No manager in world football is without shortcomings. Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Diego Simeone all have flaws in their make-up; Everton boss Roberto Martinez, as supporters of the Toffees know all too well, has them too.
For a while the Catalan’s quirks were lapped up by fans. When Martinez insisted performances were more important than points in his debut term, the majority of Evertonians understandably bought into this refreshing ideology, as the Toffees soared to the upper reaches of the Premier League.
But these quirks have gradually grown more grave. The persistence with an over-the-hill Tim Howard was joked about in various supporter circles in self-deprivating style, but more than a year on from when this issue first surfaced, the problem has worsened and remains unaddressed by the manager.
The same can be said about the mess that is Everton’s left flank. The longstanding issues with set-pieces too. More recently, Martinez’s peculiar in-game management has left many supporters bemused and if anything, it’s a facet of his coaching style which seems to be deteriorating.
All the while, as these blemishes have mounted, there’s been an underpinning concern that for this manager and undeniable attacking skill, defending is an afterthought.
The Stoke City loss was a perfect storm of all these deficiencies. Another error from Howard, more dire defending, the left flank wide open for Xherdan Shaqiri to exploit and all the while, a manager who stood, watched and did little to alter the course of another hard luck story.
It’s galling to watch. Having rallied superbly to get back into the contest, inspired by the rampant, rumbustious Romelu Lukaku, Everton had 19 minutes to see out a 3-2 win and secure six points in the space of three days; it’s a result which would have pushed the Toffees up into seventh position.
When Everton took the lead, there were four forwards on the field in Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu, Arouna Kone and Steven Naismith. In addition, the defensively shy Ross Barkley and weary, ageing legs of Gareth Barry were holding down the midfield.
With this personnel on the pitch, Martinez should have approached the game in two ways. Either continue going at Stoke or inject some freshness into the team from the bench in the form of Mo Besic, Darron Gibson or Leighton Baines. Inexplicably, Everton did neither, retreating deeper, surrendering the initiative and trying to forge a compact set-up with tired, attack-minded players.
The resultant equaliser and eventual winner came as no great surprise in the end. The Toffees had run themselves into the ground in the second period trying to get back into the game in the second period and despite many featuring on a heavy pitch in the North East just 48 hours earlier, Martinez thought no alterations were needed.
It showed remarkable naivety. Indeed, when Stoke got the match back to 3-3, a position they would have been delighted with, they swiftly introduced Marco van Ginkel to get a foothold in midfield and seek to stem the flow of what was an anarchic contest. It was basic but effective management from Mark Hughes, looking after the physical and tactical interests of his team.
Martinez did no such thing. In this convoluted period rotation is key, yet Everton were just one of two of the 16 Premier League teams who played on Monday not to use all three substitutes; the other was Chelsea, who had a bench consisting mainly of young, untested players.
To let the final stages of this frantic contest play out as he did strays towards a dereliction of duty from Martinez. The same can be said about the string of issues he’s left unaddressed, most notably the goalkeeping debacle, set piece woes, lopsided team selections and, his most longstanding problem, lack of defensive focues.
After the game against Crystal Palace I was invigorated by the progress of this young team and the potential it had. There were worries, but with the right guidance and some amendments from the manager, all the pieces were there to align. Yet it seems as though while likes of Lukaku, Barkley and Deulofeu have all evolved, Martinez has stagnated in a lot of his work.
And there does come a point when enough must surely be enough. Martinez has shown a reluctance to be ruthless with his team selection and a regression in his tactical nous. The dearth of defensive focus and scarcity of savviness in seeing out matches is something which has been prevalent prior to his spell with the Toffees. If he can’t change now, for the sake of these brilliant young players, will he ever?
It’s not the time to change manager, with fixtures coming quickly and a League Cup semi-final on the horizon. But with the squad he’s meticulously assembled, Martinez is massively underachieving at the moment and he’s edging closer to that aforementioned point of no return.
Granted, there’ll be little pressure on the Catalan from the board, as the job at Goodison Park is one of the safest in the Premier League. But there’s a sense that support for Martinez’s utopian vision has seeped away lately and unless some uncharacteristically decisive action is taken in the weeks to come, the swell against the manager will only gather more momentum.
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