Cancelled Asian tour left Everton 'relaxed' ahead of dream start against Manchester United

 

A combination of good luck and smart planning helped Everton to their impressive opening to the season against Manchester United on Monday.

So often poor starters, Everton were exceptional, out-running and out-playing United, and not particularly flattered by the 1-0 margin of victory.

Phil Neville, the club captain, believes that David Moyes' different approach to pre-season preparations was a key factor. Everton started training briskly, then relaxed, so they were fitter and fresher for the final straight before opening day.

"He brought us back early," said Neville. "Earlier than any other team in the Premier League, and then worked us hard for two weeks.

"Then he gave us five days off and, from then it's just been games, and it's been really relaxed which has benefited us." The benefits were certainly clear. Although the five-day break was not necessarily part of some grand plan. Rather, it came when Everton pulled out of a planned pre-season competition in Indonesia at the end of last month. Everton were due to play in the Java Cup, set to fly to Jakarta on 24 July, with games against a Malaysian XI on 27 July and another opponent, likely to be Turkish side Galatasaray, two days later.

But Galatasaray withdrew, and mooted replacements Nacional could not be confirmed either. With concerns over fixtures, ticket sales and security, Everton decided, at the 11th hour, to pull out and stay at home.

Their non-participation allowed Moyes to give his players those five days. Who knows how Everton would have done had they gone to Asia?

But the other aspect of their successful summer owes little to luck. In recent years, Everton have struggled in the transfer market, losing important players and failing to find their rhythm at the season's start. In 2009, they lost Joleon Lescott, in 2011, it was Mikel Arteta, as well as three recognised strikers in James Vaughan, Jermaine Beckford and Yakubu. With few useful additions in the summers of 2010 or 2011, an atmosphere of discontent was allowed to damage their start. In each of the last three seasons, they have won just three of their first 10 league games.

This summer was different. "The most important thing he's done is recruited early," Neville said of Moyes. There were two high-profile departures in Jack Rodwell and Tim Cahill, but neither were obviously in Everton's strongest side, and the £15 million from Rodwell has proved useful.

Everton's best players, Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines, are still at Goodison Park, while three attacking players have been signed. Steven Pienaar is now a full-time Evertonian again after an unsuccessful spell at Tottenham, while Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas have also arrived. The result is not just Everton's best forward line in years, but also more early optimism then they have had for a long while. "We don't always start the season well," said Neville, who was celebrating three points against his former club. "The manager has been drumming into us that we need to start the season running and we did."

Sticky Toffees: Everton's bad starts

Everton have made a habit of poor starts to a season in recent years, but they usually recover.

2011-12 Lost opener at home to QPR but won two of next three and ended the season in seventh

2010-11 Failed to win in first six matches but again ended seventh

2009-10 Only three victories by 8 November, finished eighth.

2008-09 Won two of first nine games but finished season in fifth

2007-08 Opening two victories preceded a poor run of two wins in eight matches. Finished fifth

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