Southampton 0 - 3 Everton
What a difference a week makes. With all the concern over what Everton's immediate future holds given the alarming backwards steps taken last season, the paucity of the club's transfer dealings this summer, the appearance against Watford that nothing has been learned or changed from 2014-15 and the Blues's record at the St Mary's, few Evertonians would have expected what unfolded on the south coast today.
Many fans had been quite open about how content they would be to escape from Southampton with a creditable goalless draw and resume the nervous wait for the reinforcements that Roberto Martinez has repeatedly promised will arrive before the transfer deadline. A swashbuckling 3-0 victory later, evocative of the very best moments of the Catalan's first season in charge, and suddenly hope for an unexpectedly good season ahead has been awakened.
In view of that they achieved last term, Ronald Koeman's Saints deserved their status as one of the opponents forming a daunting run of fixtures for Everton between now and the end of October. Though they lost Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne and Toby Alderweirald in the summer, they have again bought well and even with a side depleted by injury this weekend, they remained a tough proposition on paper.
What underlined how well Martinez's Toffees picked them off with almost military precision to match the olive green uniforms they debuted was that Southampton didn't play particularly badly. Koeman's men were subdued by a tenacious Blues display, stifled in attack by a majestic personal performance in particular from John Stones and destroyed by an Everton attacking unit which finally found some long-missing intensity and a killer final ball.
Perhaps on a mission to atone for their dreadful last visit to this ground in another lunchtime kick-off last December, Everton appeared to have come with purpose this time around and it was evident in their early play even if the contest was largely even during its first quarter.
With 21 minutes on the clock, however, the visitors broke away from a Southampton corner with impressive speed with Arouna Kone using Tom Cleverley's run down the channel as a decoy before floating an inch-perfect cross to Romelu Lukaku who adjusted his neck superbly mid-flight to enable him to guide the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg near the far post.
Perhaps forced into deploying the bold twin-striker formation by a desire not to rush either Kevin Mirallas or Gerard Deulofeu back from injury, Martinez played the rejuvenated Kone off Lukaku like he did to such good effect in the last third of last weekend's 2-2 home draw and was richly rewarded.
So, too was the apaprent decision to drop Barkley back into a slightly more withdrawn role, one which allowed him to launch runs and probe from deeper than was the case for most of last season. Where the 21-year-old prodigy failed last week to slip Lukaku in on one of those rampaging bursts forward, today he slipped him in perfectly on the stroke of half time and the Belgian swept home his second to give Everton a commanding lead going into the break.
Koeman would have demanded a response during his half-time sermon and he got it as Southampton emerged from the interval determined to make amends by dominating possession and trying to find their way through an obstinate Blues rearguard bolstered by another assured outing from young Brendan Galloway at left back. They would be consistently frustrated, however; Victor Wanyama despatched a free header wide and Graziano Pelle put two more over the crossbar, while Sadio Mane, the only Saint who truly troubled Everton in any meaningful manner, forced a parried save from Tim Howard.
There was a feeling, meanwhile, that this was the kind of Everton effort that deserved an "icing on the cake" moment and there was no player more deserving of it that Barkley whose moment arrived six minutes from the end. Another incisive Toffees attack had ended with Seamus Coleman popping up in the opposition box with one defender between himself and the goalkeeper but he was alive to Barkley in space to his left. The England international took one touch from the Irishman's pass to wrong-foot his marker before curling emphatically past Stekelenburg to make it 3-0.
With Steven Naismith and Deulofeu replacing the visibly spent duo of Kone and Lukaku late on, the Scot had a terrific opportunity to make it 4-0 when he momentarily looked in one-on-one with the 'keeper but he was closed out by two defenders but Martinez's men had done a sterling job by that point and were the deserving recipients of the points.
It was the kind of result that seemed well beyond Everton in the Premier League last season and a performance evocative of that stunning victory by the same margin at Newcastle the campaign before last or the clinical counter attacking that lit up the Europa League campaign last season against teams similarly intent on an open passing game. As such, it was a thrilling reminder of what this squad – so similar to the one that finished fifth just 16 months ago – is capable of.