When Roberto Martínez was at Wigan Athletic, he would sign off his programme notes with the Spanish words sin miedo. The message was simple: no fear. He no longer uses it as his sign-off as Everton manager, yet it is a philosophy that is already beginning to permeate the old fabric of Goodison Park during what has been a hugely impressive start for the Spaniard on Merseyside.
Instead of the widely anticipated awkward transition from the David Moyes era, Everton have lost just once in the Premier League this season and after a stylish 4-0 win over Stoke at the weekend travel to Old Trafford for Wednesday's reunion with Moyes in fifth place, looking down on their old manager's Manchester United side, who are eighth.
It is their best start since 2004-05 – the season Moyes led them to fourth place – and as befits the style of their relentlessly positive manager, Martinez now wants Everton to go to Old Trafford and do something they never managed under his predecessor: win. It hardly needs recapping that in Moyes' 11 years at Goodison, Everton won not once in 46 visits to the "big four" yet Martinez hopes to change all of that. "We need to address that," he said. "We have had one defeat in 13. It is the next test and the next challenge – can we go to the big places like Old Trafford, the Emirates, Anfield and Stamford Bridge and get wins?"
With Wigan he achieved victories at Anfield and the Emirates, and his reflections on the mental approach required for such successes was instructive. "When you go into those environments you have individual performances and sometimes players get hyper. Others get a little bit cagey and can't be themselves. Then you have the manager's mentality which in a way sets the performance of the team."
Those words about a manager setting the tone call to mind the most common criticism of Moyes from Evertonians during his long, admirable Goodison reign: namely that his team too often shrank in the face of big tests.
Martinez's sin miedo approach is about his team being themselves whatever the opposition – to "be brave and [try to] win games rather than just being in a position where you want to keep a clean sheet and get through in damage-limitation situations" – and this was certainly evident in the recent Goodison derby when his response to Leighton Baines' injury was to send on the mercurial 19-year-old Spanish winger Gerard Deulofeu.
Phil Jagielka admitted at the club's player of the month lunch last week that at the time he could not understand how such a change would work yet it did as Everton took the game to Liverpool, creating chance after chance in a thrilling 3-3 draw. "Under David Moyes it would be a like-for-like change but Roberto saw the opportunity to get the young kid on and take the game to Liverpool and it worked," said Graeme Sharp, the former Everton striker.
Reflecting on Martinez's different mindset, Sharp added: "He has a more relaxed attitude in and around the football club and that's no disrespect to David Moyes and how he ran things but it's a different approach, a freshness and I think many of the players were just ripe for that."
His signings have helped too, ensuring Marouane Fellaini has not been missed. Sharp cites the impact made by James McCarthy, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku and in the Belgian, Everton have the scoring threat Moyes seldom enjoyed at Goodison, where only in one season did he have a striker, Yakubu, breaking the 20-goal mark. Another positive for Sharp has been Martinez's willingness to give Ross Barkley the prominent role he was still waiting for under Moyes, so adding further to Everton's creative options.
Of course the playing style has changed too. "He's got them playing more football from the back," Sharp said. "You've seen Jagielka and [Sylvain] Distin have more possession than they ever had under Moyes."
The statistics from Prozone Sports show that Everton are averaging more possession than last term – 55.66 per cent compared with 51.53 per cent. They remain a work in progress – looking ponderous with all their possession in stalemates with West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace – and, curiously, have both scored and conceded fewer goals than at this stage last season, belying the simplistic perceptions of both Moyes and Martínez.
Having inherited defenders of a calibre he never had at Wigan, the Spaniard himself praised the squad Moyes bequeathed him and said his ambition was only to add to it. "I've always said I want to change many things without losing anything," he said. "It is about having a great platform and trying to give it a little tweak."
And what will the Scot see of his old team on Wednesday? "There are different players now. We have four or five players who never worked with him. He knows the team inside out and the football club inside out.
"For me, it is not a game between the managers but between the players," he added. "I do feel the players are in a great moment. I think we've got players who are refreshed, ready for this week and all I want is for them to enjoy their football.
"I think what I am looking for is that we need to be creative from a football point of view to compete against the bigger budgets in the league. We need to be realistic that there are six clubs with six incredible budgets and we need to be a bit more different in the way we play." Sin miedo, naturally.
Best start in years: Everton after 13 games
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