Stones shines as Everton begin their US tour

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Overseeing his new charges for the fourth time, Roberto Martinez watched Everton match Juventus throughout this contest. When the full-time whistle blew, with the two teams tied at 1-1, there was probably a hint of disappointment; Everton ought to have won in normal time. The Toffees eventually emerged victorious after Tim Howard saved the decisive spot kick to ensure Everton won 6-5 on penalties.

The first stage of the US tour was always going to supply a stern test for Martinez. Bold and innovative in his approach, the positivity paid off thanks to another productive outing from his players. In addition, replicating the Juventus system, Martinez implemented a three-man defence for the first time.

- Everton down Juve in cup opener

This tactical switch led to the introduction of John Stones, the youngster forming a back three alongside Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin. Making only his second Everton appearance, Stones lasted the full 90 minutes and demonstrated the potential that convinced David Moyes to pay £3 million for his signature in January.

 John Stones showed his potential in Everton's back three against Juventus.
GettyImages John Stones showed his potential in Everton's back three against Juventus.

Assured in possession, the young centre-back showed composure beyond his tender years. As the game wore on, supporters also witnessed the defensive talents within his game; two outstanding blocks and a last-gasp tackle the highlights of this promising display. Nevertheless, for all the defensive potential, the pièce de résistance arrived in the penalty shootout.

Usually the personification of cool, Andrea Pirlo spurned the chance to win the shootout for the Italian champions, as the cultured midfield man dumped his penalty past the right-hand post. Undeterred, needing to score to keep Everton in the shootout, Stones nonchalantly chipped his spot kick into the top corner for a fitting end to a hugely impressive individual performance.

Beginning the match on the front foot, this newfound patient style of play becomes easier on the eye with each passing match. Dictating the tempo in the early stages, there was a confidence to the Everton football and, with every player wanting the ball, the belief within the side appears to be increasing by the day.

Chances were at a premium during the first half, but Everton used the ball well in pursuit of clear-cut openings. Likewise, a similarly proactive approach prevailed without possession. The opening period bore witness to an Everton side pressing the ball like a pack of rabid dogs.

Firing the Blues into a second-half lead, this was typically enigmatic fare from Kevin Mirallas. Quiet for the most part, the well-taken goal breathed fresh impetus into his evening and the Belgian transformed into a threat in the final third.

Despite the team gradually adjusting to the new system as the match progressed, the formation still offers concerns. Although the back three performed well individually, the collective output fell short. Mistiming a number of offside traps, there was indecision on occasion, while this setup also appeared to stifle the attacking talents of Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman.

Needing to strike the correct balance between tactical versatility and a formation suited to the players at his disposal, Martinez must be wary of disrupting a strong Everton rearguard.

Elsewhere, the only bum note of the night was the contribution of Leon Osman. Featuring for the final 25 minutes, his impact on proceedings consisted of a mistake for the Juventus goal and a missed penalty. Symptomatic of his form in recent months, the midfielder needs to raise his game or face the prospect of Ross Barkley taking his place in the squad.

Overall, aside from some teething problems with the new tactics, this was another satisfying result rounded off by a standout performance from Stones. Moving on, the challenge of LA Galaxy or Real Madrid awaits in Los Angeles as Everton build towards the new season.


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