been one of the signings of the season -- that says a lot more about how the big buys of other clubs have gone on so far, but Manchester City have even missed his presence, and Everton have profited from his ability to be a more competent water-carrier, staying in position and keeping things simple, than the likes of Darron Gibson.
In addition, the inexpensive acquisitions of Antolin Alcaraz and Arouna Kone ought to have given Everton a boost in squad depth -- a common bugbear for their troubles -- but injuries have curtailed both so far, although the former is likely to make his debut soon. Kone was dubbed by one writer as 'the best crap player in the league', and it seems that it could all have been financed by getting rid of the Yin to his Yang, the most crap great player in the league, Marouane Fellaini.
Martinez had been used to working with a small budget, and he managed to pull off one of the best bits of business of the season in the move to replace the Belgian with James McCarthy. Such a move could have easily ended up being almost a straight swap, but (partly through the incompetence of Manchester United, it must be admitted) Fellaini was sold for a fee well above his value, while McCarthy was acquired for a surprisingly low fee from Dave Whelan.
The move also showed a faith in a more patient, productive method of football, and Fellaini's struggles to adapt to the higher reaches of the game have backed up the notion. The notion of Roberto Martinez being a manager who likes to play the ball on the ground rather than going route one is a naive one. He was famed for doing so in the Championship in an era when most teams lacked the bravery to play attractive, attacking football. In the top half of the Premier League, this is simply the norm. It's the most common way of playing in the entire division now, and increasingly in the second tier too. Martinez deserves credit for his pioneering work in the Football League with Swansea, but carrying it on is no longer worth the praise.
Instead, it's possible that he might simply be a very good manager. Everton's success hasn't owed much to a transformation in style. McCarthy is an elegant waif of a player, but he and Gareth Barry have not single-handedly transformed Everton. David Moyes' struggles at Manchester United have led to plenty of revisionism over him being a negative, direct manager, which is absurd -- such allegations, if true, would doubtlessly have been made much earlier than now.
Wigan were probably the most patronised team in the league during their last stay in England's top flight, and Martinez certainly had that in common. They certainly had a squad more than capable of staying in the league in his final season, although the remarkable glory of the FA Cup more than erases that stain. It seems as though Martinez is not some plucky hero who plays jaw-dropping football at the expense of results, but just a good manager. It'll be a surprise if his stay at Everton is ended by anything other than leaving for a bigger club.