Everton's second preseason defeat of the season was a surreal experience in many ways. Firstly, our opponents were neither Preston North End nor Chester City, but the great Real Madrid. Secondly, the game took place on a converted baseball pitch at the home of the LA Dodgers, with the strange shapes and markings of the diamond still clearly visible and impossible to ignore. And thirdly, Evertonians found themselves awake into the early hours on a Saturday night, not to celebrate a victory or drown sorrows, but to load up the laptop to watch this fascinating spectacle.
And fascinating it was. I certainly don't recall Everton ever facing such prestigious opposition, myself sadly being just too young to recall our European exploits of '85. Unfortunately a preseason friendly is the only opportunity we will have to play a team like Real in the immediate future, but there were several reminders that both teams did in truth want to win this game. Not least Steven Naismith's long range squabble with Kevin Mirallas over a misplaced pass, and Real Madrid's repeated and unwelcome hounding of the referee. These are lads who have spent their lives playing football of course and I certainly remember from my days in the school yard that when you play, you play to win, regardless of what is or isn't at stake.
So although the managers at least may not have placed too much value on this meeting, it was still a competitive game of sorts, and therefore a chance to see how our players would cope against some of the world's best. And the truth is we coped well. There were glimpses of Madrid's superior technical abilities, particularly in their capacity to break at pace and create opportunities from nothing. But on reflection, it is no exaggeration to conclude that we were unlucky to lose. In particular we can feel aggrieved that Sylvain Distin's towering header from a first half corner was disallowed in an incident bearing striking similarities to Big Duncan's disallowed effort at Villareal. Add to this the referee's decision to award a free kick rather than a penalty when Mirallas was felled on the edge of the area, Fellaini's header against the woodwork, Madrid's possibly offside second goal, and a number of promising attacks, half chances and corners, we can see that on a different day and with different officials, the outcome may have been quite different.
There were certainly many positives to take from this game. With each passing preseason encounter the differences in style between Moyes' Everton and Martinez's Everton are becoming more pronounced. I have yet to catch up on the recent Swansea City documentary 'The Fall and Rise', but I understand there is some discussion on the footballing philosophy of Roberto Martinez. He strongly encourages players to pass their way out of trouble under almost any circumstances. Just pass, pass, pass - he tells his players to be brave and to believe in their footballing ability, not to panick and launch it long. Although the frequency with which we played it long did decrease over time under Moyes, it seems now to barely happen at all. I don't recall a single instance of us launching it upfield last night. Is this a good thing? Only time will tell, but it certainly feels like a return to the ideals of the school of science. And if we were ever going to start trying to play it pretty then now is surely the time. Of course we will occasionally misplace a pass and be punished, as was the case with Ronaldo's opener, but we have players now who are technically far superior to those that Moyes, Smith or Royle inherited. These are gifted footballers who are being encouraged to play it on the deck - I imagine they are delighted, and it makes for a highly anticipated season for Evertonians.
Aside from our style of play, most of our players equipped themselves well against some of the world's best. How delightful was it to see Seamus Coleman bearing down on and wrong footing Marcelo, with that unmistakeable gait of his. Even more refreshing was the excellent performance of Steven Naismith. He looked sharp and lively, passing well, finding space and displaying fine close control. We had high hopes of Naismith when he arrived last summer, maybe the arrival of Martinez will give him a new lease of life - let's hope so. There were also noteworthy performances from a number of others, including Mirallas, Jagielka and Howard.
The night of course wasn't without its negatives. The first half, when Real fielded a particularly strong eleven, reminded me of many a match at Old Trafford. We worked hard, passed it quite well and looked capable, but were punished for just a couple of mistakes, by blistering and clinical counter attacks. We maintained a surprisingly high back line, given the devastating pace of Ronaldo, and repeatedly looked susceptible to a killer through ball. Perhaps the most disappointing performance came from Arouna Kone, who failed to make a single positive contribution in the first forty five, before being substituted for Jelavic at half time. In Kone's defence he was being marked by Sergio Ramos, however Jelavic did look a lot sharper than the man he replaced, and of course brought his pre season tally to three with a fine left footed volley.
I threw a question out to some friends over twitter and facebook earlier this week: if you could have Moyes back now in place of Martinez, would you take him? My own answer and the answer of most others was no. We are entering a new era now and it is exciting. After 11 years under Moyes, in hindsight things may have been getting a little stale, and a big change is sometimes what is needed to freshen things up. Osman has admitted that under Moyes he may have allowed a degree of complacency to creep in, knowing that he would always be in and around the team. Now noone can be certain of a place, and the players feel they need to prove themselves again, which can only be a good thing. I was just delighted last night to be watching the blues against the might of Real Madrid, and Jelavic's goal in particular brought a big cheesy smile to my grid. Two weeks till Norwich now, and then let the fun and games begin. On this display we are in for a very different season, which may or may not be a good thing. Monsieur Bleu