Midfield key for Carrow Road trip

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesAs opposed to last season's opener against Manchester United where he played in an attacking midfield role, Marouane Fellaini will line up as a central mid for Everton at Norwich City.

Plenty of intrigued eyes will place their gaze on Carrow Road tomorrow when Roberto Martinez embarks on his first competitive outing as Everton manager. Facing a Norwich side bolstered by a summer recruitment drive, this away day should offer a stern examination of Martinez and his players.

Upon his arrival, Martinez spoke well regarding his plans for Everton and has continued to make all the right noises. Swiftly adding four signings in a whirlwind three days -- although none of them are likely to start tomorrow -- the squad has a more robust feel to it.

- Fellaini release clause expires

Following a productive pre-season, the onus is now on Martinez to shake several unwanted records. The Toffees are winless in eight on the road and yet to beat Norwich since their top-flight return; Norwich won this fixture last season with three other meetings ending in draws.

Having secured a first opening day win since 2007 in the victory over Manchester United last season, Everton will be aiming to improve on their recent opening fixtures; the Blues have lost seven of their last 10 Premier League curtain raisers. The catalyst for the opening day success against United, Marouane Fellaini, will have a key role here -- albeit a different one.

Used in an advanced midfield role last season, the giant Belgian grabbed the only goal of the game to crown a towering opening day display. Liable to start in his preferred central midfield position against Norwich, the pressure is on Fellaini to win the midfield battle especially given the doubts surrounding Darron Gibson.

Straining his knee in the final pre-season friendly against Real Betis, Gibson is rated as '50-50' by his manager. Gibson is vital to this Everton side, with the Blues often struggling in his absence, and his availability would supply a timely boost for this fixture.

Relying on Fellaini, who is fully fit after recovering from a cut leg, and Gibson (if fit), this central midfield pairing can provide the platform for the attacking talent within the Everton forward line. Seemingly reborn after a wayward campaign last time out, four pre-season goals look to have secured a starting berth for Nikica Jelavic in this East Anglia jaunt.

Behind Jelavic, the creative pressure is likely to fall on Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas and the marauding defensive pairing of Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines. Often an easy target for criticism, no Everton player has created more goals than Pienaar (12) since he returned in January 2012.

On the opposing flank, Mirallas is primed to flourish this season. Boosted by a full pre-season, the former Olympiakos player has the ability to thrive under the possession-based style implemented by Martinez.

Heavily involved in the better moments of pre-season, whether it was scoring or assisting, the shackles appear lifted for Mirallas. Able to play across the forward line, the Premier League is set to witness the Belgian at his best this season.

Elsewhere, although starting further back, Baines and Coleman are critical parts of the Everton machine. Baines ended last season with 116 chances created -- the most in the Premier League and the second highest across the top five leagues in Europe.

Finding his feet at right back, Coleman returned five assists last season -- Baines matched this figure; the best return by any defenders in 12-13. Regularly rampaging down the right wing, the Irish fullback remains at his best going forward. Nevertheless, Coleman has continued to progress defensively and is one of the first names on the team sheet at present.

Using Fellaini and his midfield partner -- whoever that may be -- as a base, the creative ability of those in the advanced midfield roles can provide the ammunition to fire Everton to a first win over Norwich since their league return.


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