Evertonians departed the Stadium of Light with a spring in their step and a statement to make. It had been a difficult 90 minutes, attritional in fact, but the Blues had moved into the top four.
If the 3-0 win over Arsenal was an epochal moment under Roberto Martinez, then this tight away win served as confirmation of how strong this side’s will is.
Seven straight wins, a record Premier League points tally with five games remaining, and done with a dedication to aesthetic football. There’s only one way to truly sum it all up: with a banner and a song.
The banner was unfurled and the song was sung, both bearing the same message. The School of Science, separated from Everton for so long, is back in class.
The performance against Sunderland itself wasn’t quite scientific; indeed, if it were to be a school lesson, it would have been PE with the teacher from Kes – a hard slog which ultimately ends in a smile. But the preceding 32 games have been littered with performances of “craft and science”.
Craft and science are the words Steve Bloomer used to describe Everton, according to legend, in 1928.
Bloomer was a Derby County hero whose song is still played at Pride Park today, as well as an England international. He also coached in Germany when the First World War broke out and spent his time in a a civilian detention camp in the Spandau district of Berlin.
And yet, he is arguably most famous for what he said of Everton, and a nickname that has stuck for nearly a century.
He said: “We owe a great deal to Everton. No matter where they play, and no matter whether they are well or badly placed in the league table, they always manage to serve football of the highest scientific order.
“Everton always worship at the shrine of craft and science and never do they forget the standard of play they set out to achieve.”
Defining scientific football is difficult. To know scientific football is to watch scientific football; it is to watch a clinical performance full of purpose, technique and skill – buzzwords, admittedly – and know you are witnessing one team dismantling another.
It describes the Everton teams that bookended the 1930s, with Dixie Dean firing the Blues to the Second Division and First Division titles in 1931 and 1932, and then not dropping lower than second before wrapping up the title by Easter in 1939.
It also describes the successful 1960s side, particularly the Holy Trinity of Howard Kendall, Alan Ball and Colin Harvey, as well as the Kendall side of the 1980s that won trophies both home and abroad.
And now, there is a belief Martinez has restored that sort of football to the club, transmitting his footballing beliefs to both the team and individuals.
Last season, Everton averaged 323 successful passes per game, while this season has seen that rise to 385. The passing accuracy is now at 83%, up on last season’s 80%, with their share of possession and shot accuracy also improving.
Sunderland 0 Everton 1
Most tellingly, the individual flair has returned. The Blues were third-worst for successful dribbles last season with players struggling in one-on-one situations; this season, with 59% success rate, they are the fifth-best in the league.
At their strongest, Everton are machine-like in their nature, grounding and pounding the opposition.
When the Blues are in possession, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman will push forward – evidenced by their goals this season – while Gareth Barry will drop deeper and cover the gaps they’ve created, looking to receive the ball from the centre backs.
Ahead of him, James McCarthy will retain possession intelligently and also look to feed the four attackers ahead, who offer different options at different times.
That mixture of routine (McCarthy, Barry, the central defence) and individualism (Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas, Romelu Lukaku) is what has allowed Blues to sing from the rooftops. They are both organised and disorganised; both clever and chaotic.
It took a while for Martinez’s ideals to translate to the players. They suffered three draws to begin the season against what have now been proven as relegation candidates; they also started the year with just two wins in eight. But now, with seven straight league wins for the first time since the title-winning season of 1987, the education has paid off.
The song that was bellowed out on Wearside perhaps describes the School of Science in its current guise best – playing from the back, with Ross in attack.
John Stones has won plaudits for his elegance on the ball with composure that belies his age. Of the Premier League defenders who have featured in 15 games or more this season, he has the seventh-best passing accuracy with 90%, with three key passes.
Overall, the Blues have six defenders in the top 50 in terms of using the ball – Stones, Coleman (88%), Phil Jagielka (87%), Baines (85%), Bryan Oviedo (85%) and Sylvain Distin (84%). Last season, the highest-rated Everton defender in terms of passing accuracy was Baines in 72nd overall with 83%.
The same applies to central midfield, too, with Barry making more passes than any other midfielder bar Yaya Toure and Jordan Henderson, with an accuracy of 86%; McCarthy, meanwhile, has an accuracy of 87% and has made 36 key passes.
There is also Barkley, who is the fulcrum of the midfield, possessing the third-highest success rate at dribbling past people with 62%. Mirallas is also one of the league’s most creative midfielders, with 49 key passes and eight assists. Those two are also part of the top three midfielders with regards taking shots, highlighting how often they get into good positions in front of goal.
It helps that Lukaku is there to finish, as well. He is eighth in terms of shots taken, but finds the target more often than the seven above him – in fact, with 63% of his 84 attempts finding the target, he is on course to better his record at West Brom last season, while also being comfortably better than the Blues’ most shot-happy striker last season, Victor Anichebe (65 shots, 47% accuracy).
This may seem like a clinical way to assess how Everton have performed this season – they are fourth in the league playing fantastic football, and that is all that truly matters, after all.
But a clinical eye is needed for football like this. Throw up your mortar boards and dig out the chalk from the desk – the School of Science is on its way back, and it could prove a long lesson for the rest of the Premier League.
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