With Everton staying in the FA Cup on Tuesday night with an 11th hour escape, Roberto Martinez was spared growing pressure on his job at Goodison Park. Domestically, the Toffees have lost the last four outings, with their last win coming at home versus basement dwellers Queens Park Rangers. More worringly, Everton’s last clean sheet was over two months ago versus Swansea. For Toffees boss Martinez, December was a difficult month and for a team that is renowned for shutting out allcomers, it is a concern. So how has this come about and are the Spaniard’s shortcomings his own making?
When Martinez left Wigan Athletic for Everton back in June 2013, the general consensus was that the appointment was a very clever move for the blue half of Liverpool. Under their previous stewardship under David Moyes – who departed for the hotseat at Manchester United – Everton had been resolute in defence and had been famous for their 1-0 victories, particularly at Goodison. The view was also that Martinez could improve the offensive side of their game with his self-patented attacking philosophy, with particular reference to his penchant for flying wing-backs and pace on both flanks.
The start Martinez made was impressive. In his first games Everton remained unbeaten including victory versus Chelsea for his inaugural win. Furthermore he broke a club record by not suffering a defeat in his first six games. Sure enough the honeymoon period ended, but still The Toffees remained consistent and ended the 2013/14 campaign in fifth spot behind Arsenal and qualified for the Europa League proper. The emergence of Ross Barkley aswell as the scintillating form of Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines with their new found freedom up and down the field was as a direct impact of Roberto Martinez’ attacking style and above all, his system.
This term has been marked in contrast. Whilst the Toffees have been wowing audiences with performances in Europe, their Premier League form, particularly of late, has been horribly wayward and is beginning to have a familiar ring to it. In the four seasons Roberto Martinez spent at the DW Stadium, he introduced a back five system, with emphasis on greater protection in defence but with a more attack-minded ethos. When Martinez took over at Everton, he brought over Joel Robles and Antolin Alcaraz from his former club. Injuries to Phil Jagielka and the declining form of Sylvain Distin have led to Martinez to deploy Alcaraz – rather ironically nicknamed Alcatraz – at centre back. No only that but the occasional absences of Coleman and Baines has seen the Catalan tinker with his system in the hope of stopping the rot of poor results.
Whilst there is no definitive proof that Martinez has reverted to an almost invisible back five, the evolving roles of both full backs point to it. Both Irish and England internationals’ performances last season, more especially their attacking exploits hints at their new ‘wing-back’ responsibilities. That is all well and good when it comes off but recent results suggest that the systen is shaky, certainly with Everton’s squad. More pertinently of late, with losses becoming a common occurence, Martinez has been desperate to find alternate options to remedy the situation. But is Roberto Martinez’ tactical flexibility seeing his old ways slipping back into his tenure on Merseyside?
Martinez on one hand could be applauded for trying a plan b or even a plan c, in comparison for example with Arsene Wenger, however his squad’s capabilities suggest they lack the ability to play such a high-pressing system in certain defensive areas; the aforementioned Distin is now way past his best and unable to cope with the extra space infront of him and with Alcaraz for company the two are a disaster waiting to happen. Against Hull City, when already two nil down, the Spaniard deployed Baines in a central midfield role, the ‘Phillipp Lahm’ role if you will – where the German World Cup winner has molded his position since moving from right back – again proving Martinez’ penchant to shake things up but which is defesively detrimental. Martinez has been so keen to find a way out of the managerial mire that he has even repeatedly benched his £28m hitman Romelu Lukaku, in a bid to find a more offensive midfield including Barkley, Muhamed Besic and James McCarthy.
As we saw with the Latics during their time in the top flight the wing back system may not have kept many clean sheets but they would score goals. As Everton seemingly metamorphose into Wigan Athletic, the question Roberto Martinez needs to ask himself is what is more important to him; the defence or the attack. In the system with Wigan, the two could not compliment each other. Everton have become increasingly leaky at the back, with still the ability to attack and well, although recently even that has deserted them.
Roberto Martinez has likely not avoided the sack with elimination in the FA Cup but with the starkness in comparison with this campaign and last, the Catalan needs to turn the Toffees form around and swiftly, however with Manchester City visting Goodison this Saturday that will not be easy, despite the clubs ability to beat the best teams on their day. One thing that should forgottten also; If Martinez is reverting back to type, if he gets to March, then – given his history – the remainder of the term should be a formality.