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Friday 15 December 2017

Martinez: We need Euro test

Roberto Martinez
Roberto Martinez

Everton are back where they belong, according to boss Roberto Martinez.

The Toffees will play their first European match for five seasons when they take on German side Wolfsburg in the Europa League at Goodison Park tonight.

Lille and Russians Kuban Krasnodar are the other teams that make up Group H, and Martinez, who will be managing in Europe for the first time, thinks the games are exactly what his team needs.

Martinez said: "Everton had their first taste of European football 52 years ago so this is nothing new. This is something we feel should be part of our day-to-day work.

"We're very excited, as you can imagine, we've been working hard for 12 months to achieve this opportunity. The Europa League is a great competition, it's where we need to be testing ourselves.

"The only way to fulfil our potential is playing games like the one we're going to face.

"The draw has been really kind in terms of bringing two phenomenal football teams of the quality of Lille and Wolfsburg to Goodison, and then a real surprise with Krasnodar beating Real Sociedad in the play-offs.

"In terms of the group stage, it's a phenomenal challenge for us, but that's what we want at Everton."

Everton go into the game buoyed by their first Premier League victory of the season over West Brom on Saturday.

That followed draws against Leicester and Arsenal and a topsy-turvy 6-3 defeat by leaders Chelsea.

Martinez's passing style appears a natural fit for European football, but the Spaniard said: "It's not about styles, I think it's about being very good in your style.

"It's been a difficult start to the season for us in terms of results, but what has been very impressive is the manner that we've been ourselves, the way that we've got on the ball, the way that we've broken teams down and scored goals.

"We came back to our natural defensive intensity against West Brom. I thought the clean sheet we had was us being ourselves and that's what we need.

"We are based on a lot of hard work and a real strong team spirit. Slowly we are getting to a really good level."

Everton had been pushing to qualify for the Champions League for most of last season, and many managers do not welcome the Europa League and the effect Thursday matches have on their domestic schedule.

Martinez, though, does not see it as a problem and feels his squad has the flexibility to cope.

He said: "As a player, you want to play games and if you play Sunday and Thursday, that's what you want. When you've got a full week to prepare for a game, you need to have two really hard sessions and I don't think as a player you really look forward to coming into training and having to put a lot of effort into that.

"If you can avoid injuries, you welcome games."

It is a refreshing attitude and one reflected among Everton's fans, who have had a strange relationship with European soccer having first tasted it with an inglorious first-round defeat by Scotland's Dunfermline Athletic in the 1962-63 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

The 1984/85 Cup Winners' Cup campaign holds a special place in the club's history.

The night they came from behind to beat Bayern Munich in the second leg of the semi-final is widely regarded as the noisiest ever experienced at Goodison Park. Everton went on to overwhelm Rapid Vienna 3-1 in the final to lift their first, and to date only, European silverware.

Two weeks after that Rotterdam triumph came the Heysel Stadium disaster and the subsequent ban on English clubs that twice denied a superlative Everton side a chance to play in the European Cup.

They finally returned to Europe's top table, or at least the qualifying round dining room, in 2005 having come fourth in the Premier League the previous season but lost to eventual semi-finalists Villarreal of Spain and failed to make the group stage

Everton's European return comes in the week in which their plans to move from Goodison Park to a new stadium in nearby Walton Hall Park were confirmed.

Goodison has been the Toffees' home since 1892 but its position within tight residential streets means redeveloping it into a modern stadium is not a feasible option.

"Our fans know we cannot stand still," said Martinez. "We always need to try to help ourselves to look for the highest competitive level we can achieve and the ground has always been an issue.

Samuel Eto'o is in line to play against Wolfsburg tonight after recovering from a groin strain.

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