The small margins have conspired to create some big problems for Everton this season.
Roberto Martinez’s men sit fourth-from-bottom in the table after seven Premier League matches, with just six points to show from a possible 21.
They had double that at the same stage last season – and would spend the campaign pushing for a top-four finish.
So what has gone wrong?
Martinez blamed Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Manchester United on “very small margins”. Only the heroics of goalkeeper David de Gea on Sunday prevented the Blues from coming away with a point, maybe even three. But it was still another ‘L’ on Everton’s record this season – a campaign which has produced just one league win so far.
It is not what Martinez or Everton fans expected, but there is hope.
Here are five reasons the Blues have started so slowly… and five reasons why it should get better.
Why Everton have started slowly
Poor pre-season preparations
The Blues played only five pre-season friendlies, a figure which pales in comparison to some of their Premier League rivals.
Chelsea played 10 warm-up games, Liverpool eight. Leicester City, who Everton faced on the first day of the season, played seven.
Were the Blues a little undercooked going into the new Premier League campaign? Quite possibly.
The only pre-season game which had been in place well in advance was Leon Osman’s testimonial against Porto. Games against Tranmere, Leicester, Celta Vigo and Paderborn were slotted in hastily as the summer wore on.
The results weren’t good either, with the Blues failing to win any of their games.
Martinez was also eager to make sure his World Cup players got plenty of recovery time, with neither Mirallas or Lukaku (who reached the quarter-finals with Belgium) playing a single friendly.
It all added up to a fairly unsatisfactory pre-season campaign.
A World Cup hangover
“Any player that comes from the World Cup is going to have a period to get back to their best,” admitted Martinez last month.
There are a few in royal blue who are still striving to recapture the kind of form which booked their tickets (Click to find tickets) to Brazil.
Six members of Everton’s squad were on World Cup duty during the summer, and Leighton Baines seems to be the only one who has not suffered from either injury or a post-tournament loss of form.
Tim Howard – a model of consistency for so long and a man who gained national hero status in the USA on the back of his World Cup performances – has fallen below his high standards this season. Mistakes are creeping into his game, with errors against Crystal Palace and Manchester United proving particularly costly.
Martinez admitted last month that Phil Jagielka was going through a post-World Cup lull (his derby wonder goal was just what the skipper needed), while both Barkley and Mirallas have picked up injuries (the Belgian forward had been looking good too).
Romelu Lukaku wasn’t an Everton player while he was out in Brazil, but the striker made four World Cup appearances for his country before signing for the Blues in a club record deal upon his return.
He hasn’t quite looked the same player either. Leggy, lethargic displays have characterised the early games of his season so far.
Everton fans expect more from their £28m spearhead. A return of two goals and one assist from seven matches is not good enough.
That World Cup hangover is proving difficult to shake off.
Injuries to key men
Injuries are part and parcel of football, but the Blues have been desperately unlucky to have suffered so many problems so soon.
Ross Barkley hasn’t kicked a ball in anger all season after damaging medial ligaments in training the day before the new campaign was due to start.
Everton won 18 of the 34 Premier League matches Barkley played in last season, with the England man scoring six goals along the way. His ability to move with the ball at pace through the final third of the field has been missed, with no other player in the Everton squad possessing the same powerhouse qualities as the 20-year-old.
Right-back Seamus Coleman – another player integral to the way the Blues play, offering attacking impetus down the right – has also missed plenty of football this season due to head and hamstring problems, starting just three of his team’s seven league games.
Steven Pienaar has been hampered by injury issues too, while Kevin Mirallas, Sylvain Distin and James McCarthy are also currently sidelined. There is no sign of the Blues’ luck improving either, with John Stones’ turned ankle at Old Trafford adding another big name to an ever-lengthening injury list.
Tough fixture list
The fixture computer wasn’t kind to the Blues.
After kicking off the Premier League season with an away match against a newly-promoted side in Leicester City (always a tough task), Martinez’s men faced Arsenal and Chelsea, two of last season’s top four.
West Brom and Crystal Palace offered some respite, on paper at least, before trips to Anfield and Old Trafford came along.
It’s been a tough, testing start – as Everton’s meagre points haul shows.
What on earth has happened to Everton’s defence this season?
A once-watertight unit is now leaking goals like a sieve.
Martinez has been struggling to explain why the third-best defence in the Premier League last season (39 goals conceded in 38 games) is now the most porous in the top flight (16 conceded from seven).
Injuries haven’t helped, but there is still enough experience in the royal blue ranks.
“It is something we need to address,” admitted the Everton boss after his side shipped three goals at Swansea City in the Capital One Cup.
Since then, there has been a slight improvement (single goals conceded against Liverpool and Krasnodar, two at Manchester United) so maybe the Blues are getting back to the kind of levels they reached last season.
But that injury to Stones could hardly have come at a worse time.
Why things will get better for the Blues
Barkley’s on his way back
There were fears Ross Barkley could be out for anything up to five months when he was injured in training back in August.
Thankfully, the England man’s recovery has put him on course for a return to action much sooner than that.
Barkley is due to return to training with his teammates this week and, although he won’t be ready for the Blues’ first match after the international break, he is well on the road to recovery.
Steven Naismith has done an admirable job in filling Barkley’s boots, scoring four goals, and his form means there should be a place for him in Everton’s side even when Barkley returns.
But there is nobody quite as explosive as the 20-year-old from Wavertree on the Blues’ books. They will only be stronger when he returns.
… and Coleman’s coming back too
Are there any right-backs in the Premier League as integral to their team as Seamus Coleman? Probably not.
The Blues just aren’t the same side when the Irishman is missing, as he has been for four matches this season with injuries to both his head and hamstring.
Coleman offers a rare mix of defensive diligence and attacking flair down the right flank. Not many wide men get the better of him, while many spend games having to track his repeated raids upfield. Attack is so often his best form of defence.
Roberto Martinez expects him to be fit again soon – and with Leighton Baines on top of his game again (he’s got five assists already this season), the overall balance of Everton’s side – both in attack and defence – can only benefit.
Naisy’s in the goals
Steven Naismith revelled in the nickname ‘Kid Goals’ when he was at Kilmarnock.
After his first two seasons at Goodison, Blues fans were left wondering how such a moniker was ever bestowed on the Scot.
Naismith struggled to shrug off the perception that he was a bit-part player. He made more substitute appearances (18) than starts (13) in his first two campaigns at Everton, scoring four goals in 2012-13 and five in 2013-14. Kid Goals? You must be kidding.
But there were signs towards the end of last season that Naismith was finally finding his form, and the 3-0 win over Arsenal in April seemed to be a real watershed moment. He was substituted 10 minutes from time to a thunderous ovation from the Goodison crowd with the Blues on their way to a 3-0 win and, seemingly, in the box seat to qualify for the Champions League.
Although the Gunners would go on to pip the Blues for fourth spot, Naismith was finally breaking down those bit-part player perceptions and he was one of the bright spots in a disappointing pre-season campaign, scoring against Tranmere and Porto.
He’s carried that friendly form into the competitive action and already has four goals to his name – one away from last season’s tally.
Roberto Martinez saves the best till last
Everton’s late-season wobble in 2013-14 was out of character for a Roberto Martinez team.
Sides managed by the Catalan are usually strong finishers.
When he was at Wigan, Martinez led his team to four wins and three draws at the end of the 2010-11 season – with a success at Stoke City hauling them to safety, despite starting the last day 19th in the Premier League table.
The following campaign, Wigan were 19th with six games of the campaign remaining, but managed to record wins in five of their last six fixtures – including a victory over Manchester United – to end up 15th in the table.
At Swansea, he took over mid-season in 2006-07 and lifted the South Wales club to the brink of the play-offs, ending the campaign with a run of one defeat in 11 gamnes.
Promotion was secured the following year.
The Blues might have got off to a slow start – but their boss is an expert at finishing with a flourish. Let’s hope he doesn’t leave it so late this time.
The games will get easier
The knock-on effect of having such a tough start is that the fixture schedule eases for the Blues through October to the new year.
In fact, Everton play only one game against a team from last season’s top four (Manchester City) between now and the end of December.
It is a chance to make up for lost time and lost points. In their next five league games, Everton take on Aston Villa, Burnley, Swansea City, Sunderland and West Ham.
It’s not a sequence to strike fear into royal blue hearts.