Everton’s Europa League Wolfsburg win encouraging for Martinez
Everton exhibited everything good about their approach under Roberto Martinez, as they kicked off their Europa League campaign with a stylish win over Wolfsburg.
The Toffees, who are 20/1 chances with Coral to lift the trophy, were on target at key times, while the visitors to Goodison Park only started playing when they were 3-0 down. England left back Leighton Baines had a hand in all those goals, including scoring from the spot to give the Gwladys Street End something to celebrate.
While London clubs went winless in Europe this midweek, the return of respective continental competitions to Merseyside was wholeheartedly more successful. If anything, Everton outdid Liverpool’s lucky victory in Bulgaria over Ludogorets Razgrad here.
Martinez’s men led inside a quarter of an hour, as in-form Steven Naismith’s shot deflected in off Swiss stopper Diego Bengalio, who curiously opted to retire from international football following the World Cup aged just 30, and compatriot Ricardo Rodriguez. The latter scored a stoppage time consolation free kick with the last action of the game.
On this evidence, Wolfsburg captain and number one Benaglio made the right choice to quit representing his country. He was at fault as the visitors fell further behind before half time, when he cheaply parried Kevin Mirallas’ shot into the path of Baines, who squared for fellow full back Seamus Coleman to head into the far corner.
Victory was assured almost immediately after the break when Aiden McGeady won a penalty, which the German media will argue was contentious. Initial contact was outside the area, but Baines duly dispatched from a dozen yards. This perceived injustice jolted Wolfsburg into life, as Croatia’s warhorse Ivica Olic was among those in opposition ranks to work Tim Howard.
Former Arsenal flop Nicklas Bendtner came off the bench, but the Dane’s main contribution was to elicit a chorus of whistles, jeers and boos from home fans. Young Maximilian Arnold playing off the front offered more, while Aaron Hunt – another substitute – should perhaps have started as his creativity posed the Toffees some problems.
All came too late, however, despite Howard’s string of fine saves. Wolfsburg found the American in their way, with Everton content to sit on their three-goal lead and spring on the counter. There was even room to give midfielder Darron Gibson a first outing off the bench after almost a year out injured, and Mirallas capped the win when fed by sub Samuel Eto’o.
Much has been written about the Bundesliga being a hotbed for talent but, outside established top two Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, none of the other German sides were able to win in Europe.
Schalke’s stubbornness may have frustrated Chelsea in Champions League action, yet their threadbare defence only faced fearsome Brazilian-born Spain striker Diego Costa for the final 15 minutes amid concerns about his fitness from Jose Mourinho.
Bayer Leverkusen got nothing from their trip to Monaco, while Borussia Monchengladbach were pegged back in the Europa League by Villarreal. Wolfsburg were well beaten too, and the continuing selection of ageing Brazilian centre back Naldo over Timm Klose is cause for concern.
Phil Jagielka might also be approaching that ‘over the hill’ category. This will probably one of his last campaigns as a top player in the Everton defence at 32, while John Stones put in another accomplished outing alongside him. Playing against a scrapping centre forward like Olic will aid his development.
Losing a clean sheet at the death takes minimal gloss off this result for Everton. Howard will be annoyed, but the game was over early in the second half. As French Ligue 1 leaders Lille and Russian outfit Krasnodar drew, the Toffees take command of Group H and are odds-on 4/7 favourites to top this pool.