Pitchside Europe

How has Roberto Martinez improved Everton?

Everton were widely regarded as a side that were functional and effective under David Moyes, so when the Scotsman left for Manchester United Toffees fans could be forgiven for feeling downhearted.

The Merseysiders were forced into a change at the top, but it's proving that it may just have been exactly what they need at exactly the right time. It was a drastic one too, and there were large sections of the support which questioned the validity of appointing a manager who had just seen his side relegated from the Premier League.

In truth though, Roberto Martinez had his Wigan side playing beyond what many would have felt they were capable of, culminating in an FA Cup final win over Manchester City. His side were open and expansive, which led to an abundance of goals at both ends of the pitch. The Latics scored just eight goals fewer than sixth-placed Everton last season, but conceded 33 more goals.

For a side that prided itself on its defensive solidity, the decision didn't add up for some. However, 14 games into the current campaign and fresh from a first league win at Old Trafford in over 20 years - against the man that he replaced no less - it's fair to say that Martinez has won his doubters over.

Moyes set his Everton side up in a very specific way. He utilised what he considered to be his key assets to the fullest and it worked. The left side of the pitch was absolutely crucial to their play, with the combination of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar able to work opportunities for the former to pick out a target man - more often than not Marouane Fellaini - in the box. They did this whilst remaining strong at the back, so you could have forgiven Martinez for running with that game plan.

The loss of Fellaini, who followed Moyes to United, may have played its part but the Spaniard was never likely to copy and paste his predecessor's way of thinking. Martinez's task was to add new dimensions to their attack and possession play without compromising their defensive rigidity.

It's something that he went about achieving with intelligent advances into the transfer market. The defence was all but set in stone but in adding more protection in front of them he could allow his attacking players to be more expansive; no side has completed more dribbles per game this season (12.9) after Everton ranked 15th in the same category last time around (5.3). The signings of James McCarthy and, in particular, Gareth Barry were as important to the adaptation as that of Romelu Lukaku on deadline day.

The side's average tackles per game has risen, albeit slightly, from 18.9 to 19.9, and Lukaku's influence has seen their shot accuracy increase to 38.5% from 32.7% (now the fourth best in the league). In terms of playing style they're keeping the ball better, connecting with 83.3% of their passes - up from 79.4% - and averaging 56.5% possession - up from 52.9%.

They're less reliant on individuals, with Baines a case in point. Last season the left-back delivered the most accurate crosses per game in the league (2.8) but that figure is now way down at 1.1, ranking 27th. Meanwhile, the full-back also created the second most chances per game (3.1), with the drop to 1.3 this season even more significant (down to 52nd).

His average for the latter, in fact, is now equal to that of Seamus Coleman on the opposite side, and the Irishman's combination with Kevin Mirallas down the right flank is now just as important as the partnership across the field. The team looks more balanced in turn and the focus on the collective is paying off. More players are being given the opportunity to flourish in the current system, and they are doing exactly that.

With the Toffees sitting just three points behind second-placed Chelsea and having lost the fewest games this season (1) their charge for Champions League football seems more legitimate than ever.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

Martin Laurence - @martinlaurence7