Everton were supposed to endure a transitional season without David Moyes.
Roberto Martinez arrived from a relegated Wigan and many envisaged the Toffees lurking around mid-table, with some even tipping them for relegation.
Twenty games in and Martinez has been a roaring success, keeping his new side in and around the Champions League places while enforcing a complete shift of style.
Here's a look at Everton's season to date, with some relevant statistics.
Change of Style
The first thing to note is that watching Everton has been a different, slightly more pleasant experience this season, and that's not purely due to results.
As the following numbers illustrate, Martinez has introduced a possession-based approach, aimed at controlling games and reducing the opposition's threat.
|Everton 2012/13||Everton 2013/14|
|Short Passes per-90||369||431|
|Ave. Aerial Duels per-90||36||31|
|Most Passes in a match||537 vs. Sunderland (h)||633 vs. Hull (h)|
|Most Possession in a Match||68% Aston Villa (h)||73% vs. Crystal Palace (a)|
This is very much a work in progress, but Everton have been a more attractive and progressive side, as these numbers reflect.
The Toffees have certainly dictated more games and have had more shots than their opponents in 14 of their 20 Premier League matches this season.
At the other end of the field, there were initial reservations about Martinez's frankly appalling defensive record at Wigan. However, the style has helped limit the threat of opponents and has seen only one side (Arsenal) concede fewer goals and keep more clean sheets.
Compared to this time last season, Everton are five points better off. Beyond that, they have taken 14, 16 and 15 more points from the same stage of the previous seasons—quite some progress.
Away from Martinez, here's a look at the leading statistical performers thus far.
|Ave. Passes per-90||Barry—70.6||Osman—58.5|
|Passing (min. 250)||Osman—87%||Baines—86%|
WhoScored.com and Squawka.com
These numbers are more for interest than anything else; several players have impressed this season, with eight mainstays shining brightest.
Tim Howard has found his best form for the club and has been hugely instrumental in the Toffees' stingy defensive record, as have Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka.
Both have quickly adjusted to Martinez's requirements, becoming more involved in the passing game and executing a higher line almost to perfection. There are certainly better individuals, but there might not be a better central defensive partnership in the Premier League.
Who has been Everton's Player of the Season so far?
Seamus Coleman has been in sensational scoring form at right-back, having already notched five goals. This has rightly been lauded, but what doesn't create as much attention is the fact that his defensive work is so dramatically improved. His often hesitant displays of a year ago are now a distant memory.
In midfield, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy have perhaps been the biggest contributors to Everton's evolving play. They have done most to help forge Martinez' new identity.
The Toffees looked slow and predictable when the season began with three consecutive, frustrating draws. Since both new signings arrived, the passing has been slicker and more imaginative, with Barry especially key in keeping his side on the ball and moving at pace. A permanent deal is imperative in the summer.
Further forward, Ross Barkley has finally announced himself to Premier League audiences. He has shown flashes of brilliance in most games this season, which will become more prolonged as he hones his craft.
Finally, in attack, Romelu Lukaku has given Everton a new dimension and has been integral to their current high standing.
The fact his nine goals would see him crowned as the Toffees' top, or joint top, scorer in three of the past five seasons highlights exactly what's handicapped his temporary employers.
His potency allows Everton to win without playing particularly well, something David Moyes rarely benefited from.
Areas to Improve
Of course, there are still several ways Everton can and will develop under their new manager.
Points were dropped earlier in the season as the new style was being absorbed, and although Barry and McCarthy have improved aspects, there are times the passing is still too slow.
Individual mistakes have also proved costly, with Everton currently conceding a penalty every four Premier League matches, conceding five up until now.
The premature departure from the Capital One Cup at the hands of Fulham will also remain a blot on the season. Martinez got his selection wrong and it will be interesting to see how he approaches the FA Cup.
Where will Everton finish in Martinez's first season?
Overall, there's very little to be disgruntled about for Evertonians.
Martinez has created a fresh buzz around the club, and it's exciting to see just how rapidly the Toffees have progressed in a relatively short space of time.
Transfer Deadline Day was a huge success for the club. It brought in a handful of key contributors to complement several stalwarts from David Moyes' time.
Martinez is very much still building and will want a few more transfer windows to further establish the Toffees' identity. The Catalan is moving the club in a new direction and, judging by the evidence so far, the end product will be something worth waiting for.