Everton 4 - 0 Aston Villa
They say there are no easy games in the Premier League these days and to a large extent that's true. Even in Everton's previous home fixture against Sunderand there was a brief spell where a sense of deja vu descended over Goodison Park as the Black Cats completed a comeback from 2-0 down to equalise and briefly ratcheted up the angst in the Grand Old Lady. What Roberto Martinez's Toffees demonstrated in the final 35 minutes of that match, where they scored four without reply, and for much of today's thumping of Aston Villa is that when they are in the mood, they can make things look very easy indeed.
In the 86 Premier League games under Martinez prior to the beginning of November, Everton had beaten a side by a four-goal margin on only one occasion – the 4-0 drubbing of Stoke City almost two years ago. In their last two home matches, they've now done it twice, revealing an increasingly lethal edge to a side that has so often struggled to break down teams that have come to Merseyside intent on digging in and frustrating the Blues by shutting down their passing game.
The result was that rather lamenting another turtuous game of slow, directionless football and points dropped against a struggling side, the like of which was a plague on last season, the Goodison faithful were toasting another sumptuous exhibition of attacking football and three important points to kick off what the manager has identified as a dozen crucial games in Everton's season.
The key, as it was in the four previous victories the Blues have earned in the League this season, was to score the first goal. Coming off a morale-boosting goalless draw with Manchester City before the international break, Aston Villa, under new manager Remi Garde, appeared to have been instructed to keep things as tight as possible by dropping deep, compress the space and force Everton to break them down.
Indeed, the first quarter of an hour bore familiar hallmarks of some of the Blues' more patience-sapping home displays over the past year or so with plenty of sideways passing along the back four and a number of ill-advised cross-field balls trying to bypass a congested middle third and release the likes of Brendan Galloway down the left flank or Gerard Deulofeu and Seamus Coleman down the right. With Villa's attacking intent conspicous by its absence. the onus was very much on Everton to create the tempo, which they did to brilliant effect with 16 minutes gone.
John Stones's quick forward pass was heel-flicked neatly on to James McCarthy by Ross Barkley who would end up at the end of the move a few seconds later to tuck a shot inside the far post after Deulofeu's low ball had been pushed into his path by Brad Guzan in the Villa goal. The breakthrough made, the floodgates then opened and the match was effectively won by half time.
Guzan would foil Arouna Kone brilliantly 10 minutes later when Deulofeu ghosted past Ciaran Clark to the byline and cut the ball back for the Ivorian to fire goalwards from close range but the American was powerless to prevent the second a couple of minutes later. Deulofeu had played Lukaku in where his initial shot was blocked but he sprang to his feet in time to leap and meet Coleman's inch-perfect, clipped cross and steer a header into the far corner.
Lukaku and Kone were instrumental in the third goal, too, as the Belgian flicked the ball over the top of the visitors' defence and Kone brought it down, dug the ball out of a tangle of legs for Barkley to strike the loose ball into the empty net from a central position to further increase what is already a personal-best goals return.
Forced to abandon their gameplan and venture forward more, the hapless Villains were now exposed to their hosts' threat on the counter attack and only a poor final ball by Deulofeu at the end of a quick-fire attack prevented Garde's side from going into the interval 4-0 down. The visitors were poor, outlining just how tough an assignment the Frenchman has undertaken, but they were also at the mercy of an Everton side that, benefitting from an unchanged line-up from the one that had, arguably, under-performed at West Ham a fortnight ago, is developing a wonderful and at times irresistable chemistry.
The Blues' fourth goal was a poetic illustration of just that. Villa had come out from the half-time interval in search of pride and some retribution for a wretched first half and Jordan Veretout almost had them on the scoresheet when he nipped onto Ramiro Funes Mori's under-hit backpass but Tim Howard was out quickly to charge down his shot. Kieran Richardson, freed momentarily from the torment of trying to keep tabs on Deulofeu as the Spaniard flitted from the touchline to the channels, then forced an excellent one-handed save from the American with a wickedly swerving shot from the edge of the box.
But, aided by a period of complacency from the home side, the Midlanders' rally was brief and Lukaku scored his second a minute before the break, finishing off a rapier-like move that, like the first, began a superb Stones pass that released Deulofeu into space. His pass to Barkley was steered on first time into the perfect area for Lukaku playing off the shoulder of the last man and he swept the ball over Guzan and into the Gwladys Street net with aplomb to notch his seventh goal in as many games.
It could easily have been more and a more padded scoreline wouldn't have flattered Everton a bit. Kevin Mirallas, a 74th-minute introduction in a double change that saw Deulofeu and Barkley depart and Leon Osman also enter the fray, inadvertantly denied Galloway an almost certain first goal when he got in the way of the teenager's shot. He almost made amends, though, with a free kick that was helped wide by the goalkeeper's fingertips and a superb side-foot volley that flashed must over from another late sub, Darron Gibson's cross.
Lukaku, meanwhile, almost stole in to grab a hat-trick but, not for the first time on the afternoon, he lost his footing as he went to dink an effort over the advancing Guzan and the pair collided heavily as the ball deflected off the 'keeper and been hacked away by a defender.
If there were fears nagging at the back of Evertonian minds as the team embarked on this comparatively benign phase of the fixture list that the Blues would either come up against a succession of sides determined to sit in and frustrate them or they would simply just fail to take all three points from supposedly "winnable games" then they will surely have been lessened by successive routs on home soil against two poor, struggling clubs.
After a mixed opening quarter of the League campaign in which the highs of handily beating Southampton and Chelsea were tempered by the comprehensive nature of the defeats to Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal, the hope is that Martinez's side might finally be settling into gear and finding the kind of form that will allow them to really kick on towards a challenge for the top four.
What is certain is that very few teams will be able to live with this Everton side if they perform like this week in, week out. With Lukaku looking to be at his deadly best and revelling in his partnership with Kone, Barkley growing in influence and stature with every game, and Deulofeu becoming a reliable source of assists and creativity – all in front of an impressive rearguard into which Funes Mori has seamlessly stepped – the ingredients are there for the Blues to become a very dangerous outfit. The key, as ever, will be consistency and curtailing complacency, starting at Bournemouth next week.