What’s occurring, Dave? What? Not that great, what with the economy and that bug that’s been ‘going around’? Never mind squire, you’ve always got Everton.
Yeah, about that.
It’s not been the greatest week or so for Roberto Martinez, the tan-toed technician, or indeed his tenacious Toffees. A bright opening at White Hart Lane, capped by a fantastic strike from Kevin Mirallas, quickly fell apart as slack play in midfield twice gave the home side the opportunity to spring counter-attacks and take the game 2-1. Everton genuinely looked like they were going to cruise to a good result during the opening 20 minutes or so, but once Christian Eriksen equalised the Blues ran out of ideas and – Mirallas’s run to set up Romelu Lukaku for the opener against Hull aside – failed to discover any genuine inspiration for the next three and a half hours of football.
The whole performance against Hull was flat, but once Lukaku had opened the scoring even the most ordinary Everton side should have enough about them to hold on to a lead against that sort of opposition. The midfield and defence got stretched like a Barrymore pool party though and Sone Aluko kidded the bollocks of Sylvain Distin and Tim Howard, finishing easily inside the near post.
What was most disappointing was the lack of any real push from Everton during the closing stages. Once level, the Tigers never looked like leaving with less than a point.
And that brought us to the City game. Both sides were without key players, and given the home team’s mammoth spending you would expect them to cope better with injuries, but still it was a bonus for Everton to see Sergio Aguero limp out of the action after only two minutes. That should have served as inspiration, especially as Manuel Pellegrini replaced the Argentine with some Spanish teenager rather than Edin Dzeko, but really it just underlined how confident the home side were.
There are two aspects to the game really, from an Everton perspective, and that’s the performance of the referee and that of the team. Andre Marriner gave a ludicrous penalty to the home side halfway through the first period, when Phil Jagielka and James Milner ran into each other in the box, and Yaya Toure scored the game’s only goal from the spot. The decision was just downright wrong.
Martinez also bemoaned the fact that Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando – nicknamed ‘Isla’ – were only shown yellow cards for high tackles that caught Samuel Eto’o and Gareth Barry in the kidneys and kipper respectively. They could really have had little complaint had either of them been dismissed, as they were ludicrously dangerous, but in truth they were the sorts of incidents that people will justify if it’s their own team instigating them. ‘He had his eye on the ball’, ‘his head shouldn’t have been down there,’ etc. Indeed, Barry caught Milner in the face with an elbow at one point, and we would have gone mental if he had ‘seen red’.
In short, it would have been helpful had the home side had a man sent off, but they didn’t and we struggled against their full complement of eleven until a period near the end when our best player by some distance, Samuel Eto’o, flicked a ball up into the path of Lukaku. The Belgian sprung from his hiding place and caught his volley perfectly; it seemed destined to nestle just inside the far post, but then the underworked, Myra Hindley-haired Joe Hart made an absolutely brilliant fingertip save. If you wore a hat you could only really take it off to him.
So what of the not so tricky Blues then?
Whenever we have a rough patch under Martinez the system automatically comes under scrutiny because we play such a distinctive style. We said right at the very start of his ‘reign’ that when it doesn’t work it will look a bit grim. If you are a more direct team, even if you are out of form you can still have the ball down at the business end of the pitch with one hoof and create a bit of excitement with sheer effort and crude application. You could argue that we had years of that though and it was pretty much decided that it had taken us about as far as it could. The regular top four sides certainly concentrate on possession and building from the back as opposed to just ‘getting it in the mixer’.
We saw last season as well that Martinez’s methods work, as demonstrated in the games against Arsenal, Manchester United, even Chelsea away, and countless other schoolings we handed out. In terms of the fundamentals and the theory, we are definitely headed in the right direction under the slick-browed Spaniard. As for the application at the moment though, well, that’s a different story.
Having major players missing is certainly no help, and this season John Stones, Steven Naismith and particularly James McCarthy have developed into key figures. When everyone is fit you would say that Martinez knows his first eleven, but with those three missing he seems unsure about the best deputies.
Mohamed Besic, by his own admission, is still adapting to English football, Aiden McGeady just doesn’t seem that good, and Leon Osman is still a lovely footballer but needs to be used sparingly. Ross Barkley should be absolutely seizing his opportunity then, with two midfield spots up for grabs, but he’s done very little to force the manager’s hand. The youngster clearly has all the moves, but it seems as if we will have to build the whole team around his strengths – and more crucially, his weaknesses – if we are to see him reach his potential. When everyone is fit he is miles behind McCarthy in terms of playing as a box-to-box all-rounder, while Naismith and Eto’o look to have the edge in terms of cleverness and goalscoring in the attacking midfielder/withdrawn striker role.
Barkley is almost unsurpassed in terms of the ability to carry the ball across the middle sixty yards of the pitch – he’s an absolute joy to behold in full flight – but when he arrives at his destination not a great deal really happens in the main.
And defensively he barely even tries.
That’s possibly under orders from the manager, because he always wants him poised to counter-attack, but when introduced against City Barkley continually let runners go from midfield while the 72-year-old Eto’o was overtaking him to put pressure on the ball. He is still only very young though, with all the natural ability you could ask for, in terms of technique and athleticism, but last season’s meteoric rise, to the point of actually going to the World Cup, may have clouded judgement in terms of just how far along he is in his professional development. At the moment he looks some way off being a player Everton can rely on, week in, week out in the Premier League, never mind at international level or in the Champions League with one of the clubs who are supposed to be readying these forty or fifty million pound bids.
As for the team as a whole, well, if you listen to the players they say that Martinez wants them to play without fear, and when they do that we have seen the results. He showed at Wigan that he will stick to his principles come what may – because if he didn’t then they wouldn’t really be principles, would they? – and we can expect that at Everton too. Hopefully as supporters we can help with that and not get too agitated the moment the first pass goes astray or the opponents pressure us into an error. It’s alright being all in it together when we are playing well – it’s when the going gets a bit tough that you need to show a bit of faith and some solidarity.
Plus Aroune Kone’s back for Krasnodar. Get in!