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Can Martinez keep the magic alive at Everton?

Roberto Martinez certainly impressed in his first season at Everton, an outside bet at 100/1 to lift the Premier League, winning praise for the Merseysider’s swashbuckling performances and possession-based football, as well as encouraging work with young players.

Still in the shadow of bitter city rivals Liverpool, who mounted a credible title bid for the first time in five years, Martinez saw Reds boss Brendan Rodgers scoop the LMA Manager of the Year award. However, the excellent Everton boss’ achievements over recent seasons are no less laudable than that of his Anfield peer.

The former Wigan coach, guided the Lactics to their first FA Cup trophy with a remarkable victory over Manchester City, and transformed a functional Toffees team into an exciting attacking outfit. Despite inheriting a strong spine from the now much-maligned David Moyes, Martinez added astute signings in the form of James McCarthy and loan star Romelu Lukaku.

Everton missed out on a Champions League place to Arsenal by a whisker, dropping away at the end of the campaign, despite drubbing Arsene Wenger’s boys 3-0. Since then, some pundits have claimed that the Toffees missed their best chance to crash the top four party.

A resurgent Manchester United and Mauricio Pochettino-led Spurs side will be threats again this season, and have access to funds Everton could only dream of, but that did not prevent them from running the Gunners incredibly close.

There is no doubt Champions League revenue would have been an incredible boost, but perhaps the youthful side were not quite ready. With more time to instil his philosophy and add depth to a wafer thin squad, Martinez can inspire Everton to rise again. What should give the Merseysiders hope is the confident, positive mentality that swept through the side last term – a far cry from Moyes’ spirited but restricted side.

Fifth place was not a huge accomplishment in itself, with the Blue half of Liverpool having finishing in the same position under their former boss twice before, and even securing fourth spot in 2004/05. However, coupled with expressive football and an impressive record against top teams, Everton can feel proud of their last campaign.

With the first season honeymoon period now over, the Spaniard now faces the true challenge of being Toffees’ boss – keeping hold of his star players. Rapid right back Seamus Coleman and bright spark Ross Barkley are already drawing covetous glances from the Premier League elite, along with highly-rated defender John Stones, who is the focus of unwanted attention from Spurs.

It is imperative that Martinez can retain his young stars, especially after losing a key cog in his system, with on-loan Lukaku and also Gerard Deulofeu returning to their parent clubs. The Spaniard is now tasked with replacing their roles in his squad, and a proven poacher should be first on the list.

Only netting seven times less than Arsenal last season, the Toffees, linked with a move for Samuel Eto’o, could conceivably challenge for a top four spot again with such an established attacker in their ranks. Able to beat the best on their day, Martinez’s side need depth and experience to compete with the rich kids for an entire campaign.

Now a free agent, Gareth Barry impressed on a loan spell from Manchester City last term, and looks likely to return to add a wise head to Everton’s Europa League challenge.

Backline additions would also be welcome, with Martinez’s Catalan connections potentially proving useful again as the Toffees are linked with versatile Barcelona defender Adriano Correia.

If a second summer of shrewd transfers occurs, there is no reason why the Toffees boss cannot steer his side to success. After all, Everton, 11/2 for a top four finish, will welcome back USA World Cup super-hero Tim Howard amongst others, and have a strong core that finally believe they are capable of anything.