An Evertonian crisis seems less rare than many of the other clubs. Considered in the same band as Newcastle and Spurs who suffer from almost annual disasters, the Toffees usually carry on about their business in relatively serene fashion. After the consistency of David Moyes it was expected that transition to Roberto Martinez could be a bit of a risk. Fortunately for the blue half of Merseyside, this needn’t have been a worry last season as they won over many neutrals and claimed 5th in the table. Whether last season was a false dawn for Martinez’s reign is yet to be seen, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the easy on the eye football of 13/14 did wonders for the club’s opinion from other fans after the turgid times under Moyes.
From the swaggering Romelu Lukaku of last season their line is led by a £28 million pound confidence-less flop-looking striker whose deficiencies are beginning to justify Chelsea’s decision to sell in the summer. Averaging just over a point a game for this season with 23 from 22, having been at nearly 2 points a game for the entirety of last season and Martinez looks a distance off knowing quite where it has all gone so horribly wrong. Gareth Barry has gone from a pivotal cog in allowing the full backs to advance to a hideous liability and James McCarthy’s irregular availability has highlighted his importance from the last campaign. Lukaku’s clumsy footwork has always been an issue in his game for the top sides, but his lethal pace and power has hardly been the same threat in the first half of this season, also. As he plods around up front, the questions posed by Jose Mourinho of the big Belgian’s attitude must echo in the corner of Evertonian minds. Does he really want to play? Does he need appropriate competition as he gets complacent easily? Is he actually ready to be the star? How does he adapt? A lot of questions can be thrown at Lukaku right now and he hasn’t even begun to answer them this term. Samuel Eto’o’s brief stint at Goodison looks to be coming to an end with Sampdoria looming and the Cameroonian superstar understandably looking to move.
Lukaku is only a small part of the problem that Everton face currently. Martinez has managed to make his defence look like Wigan suddenly and their individual errors have accounted for the most goals of any team in Europe. Defences rarely look solid without a quality defensive midfielder and maybe it is just so that as Barry is declining it is showing the true weaknesses of Jagielka and Distin particularly. John Stones is coming back from his injury and really need to be the corner stone of the next generation of Everton back line, whilst a new keeper is likely to be signed as Howard is ageing rapidly. Leighton Baines’ claim as the best left-back in the history of football has finally been seen through for what he is; an excellent crosser and average defender. The key to any sort of solidity for Everton may need to see the end of tactical stubbornness from Martinez and accept he doesn’t currently have the players to implement that. Of course luck plays a great part in a run of the Besic-McCarthy midfield and things may work out differently.
Much like the dilemmas that faced Brendan Rodgers until a few weeks back, now is the time for Martinez to change before Everton get sucked into a bottom half battle. First port of call needs to be the addition of a striker to challenge the arrogant Romelu Lukaku and return him to his fearsome form of last season. Give Aiden McGeady specific instructions of keep him away from the pitch at all costs and make sure that combative yet skilled Besic-McCarthy partnership gets a chance to shine. Activity in the remaining days of the January window might not be necessary but Everton have some of the elements that could make a strong side with investment, a side I would look to buy if I happened to be a Sheikh.
Everton are looking like a side with no attacking penetration and a defence that is resembling a colander. At least another number 9 is required and someone needs to have a word with Ross Barkley, but that debate is for another time.
I’m sure Ross will feature in my next column on the next generation for England.