Roberto Martinez's Soft-centred Toffees
6th, 5th, 5th, 8th, 7th, 7th 6th, 5th. These are Everton’s final Premier League positions from season 2006/07 to last season. However, statistics this season suggest that consistent old Everton, the family club modelled on consistency and stability, may be about to buck that trend. Five wins from twenty one games has left them thirteenth, but worryingly just three points above the relegation places. So what has gone wrong on Merseyside?
On the pitch, David Moyes’ Everton famed themselves on being watertight at the back and building from there. Phil Jagielka was signed by the Scot from Sheffield United in the summer of 2007 for a modest fee of £4M. Although not the biggest, Jagielka was quick and a fantastic reader of the game.
Alongside a young Joleon Lescott, the two formed a formidable partnership and after Lescott’s departure to Manchester City in 2009, Sylvain Distin more than adequately filled the breach. Flanked by attacking full backs Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman, Everton became a role model for defensive discipline and organisation.
However, failure to build on such strength with depth has caught up with Everton. This season, injuries to rising star John Stones and a series of inept displays by Antolin Alcaraz has seen Everton’s defending resemble that of Martinez’ Wigan team relegated two seasons ago. Only Newcastle, Burnley and Harry Redknapp’s beleaguered QPR have conceded more this season.
Goalscorers capable of scoring on a consistent and regular basis in the Premier League have proved hard to come by for most clubs with Everton no exception. The fact Yakubu is the only player to have scored more than 20 goals in one season for Everton, since Tony Cottee twenty four years ago, proves the point.
When Everton paid Chelsea £28M for Romelu Lukaku in the summer of 2014, they thought, with some confidence, they were getting their answer. Lukaku had scored sixteen goals in a loan spell at Goodison the previous season so Everton knew what they were buying into. Still only 21 and with 30 senior caps for Belgium, the 6ft 3 inch frontman has all the attributes to be a world class player. But, perhaps with such weight on his shoulders and in keeping with his teams struggles, Lukaku has found it difficult to reproduce the form of last season.
With Martinez seemingly unsure of the root of his teams issues, Lukaku has found himself in and out of the team and often isolated in attack when he does play. Starved of quality service, Lukaku has often found himself in wide or deeper areas.
With Everton’s relative league successes has come European football and the riches that come with it. However, the Europa League has proved a talking point amongst many a Premier League manager who have qualified for it in one form or another.
Often long Thursday night trips to far flung places have been followed by abject displays in the Premier League the following weekend – Everton have been no different. Injuries to key players such as Stones, Kevin Mirallas and James McCarthy have stretched Martinez already thin squad and the Europa League has done little to help that.
Luckily for Martinez, Bill Kenwright is a chairman known for patience and has long since prided himself on giving his managers the time and freedom of choice with the money he provides. A fine campaign last season means dissenting voices are being drowned out by the majority as far as Martinez is concerned but a stuttering second half to the season could see that balance change drastically, such is the nature of modern football.
An exit from the Europa League at the earliest opportunity could be excused if it results in an upturn in Everton’s patchy league form. Although the top four places are and will continue to be out of reach, qualification for the dreaded Europa League is a must for Martinez’ Everton.
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