Barcelona, Manchester City, AC Milan.
These were just some of the many jobs Roberto Martinez was being touted for after an impressive first season in charge at Everton which saw the Toffees flirt with the Champions League places and miss out on them due to pure bad luck. Just 18 months down the line, Everton sit in the bottom half of the Premier League table and the majority of Everton supporters have completely turned on the former Wigan manager.
People point to his naivety and his lack of a defensive structure and they are absolutely correct. What is most worrying about these issues are that they have always been a problem for him and he hasn’t really ironed them out of his game. Any young manager will have flaws but they are supposed to get rid of them, for example Mark Hughes struggled organising a defence at both Blackburn and Manchester City but his Stoke side have one of the best defensive units in the Premier League. Martinez seems to have no focus on that side of the game and it is costing Everton dearly.
Lack of Discipline:
Firstly, there is a real lack of discipline in the Everton back four that is costing them points. John Stones was subject of a relatively spontaneous rant from Paul Merson but for once, ‘Merse’ was correct in what he was saying. John Stones should be encouraged to play out of the back, the era of six yard box defenders has passed, but Everton seem to take it too far right now. In a game against Manchester City, John Stones turned Aguero in the box around three times before eventually getting a decision to go his way. Firstly, this was a totally unprofessional move that could have cost his team a goal, but most importantly it symbolised the Martinez mentality that has infected the club in recent weeks. There was no urgency about the play and there is clearly a lack of structure, he encourages his players to express themselves but they do not have any kind of discipline in place. Playing out of the back isn’t about showing off, it’s simply about being composed enough to not have to launch the ball down the line like a Sunday League defender, in this sense Everton are fine but they seem to be taking things too far at the moment. Everton have made 16 defensive errors with only Arsenal and Liverpool making more, there is a clear issue with their expansive style right now.
Familarity for Martinez
What is most baffling about these problems is that they mirror what Martinez had at Wigan. Let’s not forget that when Martinez took over, Wigan were a relatively solid Premier League team who had only conceded 45 goals in the 08-09 season under Steve Bruce, any kind of solidity was quickly evaporated by Martinez’ ridiculous methods and the team conceded 79 goals in the 09-10 season, a total only topped by Owen Coyle and Brian Laws’ Burnley team. Sure the standard of football was better, but the defensive solidity was truly pathetic and the team shipped 17 goals in two defeats against Chelsea and Tottenham. This was never put right by Martinez and Wigan were completely fragile under him.
It’s unfair to put too much negativity on his Wigan reign but he turned a relatively stable mid-table side into relegation candidates every year under him. If the FA Cup wasn’t won in 2013, his reign at Wigan would arguably be labelled a total failure. Everton put faith in the fact that he might do better with an improved and more experienced defensive core including the likes of Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines – two years down the line it is clear nothing has changed.
Everton playing attacking football is admirable, but frankly without defensive solidity they have absolutely no chance of pushing into the top six of the Premier League. I do not believe defensive solidity and negative football go hand in hand at all, Everton can still play their fluid beautiful football going forward but they need to drop back into a deeper and more solid defensive structure because they don’t have the personnel to play a high pressing game. They have smart midfielders who can make important tackles but there is no organisation ahead of them so they are often overworked.
The Toffees appear to be playing a sort of hybrid system, they don’t press but they don’t stay compact and try to force teams to play in the ‘dead areas’ which are the wings – Atletico Madrid are best known for employing this strategy. This all falls on Martinez because he has a solid defensive unit with one of the league’s best defensive midfielders in Gareth Barry. There is simply no excuse for what is happening.
Martinez has his job on the line, he needs to learn how to organise a team and he needs to learn fast. Romelu Lukaku and John Stones will not stay at the club if they finish outside of the top seven, time will tell if that is a realistic target for Everton. Right now they are not intense enough, they just seem to get behind the ball and hope they eventually win it back, there is no gameplan from Martinez and things have to change quickly.