Everton must capitalise on favourable start

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Jamie McDonald/Getty ImagesMarouane Fellaini and Everton open their Premier League campaign with a visit to Carrow Road to face Norwich City.

Forget the summer transfers and the overwhelming speculation, the Premier League fixtures are the first real sign that the new season is approaching. One of the few topics safe from heated debate, supporters can relax, for the most part, as they browse through the key dates in the footballing calendar.

- Premier League fixtures

First up for Everton is a trip to Carrow Road, the home of Norwich, forever synonymous with Delia Smith and her infamous "let's be having you" episode, and the Blues will need to improve on their last trip to East Anglia. Leading 1-0 with six minutes remaining, Everton slumped to a 2-1 defeat.

The home campaign kicks off against West Brom and then a trip to league new boys Cardiff completes the August fixtures. The first real test for Roberto Martinez follows that as Chelsea visit Goodison on 14th September. A first visit to London is the fifth game of the season, with West Ham playing host, before Newcastle visit Goodison on 28th September.

Chelsea aside, the first games are favourable (on paper) with the platform in place for Martinez and his troops to hit the ground running; whether that happens is another matter entirely. The seventh game of the season marks the first 'big' away game as Everton trundle along the M62 to the Etihad, but the strong record against Manchester City offers plenty of hope.

The first Merseyside derby arrives on 23rd November at Goodison; the Anfield fixture pencilled in for 28th January, though both are sure to move for television coverage. Martinez will need to improve on the recent derby record; David Moyes returned just four wins in his 25 Merseyside derbies.

December provides successive challenging fixtures along with a first chance to break the Moyes hoodoo of no away wins at the original Top 4 teams. Ironically, the first chance to do so is a trip to Manchester United on Tuesday 3rd December; a weekend jaunt to Arsenal tags on to this.

Completing the away days against the Top 4 is a trip to Stamford Bridge in February. The well-documented Moyes record at the 'Sky Four' became a major talking point during his time at Everton, but it was a problem apparent long before his arrival and something Martinez will need to change.

After all, these records verge on the embarrassing. Everton are winless at Old Trafford since August 1992, November 1994 saw the last win at Chelsea, Arsenal are unbeaten on their patch since January 1996 and an Anfield win has proven elusive since September 1999.

The festive period sees two home fixtures prior to a notoriously difficult away fixture; Sunderland visit on Boxing Day, Southampton arrive on the 28th then Everton travel to Stoke. Trips to the Britannia tend to turn into a footballing eyesore with the Blues struggling there in recent seasons.

The 2013-14 season ends with a series of hard-hitting home games, Everton face Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs in their last three at Goodison. The final day witnesses a trip to another of the promoted side as Steve Bruce and Hull welcome Everton to the KC Stadium.

There is a tough run from November-December along with those closing home games, yet the fixtures appear evenly spread throughout the campaign. Given an encouraging opening set of matches, the onus is on the Toffees to kick-start the new season. However, the challenge is maintaining a consistent level; too often, Everton start and end the season at opposing ends of the form spectrum.

Furthermore, Martinez must eradicate the concession of late goals. This was the Achilles heel of the side in 2012-13 and contributed to the team missing out on European competition. Also, it is imperative that Everton bully the sides in the lower reaches of the division in the season ahead; there were no away wins at any of the relegated sides last season.

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