You have probably gathered already that the lack of a preview for this game was in fact an achingly post-post-modern comment on a match in which almost nothing of any significance actually happened. That’s right, it was so post-modern that we slagged the game off before it even took place.
The fact that most of the papers focused on Sylvain Distin’s contretemps with a disgruntled Evertonian after the final whistle is an indication of what a disappointing encounter it was, from Everton’s perspective at least.
It’s hard to tell whether the mournful-looking Frenchman genuinely cares about the Blues’ following or is simply a bit over-sensitive. Footballers are always criticised for being too aloof from the people who pay their wages – or as Carlos Tevez once pointed out ‘a portion of my wages’ – but you can’t help feeling that he was on a hiding to nothing there. If someone’s been stood there in the cold after travelling down to London, there’s every chance that they are not really going to be that receptive to nuanced debate, especially in front of all their mates. They want to vent a bit after watching a frustrating 90 minutes of football – it would make more sense to just give a half-hearted clap and maybe a Gallic shrug before fucking off down the tunnel and letting them get it out of their system.
It did seem a strange game to get quite that irate over though – the lad in all the pictures has a twisted grid of Tranmere proportions.
We said during preseason that the debates over Roberto Martinez’s style had the potential to get a bit dull and thankfully the favourable results have actually kept them to a minimum. This game though was probably the first where for the whole 90 minutes we did all the bad things associated with this particular ‘philosophy’. It positively reeked of that horrible Real Betis friendly at times as Everton endlessly shuttled the ball between the defensive six before losing it the moment they tried to play anything like a positive pass into an area where Palace didn’t want us to be.
The statistics said that Everton had 72% of possession, and that gives an impression of some degree of ‘control’, but in truth the home side could argue that their game-plan was the more successful. They were happy with a draw for a start, and they also had the better chances to take all three points. They were very rarely drawn out of their comfort zone as Everton’s glacial passing around the centre circle allowed them to simply get into position, with their backs to their own goal, challenging the Toffees to take the initiative.
Whether it’s a fault with the system itself or the personnel – perhaps a combination of both – it does seem to demand a great deal from the front four, especially when sides like Palace are happy to sit deep. Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman, Romelu Lukaku, and in the second half Ross Barkley, could find very little space to work in through the centre – there was more joy down the wings but a combination of poor crossing, unconvincing movement in the box and some decent defending meant that it was an unusually quiet afternoon for Julian Speroni.
People are increasingly starting to understand perhaps why Lukaku is not a regular starter for Jose Mourinho yet as his form has dipped in the last few games. He could perhaps do with simplifying his game a bit, especially when things aren’t going our way. Instead of constantly playing on the half-turn and demanding sometimes impossible through-balls from the midfielders he could do with just sticking his arse into the centre-half, getting the ball into his feet and winning some free kicks. For someone so strong and powerful he makes the defenders’ job very easy at times.
Pienaar and Osman are constantly trying to spin and wrestle past defenders too, in order to try and make some space, and you can see it wearing them out as the game progresses. Someone more physically imposing like Barkley is probably better suited to that role, but one long range shot apart he made almost no impact either when he was introduced. Deulofeu was disappointing too, especially as he appeared to wilt under the glare of the Everton support after his second McFadden-esque attempt to dribble straight through a defender saw him dispossessed by nothing more than the laws of physics.
It’s that transition from the defence to the forwards that seems to be the key. Perhaps James McCarthy needs to carry the ball forward a bit more and commit the opposition before trying to play the forwards in, or maybe drop Osman a bit deeper so he’s picking the ball up in more space and facing the right way. Having McCarthy and Gareth Barry tripping over each other in front of the defence just seems like overkill though, especially against a team like Palace.
Ultimately though, the problem Martinez has is that when it’s not working for his team it’s going to look like it did on Saturday, a bit anaemic and downright infuriating because when you have so much possession you always appear to be the architect of your own downfall. Under the last fella a disappointing result like this one would have involved a lot more percentage football and long balls towards Marouane Fellaini – a degree of that perceived control would be sacrificed but it would arguably be more exciting as the ball would at least be in the opponent’s area forcing them and the referee to make some decisions.
Phil Jagielka did hit the bar with a header but Palace wasted some great chances – you could hardly begrudge them at least one point.
Still, a draw away from home, even if it was against relegation certainties, is at worst irritating. A performance like that has been on the cards, simply because of the way we play now. When it works it looks great, when it doesn’t it is grim and looks almost as if the players aren’t that arsed as they fiddle about with the ball and suck the enthusiasm and sense of momentum from the game.
What are you gonna do?