The charge to the last 16 of the Europa League aside, 2014-15 was a forgettable campaign that Evertonians were, by and large, all too happy to consign to history. The end of the season and the summer transfer window offered the promise of a partial rebuilding exercise and the injection of some select fresh faces capable of elevating what had become a predictable and pedestrian team last term into a side capable of challenging in the top six this season.
It has, for reasons best left for another day, been an opportunity spurned thus far and if proof of that were needed, this third opening-day 2-2 draw against newly-promoted opposition provided it. Roberto Martinez described his players afterwards as still being "in pre-season mode" but for many in the near-capacity crowd at Goodison Park today, it was as if the summer had never happened.
Not only is the team almost exactly the same – of the two new signings, only Tom Cleverley was fit to play, while the injured Leighton Baines was again deputised competently by Brendan Galloway – but many of the familiar deficiencies that under-pinned a disappointing 11th-place finish last season were still painfully evident against the Hornets: that the Blues lack genuine quailty in the final third in the continuing absence of the likes of Steven Pienaar; that Romelu Lukaku may look the part but he is not well-suited to the "target-man", lone-striker role; that the defence is prone to conceding soft goals; and that we are capable of scoring when we move the ball quickly and apply sustained pressure to the opposition but we don't really "turn up" until we've fallen behind.
Martinez stated once more after the game that the team needs fresh blood and the arrival of those three new additions he has promised but, as yet, there is no sign of them and the fear that has dogged many fans ever since the fixtures were released in June is becoming a reality – that we would fail to beat Watford before facing three daunting matches at Southampton and Spurs and at home to Manchester City before late arrivals would finally be drafted in before the deadline. The 1st of September feels an awfully long way away...
A chief complaint for many Blues last season was that any side that did their homework could work out how to shut down Everton's most potent weapons and frustrate them into a harmless passing game in front of two banks of four. New Watford boss Quique Flores certainly seemed to have done that as his Hornets regularly swarmed around Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley to starve them of the time and space in which they revel to make things happen. Any notion that Flores' side would be vulnerable due to the need to bed in all of his club's new signings was quickly dismissed – Watford were well-organised and though they had far less possession, when they had the ball they often used it better than their hosts, particularly in the first half.
They settled quickly and their early energy had required Galloway to time an excellent slide tackle to deny Ikechi Anya early on before Troy Deeney sliced a knockdown wide from a decent position. Those were two warning signs that were followed by the opening goal in the 14th minute. Jurado crossed low from the left, the ball came off Phil Jagielka in the box and dropped invitingly to Miguel Layun in a central position in front of goal to hammer past Tim Howard.
Everton's response was slow in coming but a set-piece carrying rare danger saw Gareth Barry's header touched over the bar by Heurelho Gomes, while the best move from Martinez's side of the first half involving Mirallas and Cleverley on the left ended with the goalkeeper tipping Barkley's shot behind. It was, by and large, ponderous stuff from the Blues, though, with the occasional burst by Barkley or Mirallas coming to nothing as attacks broke down in familiar fashion in the final third. Indeed, Barkley might have done better to release an expectant – and ultimately visibly frustrated – Lukaku when the pair had time to drive towards the opposition defence but he ended up running across the three retreating yellow shirts and into a cul-de-sac.
The presence of all three of Barry, McCarthy and Cleverley, three similar central midfield players long on industry but short on creativity and guile – didn't help. The Barry-McCarthy axis came into its own during Martinez's first season in charge in the freedom it afforded Baines and Coleman to raid as wing-backs down the flanks but with the former out of action, it felt superfluous; while Barry was competent in his holding role before moving back to left back in the second half, you couldn't help feeling that dropping the more youthful Cleverley back and bringing in another attacking body in place of the veteran Barry would have been a better solution.
After an insipid first half that yielded no clear-cut chances for Everton to speak of, things had to – and did – get better once the second period got underway and there was an almost immediate improvement in the delivery into the box from wide areas. Unfortunately, Mirallas was let down by a lack of blue jerseys in the centre when he bent a superb cross behind the Watford defence in the first attack after the break before his cross-cum-shot had Gomes momentarily panicking before batting the ball over his bar for another corner. And had Barkley's teasing cross been a couple of inches lower, Lukaku might have opened his account in the 50th minute. Unfortunately, he just couldn't get sufficiently above it to guide it into the net and he ended up putting it harmlessly wide of the far post.
Still, it was more promising from the Blues until Mirallas was taken out by a horrible tackle from Valon Behrami and looked to have become the latest victim of the Goodison injury curse as he rolled around in agony clutching his ankle. The Belgian was able to get back to his feet and eventually returned to the match before being replaced by Bryan Oviedo when it was clear he wasn't right to continue.
In between, however, Everton had equalised thanks to the timely intervention of Martinez's first substitute, Arouna Kone. The Ivorian had come on for Galloway in the 63rd minute and he was in the right place 13 minutes later to field Coleman's centre and lay it back to Barkley who unloaded a sweetly-struck shot that bulleted into net from 20-odd yards out to level the game.
With the crowd now back in the game and the Blues' tails up, it should have been a moment that signalled the changing of the tide in the contest. Apart from a couple of moments where Howard had to parry away Holebas' long-range effort and John Stones had brilliantly blocked Anya's effort, Watford had become entrenched to a degree in a defensive posture but they immediately started venturing forward again after conceding the goal and were back in front within seven minutes.
Finding himsef in space in front of the Blues' defence, Odion Ighalo twisted the hitherto imperious Stones into knots and prompted him into going to ground prematurely to block his faked shot before dragging the ball onto his right foot and firing low past Howard's left glove. All very "Palace at home" from a year ago and frustration enveloped Goodison once more.
Thankfully, Everton had what was arguably their most incisive moment of the game up their sleeve and it was no coincidence that the two strikers combined to create it because the Blues had looked more dangerous with Kone alongside Lukaku. The former's knockdown fell to the latter and when Kone continued his overlapping run and collected Lukaku's nicely-weighted pass, he found the far corner with a crisp shot across the stranded Gomes.
2-2 and now there were hopes of a late charge for a winner but it never really materialised. Gomes saved comfortably from a Lukaku volley from the left side of the area and Anya dragged a poor shot well wide at the other and the two sides had to be content with a point apiece.
One game doesn't make a season but this one certainly perpetuated a trend firmly established last season, one which clearly illustrated the priorities for the summer. The week to come before the lunchtime date with Southampton at the St Mary's will no doubt find Evertonians eagerly waiting for news or evidence of Martinez's ongoing search for reinforcements and it's clear that some fresh blood is badly needed.
Kone will hopefully have given the manager something to think about in terms of playing a second striker in certain situations but it shouldn't fool anyone into believing we don't need a reliable goalscoring alternative added to the mix. More important still is that hard-to-fill playmaker role and the acquisition of a player capable of unlocking a defence or winning a match on his own.
Fail to find those missing pieces and, on the evidence of today, you feel that Everton are doomed to another season of mediocrity.
After the early exchanges, it was Watford who took the lead when a cross set up nicely off Jagielka for Layun to fire in. Barkley lashed home a fantastic equalizer after sustained second-half pressure. But Watford snatched a second in a rare foray, Kone replying straight away with a great finish to snatch a point.
Roberto Martinez chose to start Romelu Lukaku in the first game of the new season against Watford after worries about his fitness as the injury list stretched to seven with the addition of Leighton Baines, the others being Hibbert, Gibson, Besic, Deulofeu, Pienaar and McGeady.
Brendan Galloway got the call-up at left-back after impressing last season. New contract signees McCarthy and Mirallas started for Everton. Watford kicked off, playing toward the Gwladys Street end in glorious summer sunshine.
Ross Barkley won the first corner, taken on the right by Mirallas with Stones being impeded by a Watford defender, PrĂ¶dl. At the other end, Galloway covered well to deny Deeney, giving Watford a corner. All the Everton attacks were exclusively down the right, and it was fairly scrappy in the early exchanges.
Watford put Everton under some pressure and it paid off, a cross coming off Jagielka and Layun lashing it in past Howard to put Everton on the back foot after just 14 minutes.
Coleman was finally able to cross, forcing a corner that Barry headed just over, with the help of a fist from Gomes. A corner from the left came to nothing and Everton stalled a little with players static, forcing Barry to hit it long for Lukaku.
Everton tried to work it for a shot from a central position from Barkley but it was solidly blocked Another long ball from Barry fell invitingly for Lukaku but there was too much bounce for him.
Watford were building a solid and seemingly impenetrable defence that picked off any loose ball or lack of accuracy in tight passing, forcing Barkley to wellie one from way far out.
Better play on the left, getting Cleverly involved, let Barkley shoot from an angle, a much better effort forcing a tip-over by Gomes. But it was proving very difficult for the Blues to get a decent sight of goal, with Lukaku getting nothing off Watford's centre-backs, although the big man's woeful first touch was not helping matters.
Everton's old problem of slow build-up play and static passing triangles was allowing Watford the few seconds they needed in transition to set themselves up, and resulting Blues attacks were exhibiting the frustrations all to familiar from last season. Watford pressed briefly after a spell of solid defending and it was ended by a rather nasty two-footed foul by Deeney.
Better forward play saw Coleman finally get some space to cross but it was not good enough for Lukaku to attack, and there were boos from the locals at half-time after a worryingly impotent first half.
Everton showed more desire and intent from the restart, but the quality of crosses in was not quite good enough until Barkley laid one on a plate for Lukaku at the far post but incredibly he missed the target with a very lame header.
Some much better attacks followed but the quality needed in the final third was not there, and Everton needed to be alert for the counter, Coleman getting called for a fair tackle deemed 'from behind': yellow card.
An unusual move by Martinez after the hour, Kone on for Galloway, Barry moving to left back. Cleverley delivered a great ball in for Kone but his header lacked power and direction. Mirallas went down in agony as Behrami came down with a lot of force hard on his right ankle.
Mirallas came back on and played in Coleman for a great cross but neither Kone nor Lukaku attacked it with any conviction. Crosses continued to be curled in and Kone played one back nicely for Barkley who lashed a fantastic shot into the top corner, to make the scoreline barely respectable going into the final 15 mins of a very frustrating game for the Blues. Oviedo replaced Mirallas.
Everton needed to sustain the better tempo of the second half to secure the winning goal, but the game flagged a little. Oviedo fired in a fantastic cross that Lukaku just watched, while at the other end, Deeney jinked and dodged aside of John Stones to dig out a simple shot that beat Howard all hands down to deliver a further stunning blow.
But in the next Everton attack, a better cross, played on by Kone to Lukaku saw an excellent piece of hold-up play with his back to goal, making space wide for Kone to run onto and slot an excellent shot beyond Gomes into the far corner, giving Everton a second equalizer.
Naismith replaced Lukaku for the 5 mins of added time, and Kone almost fed him a great ball as Everton pushed hard for the winner but it was Watford who finished with a flourish that underline the trouble they had caused Everton with another season opener ending in a 2-2 draw against a promoted side.
Everton: Howard; Coleman [Y:54'], Stones, Jagielka (c), Galloway (62' Kone); Barry, McCarthy; Cleverley, Mirallas (71' Oviedo), Barkley, Lukaku (90' Naismith).
Subs not Used: Robles, Osman, Browning, McAleny.
Watford:Gomes; Nyom, Cathcart, PrĂ¶dl, Holebas [Y:66']; Capoue, Behrami (79' Watson); Anya, Jurado (74' Ighalo), Layun (59' Paredes); Deeney [Y:42'].
Subs not Used: Gilmartin, Angella, Pudil, Vydra.
Referee: Mike Jones
From My Seat: Watford (H)
It's back again after a very short close season and with the addition of a couple of signings as well as a couple more players having contracts renewed – plus the interest in Stones by Chelsea, which our present manager has a few words to say but the most important for Blues are that Stones is not for sale and the club have no need to sell. The Room of Nonsense is split about 60/40 on him staying. We shall see.
The weather was at its most kind for our opener and the walk up was a pleasure. It must be like this for Spanish fans most of the time – in fact with a little imagination we could have been in Barcelona. Spellow Lane was our Las Ramblas and the Old Lady our Camp Nou. Street eateries were provided by the Fat Van, Blue Dragon chippie and the CafĂ©. The fan zone provided the street type entertainment and the walk down Goodison Road provided evidence of everyone having fun in the sun as big waste bins overflowed with chip trays and paper wrapping. Into the ground and our turnstile had run out of fixture cards! One explanation I heard was that the turnstile staff were handing them out in handfuls to those first there. Not a good omen I thought.
Z-Cars blared and both sets of fans felt the familiarity as Watford use it too. As the teams were read out by our new matchday caller, Stones was given quite an ovation but his acknowledgement was rather understated (ammo for conspiracy theorists). Our ref today was Mike Jones, a Welsh lad who resides in Chester so he qualifies to ref in the English league – or so I am told – and he got us underway dead on 3.00pm. Lukaku was fit so started but Baines was missing and we heard he is out for three months with a bad ankle problem so young Galloway deputised.
From the off we set the pace and looked quite sharp and early doors we won a corner when Barkley had the ball slid from him by a defender. Mirallas took but such was the pushing and holding melee in the box it petered out. We then went into familiar mode as players played nice football from the back through midfield but on reaching the opposition eighteen yard line, we were either too eager or to heavy or wayward with passes causing groans in the sunshine from a good many in attendance. Watford seemed to sense we did not have much up top so pressed harder and quicker which resulted in Galloway having to produce good defensive work and deny Deeney by sliding the ball for a corner which we dealt with. It was a bit flat now the game but the travelling fans were having a ball and offering to sing a song for us.
Coming up to the fifteen minute mark Watford were having more play than they should and were pressing in numbers and it paid off when we left a bit flat-footed down our left and allowed a cross to be made which seemed to bounce off Jags. A Watford player fairly whacked it home leaving Howard only to fish the ball out of the net. Our new announcer informed us his name was Layun.
Now the Watford fans roared, they welcomed fun in the sun whilst we were left flat. Just a quarter of an hour gone and we are a goal down at home and only Barry looking anything like a player who knew his job and was carrying it out. Some of our touches and passing was poor, certainly not fully joined-up. The rest of the half was nothing to write home about, with the standouts being Coleman showing electric pace and geting a cross in that was put behind for a corner which Barry headed well but the keeper tipped over. It was hard to watch at times, with only Barry trying to mix it up by alternating with short and long balls; a couple of the long ones to Lukaku looked promising but the big man had little luck with his touch and a tendency to stray offside.
Cleverley did well on the left and created a bit of space for Barkley who hit a fierce cross shot that the keeper did really well to tip away for a corner which came to nought.
Watford seemed to go into defensive mode to ensure they kept the lead and had many men back to repel us. Yet on closer scrutiny we were the architects of our own downfall by over-passing and allowing Watford the few seconds they needed to form the barrier. I found myself willing half time to arrive as Coleman again went down the wing but alas his cross was not the best and eluded Lukaku who had made up ground.
Half time whistle and a chorus of boos from quite a few gathered. A bit harsh I thought as it may not have been the best of halves but in the first game proper it would do nothing to lift the players and, in my opinion, we fans can do some good with at least encouragement as it’s a long season.
H/T chat brought calls for a couple of subs to be made but it was as-you-were when the players re-emerged.
Second half and we began at a higher tempo but that last third was again squanderland. However. Barkley put in a great cross that beat the keeper for height and seemed to be falling on to Lukaku’s head and all he had to do was guide it into the net, but somehow he seemed to get his timing of jump plus head and neck movement wrong and a cert goal barely reached the front row of the Gwladys. I will look forward to seeing that again in slow-mo; I may be doing him a disservice.
Barry was still doing his best to pull the strings but was not getting the response some of his passes deserved and attacks broke down. Watford seemed to note this and defended in numbers and drew us on knowing we would break down in the final third and were hitting us on the break with a bit of pace. From one of these breaks the Watford man was away but the pace of Coleman helped to catch him but his tackle, although winning the ball was from behind so yellow it was.
Watford were no great shakes but, although we looked a better outfit ourselves, anything good produced floundered mainly with unforced errors. Just an hour gone and the manager made an attacking change when Kone was introduced and Galloway given a good reception as he left the field, Barry going to left back. Also the formation changed from what looked like 4-2-3-1 that changed as required to 4-3-3 to the old 4-4-2
Almost immediately Cleverley, who was having a steady game, put in a great cross that Kone got to but at the vital moment had a touch of the Lukaku’s and the ball dropped wide. "Goal!" was in the throat at that moment but alas never left. More bad news arrived for the Blues as a Watford player seemed to put his foot on Mirallas’s ankle and he went down and didn’t move. The physio came on and a clutch of players stood around him while a stretcher party moved at snail’s pace around the perimeter. All ended well when he limped off, did a couple of runs and came back on.
With Kone playing up with Lukaku and Barry still leading the way in getting passes up to them more quickly we started to look more dangerous and, with less than a quarter of an hour to go, Kone took a pass in the area and stroked it to Barkley on the edge who hammered the ball home into the roof of the net. "We can win this now," I opined to my mate and the manager thought so as well as he gestured more forward as well as replacing Mirallas with Oviedo. We pressed hard, Oviedo got a good cross in that could not find a home head and Watford looked comfortable with a point as they wasted time at every opportunity, much to the annoyance of the crowd.
With less than ten minutes to go, Watford come down our right and fed Deeney who sashayed into the area with Jags and Stones diving around him like Sunday morning players and the big man was able to get the ball to Ighalo (what a cracking name) who netted with ease. He also had what must be the longest celebration, lying under a mound of his team-mates and still stayed there when the others had left causing the ref to have words but he just stood there both arms aloft before slowly walking to his own half). Many Blues left, many groaned and not one was happy.
Just a few minutes later in our next real attack we saw the best piece of play in the whole match. Kone with good control found Lukaku who held the ball whilst Kone ran into space in the box. The big man turned and found Kone with a great pass with just the weight on it and Kone slotted with ease leaving the keeper nowhere.
Five minutes of added time went up and Naismith replaced Lukaku but the time was played out with mainly Watford keeping us on the back foot. So yet again we draw 2-2 on opening day to a newly promoted side.
Overall a good day out in the warmth and sun dampened a little by our performance and the proey has gone up 50p. It was like we had learned very little from the last campaign as, whilst watching, it was easy to think we were still in last season. The next games coming up don’t look anything but difficult and may be too difficult if we don’t address our play and have a strategy that at least plays to the strengths of individual players in an effort to make a coherent team.
At times today a lot of our play broke down due to player error with passing, either miss-passing or playing a ball into the area where a team-mate should be but hasn’t made the run. Still, I am just a fan so I need to rely on the manager and the coaches to at least mould a team that gives fans some pleasure on visits to Goodison.
I think the walk back to our watering hole – and indeed in the Room of Nonsense which is never short of opinion – summed up the game perfectly. No one was talking about it!
Still onward and upward and hope St Mary smiles upon us.
UP THE BLUES
We've Learnt Nothing!
It's always a nice buzz catching up for the first game of the season. Gaz rolling up at about midday, grabbing Ste on route and on towards Goodison Park. We parked up as per the norm, though as we saw a lad hanging around at the end of the road with a "watch yer car?!" threat/request, we instead sneaked away towards The Brick via a different route...we sure showed him.
We got the team news in the pub and it's a real shame that Leighton Baines has suffered a reoccurrence of that ankle injury (that's a ridiculous accumulation of injuries for a pre-season by the way). Brendan Galloway replaced he at left back with Lukaku also making it back from a pre-season injury scare to lead the line for us. In the pub before the game Arouna Kone was the subject of substantial scorn from a few of the guys. You wouldn't really have banked on him making such an impact today.
Predictably enough Watford supporters arrived in their numbers and filled their away end in yellow and made quite a noise throughout...though I would expect that from a newly promoted team.
We attacked towards the Park End in the first half though other than a busy first five minutes and a fizzer from Ross Barkley that was tipped over the crossbar, we offered precious little and Watford edged ahead via a Layun drive following a dizzy spell of pressure from the visitors. Watford ahead and Goodison Park restless. The boos at the break told you that if you didn't know already.
The second half was much improved by Everton. We attacked Watford with much more intent and could have equalised on two occasions in particular when first Lukaku and then substitute Kone headed over with free headers. It was getting frustrating and you wondered where the goal may come from when, out of nothing, Barkley opened his account with a thunderous effort from 20-25 yards out. OK it took a deflection which helped carry it past Gomez but that is exactly what we have been crying out for. Don't shoot, you don't score and it was a great goal from Barkley in an otherwise muddled performance by he.
We dared to dream and Mirrallas was immediately withdrawn injured, with the vigour and enthusiasm of Bryan Oviedo replacing him, however we were caught with a sucker punch when Watford substitute Ighalo waltzed through, beating Stones and placing the ball beyond Howard far too easily. All the hard work put into getting back into the game undone in one sloppy instant.
Even with just seven minutes remaining in the game you felt there was another goal in the game and it came when Lukaku combined nicely with Kone with the Ivorian finishing very smartly indeed into the far corner. He appeared a little emotional as he kissed the turf once he'd scored.
Four minutes remained and though we huffed and puffed we couldn't get the winner. We trudged away disappointed. How have we managed to start every season under Roberto with a 2-2 draw against a newly-promoted team? This signifies that we have learnt nothing. Our play hasn't changed. We are still FAR too predictable. Every team has long since figured us out. Seeing us gamble more by going with two up front on the hour mark was almost more frustrating. I'd love to see us begin games this way. It brings way more out of Lukaku and plays much more to his strengths, though we all know how we will line up next week at St. Mary's. Hell I bet most of us could even successfully guess the team. Perhaps personnel will improve before the deadline slams shut but it won't change our style or our "philosophy". We desperately need to embrace other styles of play. We are far too easy to play against and, given the fixtures ahead, we could be in for some bumpy ride.
Howard: I don't think he can be questioned on the goals. Kicking poor and distribution often laboured however. 6
Galloway: Did little wrong and it's great to see young players given opportunities. However I question why we play him ahead of a more natural and attacking left back in Oviedo, who really helped us press forward later in the game. Surely at home to Watford we should be thinking about attack rather than field a lad who is much more of a centre back than a full back. 6
Stones: Began the game very well though was caught out for their goal. At times he threw his arms out in exasperation at what was going on ahead of him. Looked a little frustrated. I don't believe he will still be here come the end of the transfer window. 6
Jagielka: At fault for Watford's opener, though had a pretty solid game otherwise. 6
Coleman: One of the few who tried to make things happen and kept on ploughing forward. 7
Barry: The better of the midfield duo. At least he always shows for the ball and shows some willingness to make things happen. 6
McCarthy: I thought he would play well having just signed his new contract though he probably had his worst game yet for the club. Poor display. Headless chicken springs to mind. 5
Cleverley: He improved second half but didn't get into the game in the first. In hindsight Leon Osman would have been a sounder bet to start. 6
Mirallas: My man of the match. I hope we get that effort from him every week now. I also hope that injury isn't too serious. 7
Barkley: The goal aside he didn't offer a lot for me. Seemed to run around in circles and was often over-elaborate with the ball. More positively, it was a great drive which got us level. Fingers crossed it can give him a bit of confidence for the season. 6
Lukaku: Poor. Didn't seem to show enough desire to get on the end of things and link up with the team though he did improve immeasurably when paired in attack with Kone. If only Roberto would take note of this and give it a go with two strikers. 5
Kone (for Galloway): Credit where it's due, he made an impact and you never know, maybe the goal will help him kick on. He should start up top with Lukaku next game. He'd be disappointed to remain on the bench having scored one and made one. 7
Oviedo (for Mirallas): Got involved and made a positive impact. Also should start next game at left back as he provides a much more attacking threat than Galloway. 7
Naismith (for Lukaku): Got involved in the short time he had on the field. 6
Thanks to one of the latest finishes to a season in recent memory and the new season kicking off a week early to accommodate next summer's European Championships, Premier League action resumes this weekend after just 11 weeks, although for Evertonians in particular, it feels like it has rolled around a little too soon.
Just two additions to the squad over the close season, a spate of hamstring injuries and doubts over whether key striker Romelu Lukaku will be fit enough to start mean that many Toffees fans go into the season opener against Watford in slightly apprehensive mood. There is unquestionably the excitement that comes with the return of competitive football to Goodison Park but also a nagging feeling that, for the second season running, the team is not fully prepared.
Though Roberto Martinez insisted after the friendly with Dundee on Tuesday last week that he did not expect Lukaku's injury to be serious and that it was merely a case of him feeling "heavy-legged", the manager was unable to confirm whether his main marksman will pass a fitness test before the big kick off this weekend. He explained that the Belgian will be assessed over the final 48 hours but, unless it's a ruse to keep his rival in the opposite dugout guessing, it would seem as though it might be touch and go as to whether Lukaku will play.
With no striking reinforcements yet secured, the No.10's absence would leave Martinez with a number of questionable fall-back options. The most obvious would be to field his only other centre forward in the form of Arouna Kone, but the Ivorian has just one goal to his name in two years with the club – a year on the sidelines notwithstanding – but his pre-season showings have left many Blues aghast at the lack of decent goalscoring cover.
Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas can both operate up front but neither are suited to the lone striker role as it is employed in Martinez's system so accommodating either would require a modified approach. Conor McAleny, while impressive in the summer friendlies, is too untested and inexperienced to risk. Fingers crossed, then, that Lukaku makes it.
Elsewhere in the side, like Mirallas, John Stones is expected to shake off an ankle knock and take his usual place at centre half alongside Phil Jagielka as part of a very familiar defensive unit anchored by the Gareth Barry-James McCarthy axis. Muhamed Besic, Darron Gibson, Aiden McGeady, Steven Pienaar and Tony Hibbert are all ruled out through injury.
It means that the main question marks surround who fills the attacking and wide positions. Ross Barkley is a clear candidate to play in the hole behind whichever striker is selected, with Mirallas on the right and Tom Cleverley or Leon Osman on the left. Gerard Deulofeu, the other summer acquisition only has an outside chance of being involved, and could only hope for a place on the bench at best given the caution over his hamstring.
Whichever line-up is selected, it should have more than enough to overcome a newly-promoted side but the Premier League is a much more competitive environment these days and the promoted clubs, with their enthusiasm for the start of the new adventure, can prove to be very tricky opponents.
Watford promise to be a different proposition to the kind of team they were the last time they were in the top flight – admittedly some time go now. Now run by the Pozzo family, who own Udinese in Italy and Granada in Spain, they also have a new manager in the form of Quique Flores and, in contrast to Everton, a slew of new faces in the dressing room.
The Hornets have signed no fewer than 10 players this summer when you add the permanent acquisition of Matej Vydra (from Udinese, of course), including two players with Premier League experience in the form of Etienne Capou, whom they acquired from Tottenham, and former West Ham midfielder, Valon Behrami.
They also boast a physical striker in the form of Troy Deeney who will be the target for just the kind of aerial service that has proved to be such an Achilles heel at times for Martinez's Blues. Deeney scored 21 times for Watford in their promotion-winning season last term while Vydra notched 16 so there will be plenty for Everton's defenders to watch out for. All those new signings will take time to gel, though, and acclimatise to the Premier League, however, which will hopefully work in Martinez's favour.
Assuming that the Blues control the game in the manner in which we expect and his side can keep the visitors at bay, Martinez's main concern will be scoring goals at the right end. Even with Lukaku in the line-up, his team struggled at times to find the net but if they can get things clicking and get an early goal, it will get the home crowd on side and, hopefully, pave the way for an opening-day win.
The alternative is more worrying given the psychological toll that the poor start a year ago took on the players and, eventually, on the paying customers at Goodison Park. Failure to win would not be disastrous, but with such a tough sequence of fixtures over the next two months, it would be a bad way to start.
Kick off: 3pm
Referee: Mike Jones