Profitable pre-season ends on Sunday

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesRoberto Martinez and Wigan close out their sucsessful pre-season with a firm test against Spanish side Betis.

Everton climb the final rung of their pre-season ladder on Sunday. Spanish side Real Betis are the visitors and will be the first team to test out the new Goodison Park pitch. Finishing seventh in La Liga last season, the Andalucia side will offer a stern test on the back of the American fixtures.

Closing against a strong La Liga side, this pre-season has witnessed an obvious upturn regarding the quality of the opposition. Beginning against Austria Vienna, as the Austrian champions were only a week away from their new season, Roberto Martinez used 21 players as the match allowed the new manager to examine the potential of the younger players within the squad.

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Apostolos Vellios grabbed the Everton goal, but the Greek forward would find pre-season opportunities limited thereafter. One of four signings completed prior to the Austria trip, Joel Robles made his debut in Vienna. Aside from a late error against Blackburn, the young goalkeeper has impressed and is capable of pushing Tim Howard for the number one spot.

Upon returning to Merseyside, Accrington Stanley provided a first win for Martinez. Kevin Mirallas scored two, assisted another and constantly threatened the home defence. After an injury-blighted first season, the stage is set for Mirallas to drive the team forward this season. The Belgian has stood out in pre-season; Everton look a more dangerous proposition with him on the pitch.

Blackburn provided the opposition for game three of pre-season. Showing glimpses of the form that marked his 2012 arrival, Nikica Jelavic grabbed a brace at Ewood Park to deliver a timely reminder of his undoubted finishing ability.

Registering his third pre-season goal in the match against Real Madrid, Jelavic has regained a degree of sharpness and is surely the favourite to get the nod for the opening day trip to Norwich.

Fresh from the comfortable wins over Accrington and Blackburn, Italian champions Juventus represented a step up in class for the first US match. Employing 3-5-2 for the first time, the Toffees sneaked a win on penalties despite having enough chances to win in normal time.

Coping admirably with the new system, the most pleasing aspect was the performance of John Stones on his full debut. Capping a man-of-the-match display with a coolly taken penalty, the youngster also showed his defensive qualities and looks set for a bright future in blue.

With the games arriving thick and fast, Everton narrowly lost 2-1 to Real Madrid in the next match. On the rough end of several decisions, Martinez's men held their own, though the formation weakened their cause.

Switching to a 4-3-3, seemingly unsure of their roles, the midfield trio suffered against the Real Madrid counter attacks. The lack of midfield support led to Madrid exposing the Everton defence, as the Spanish side exploited the high line for each of their goals.

Although defeated, positives still arose from the match. Seamus Coleman delivered a strong defensive showing and had an assist to further underline his importance to the side. In midfield, following his improved Juventus display, Steven Naismith continued his upturn in form; the Scottish international has seemingly put his disappointing first season in the rear-view mirror.

Valencia completed the US tour, but a tired Everton struggled in humid conditions and Los Che strolled to victory. Nevertheless, in contrast to the lethargic performances surrounding him, Bryan Oviedo continued his bright pre-season.

Bursting forward from full back, and capable of occupying a midfield role, the Costa Rican should feature more frequently after bench warming for the majority of his first season. Using his recovery pace well, Oviedo is equally strong defensively. Should Leighton Baines depart, there is an in-form left back waiting in the wings to soften the blow.

Utilising various systems and implementing a more patient style, with results largely irrelevant, Everton have enjoyed a productive pre-season against high quality opposition. Reaching the end of pre-season, this last match against Betis will allow Martinez to finalise on his opening day eleven and reflect on a resourceful start to his Everton career.


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