It took 48 days for Evertonians to taste football action once again following the end of the 2014/15 Premier League campaign.
And with the 2015/16 season less than a month away, pre-season preparations have begun in earnest for the Toffees, with a convincing 4-0 victory over League One side Swindon Town and progression to the Barclays Asia Trophy final after a 5-4 penalty shootout win over Stoke City after today’s goalless draw in normal time.
Many players, managers, pundits and critics have made much of the fact that pre-season is all about attaining the right level of match fitness in a bid to be 100% ready for the gruelling nine month marathon that is the English Premier League season, but is match fitness the sole overriding factor where pre-season is concerned?
A quick survey on Twitter from fellow Evertonians revealed that whilst being at peak physical condition for the season ahead was of clear importance, obtaining winning results from pre-season fixtures was as imperative as becoming fit enough to complete ninety minutes week in, week out.
On the basis of last season’s much maligned pre-season schedule, it would be hard not to disagree. The Blues failed to win any of their five pre-season games before the start of last season (two draws and three losses) that bore witness to their worst league campaign for ten years.
There were contributing factors to 2014/15’s poor showing, however, according to manager Roberto Martinez and some sections of the Everton fanbase – the late return to training of Everton’s World Cup stars the often recited excuse – but how does last season’s pre-season stack up against previous programmes? And did these schedules aid or abet Everton’s showings with each passing campaign?
Looking back at the Toffees’ pre-season programmes over the past ten seasons (2004/05 to 2014/15), there appears to be no direct correlation between the amount of victories obtained and the final finishing position for the Goodison Park based club from each of those seasons.
Indeed, Everton’s best pre-season showing resulted in an impressive six wins out of seven matches, but that season saw the Blues ended the season in 7th position, whilst the elation at seeing the Toffees qualify for the Champion’s League back in the 2004/05 season, due to a 4th place finish, was on the back of a schedule that saw them win only three of seven contests in the weeks leading up to that campaign.
Attempting to look at the amount of encounters lost during pre-season does not indicate a trend towards sluggish starts to the season either. Just one loss apiece in the pre-season fixtures during the 2007/08 and the 2010/11 campaigns produced 5th and 7th place finishes, whilst three losses (2005/06, 2006/07, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2011/12, 2013/14 and 2014/15) proceeded to produce 11th, 6th, 5th, 8th, 7th, 5th and 11th placings respectively.
Even taking into consideration the quadrennial European Championships and World Cup events fail to produce any concrete proof that poor pre-season results contribute to less than average starts to the season, with last year’s World Cup in Brazil the only bottom half finish that the Toffees have achieved since the 2005/06 campaign.
What does all this data indicate? That pre-season appears to lean towards the preparational aspect of getting players into peak physical condition over the results acquired in the weeks leading up to the start of a new season.
Of course, winning matches no doubts breed confidence amongst squads and may play a part in mentally preparing teams to win the matches that matter but tiredness, whether physical or mental, will be detrimental to a side’s chances of hitting the proverbial ground running as soon as the first whistle is blown to raise the curtain on another pulsating season.
If Martinez and his backroom team can train Everton’s first team squad properly this time around, then both the club and Everton fans will reap the benefits in the coming months, and after last season’s less than impressive campaign, it will be needed.