As an Evertonian, jubilation is often replaced very quickly with despair. Despite its regularity, you’re somehow never quite prepared.
After the ecstasy of booking an FA Cup semi-final date last weekend, Everton we’re well beaten in the Premier League on Saturday. Arsenal ran out deserved winners in their ‘probably-too-little-too-late’ title attempt, but were afforded the luxury of playing most of the game in first gear.
To say Everton had an off day is to put it mildly. Just two shots on target and an average pass accuracy of just 79% (Sqauwka) sums up a game in which a team used to possession based football failed to find any passing fluidity and were toothless in front of goal.
Architects of our own demise – few teams have genuinely outclassed the Toffees
It was one of few occasions this season where Everton have either not turned up or been outplayed by superior opposition. Manchester City were the first, on an early season run in which they looked ready to annihilate all in their path to Premier League glory. They ran out deserved 2-0 winners at Goodison Park in August.
The second such occasion came against City’s neighbours in October. Manchester United were also flying high at the right end of the table and flexing their potential title muscle before mediocrity and angry LVG press conferences became the norm. The Blues were overwhelmed by a rampant midfield of Schweinsteiger, Herrera and Schneiderlin that day, but they failed to match the intensity and pace of their counterparts.
Against Arsenal, Evertonians witnessed a similar display. Uncharacteristically lacklustre in possession without Gareth Barry; lacking energy and creativity; and wayward with the few chances that came their way. While the end result was all too familiar, the manner in which Everton surrendered to an Arsenal side who had travelled to Barcelona for a footballing lesson of their own on Wednesday, was what upset fans most.
Subs-talk is cheap when we all play Football Manager
Football fans can appreciate and even applaud a team off the pitch after a disappointing result, as long as they have seen enough evidence that the players gave it their best shot.
This appreciation for someone trying their best extends to the manager too. Whether you agree with Martinez’s substitutions and tactics during Saturday’s defeat or not is to miss the point.
I’m flummoxed that it took till the 73rd minute to see Gerard Deulofeu introduced. The game needed an injection of life, someone to get a despondent crowd back on their feet. Call it a lifeline in a game that Everton had spent the majority of which barely treading water.
Yet I can also see the merits in Muhamed Besic’s withdrawal; someone who couldn’t get a foothold in the game and needed rescuing. Maybe Ross Barkley could have dropped deeper to accommodate another forward instead of John Stones coming on to form a back three. But in doing so, two of Everton’s most threatening players for years now in Coleman and Baines were pushed into a more advanced position. A positive move it seemed to me.
The point is that in Martinez’s position, we’d have all made a slightly different decision as to who to bring on and when to introduce them. Under any manager, some substitutions will come off (Lukaku at West Ham, September 2013; Mirallas at Fulham, March 2014; Kone at West Brom, September 2015) but a lot will either fail to have any significant impact on the scoreline or will occasionally have a negative effect.
Martinez can be a great manager, if only he’s willing to compromise
Managers too can get it wrong on the day. What should be more important for Martinez to recognise, is his side’s failings which continue to rear themselves in a familiar and recurring fashion: a defensive vulnerability compounded by a lack of leadership.
Why are a group of talented defenders the owners of so many poor club records? Jagielka, Baines and Coleman have years of international representation, while Stones is one of the most coveted defender in European football.
So why are they responsible for the worst defensive home record in the league (28); most goals conceded by an Everton team in a 38-game Premier League (41); and the fewest points at home in a season (in which 3 points awarded for a win), just 16?
Martinez has never been shy of talking up his footballing ideals which hinge on players going all-out to win football games through the dominion of possession in an open and attacking style. Certainly the kind of football that produces entertaining matches but Evertonians arrived long-ago at the point where this unguarded back-door policy is not worth the deluge of goals at the other end.
Martinez, like all managers and players, will have good and bad games. But just as they like to see players giving 100%, Evertonians need to see that there’s an effort to change things at the management and coaching level. That solutions to obvious weaknesses are being employed, if not at the very least explored.
Recognising this vulnerability would be the first step to Martinez keeping fans and players on board. Addressing it would be the glorious second step towards something very special at Everton under the Spaniard.