In describing Everton's participation in the Europa League, Roberto Martinez referred to the club's forthcoming Continental adventure as "an interesting experiment" – a tacit admission, perhaps, that while he believes the Blues would be hard-pressed to win it, the whole experience will be hugely beneficial in terms of his longer-term aims. While there was nothing experimental about his approach to the visit of Chelsea today, you suspect that this bizarre match will be just as instructive for the Spaniard's more immediate challenges. And there were some harsh lessons learned during a dizzying encounter at Goodison Park.
Everton's world hasn't come down around them in the aftermath of a 6-3 home defeat to the early contenders for the Premier League title, a result that leaves them with just two points from a possible nine so far, but the seismic waves from the manner in which it played out have shattered a few assumptions that were formed during last season's impressive fifth-place finish. Despite fears to the contrary given the charitable defence over which he presided at Wigan, Everton under Martinez in 2013-14 possessed a remarkably resilient back line, one that finished the campaign with the third-best defensive record in the top flight in the face of regular disruptions at centre-half caused by injuries to Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alacaraz.
With such a platform on which to build, one significantly bolstered by the precocious form of John Stones and consolidated in the close season with the permanent acquisition of Gareth Barry in defensive midfield, Martinez's focus this summer has, understandably, been on the other end of the field. So it has come as a jarring shock to see 10 goals – a quarter of the league goals conceded last season – in the "against" column after just three games. What was once an undoubted strength has become, almost overnight, a fundamental weakness, one that now demands immediate attention.
Some supporters, no doubt, still hadn't found their seats at the start of the game by the time the Blues were, astonishingly, 2-0 down. Chelsea had scored with the first attack of the game, Diego Costa defying a typically sensationalist report on Thursday in the-rag-that-shall-not-be-named that he had torn his hamstring in training to fire through Tim Howard's legs with just 34 seconds on the clock. Then, Branislav Ivanovich finished with equal aplomb from an offside position two minutes after that. Much of Martinez's pre-match preparations and supporter expectations for a fixture that Everton had won on four of the last five occasions eviscerated in less than four unbelievable minutes and the proverbial mountain to climb for the home side.
The defending of both goals set the tone for the rest of the afternoon, one characterised by individual errors, slack marking and mystifying lack of pressure on the ball in crucial areas. Phil Jagielka's ill-advised decision to attempt to trap Costa offside instead of remaining goalside as the Spanish international latched into Cesc Fabregas's through-ball backfired spectacularly, leaving Howard exposed in the kind of one-on-one situation in which he so rarely excels. Ramires, meanwhile, had been afforded the freedom of Everton's penalty area for the second goal, giving him time prod the ball forward to Ivanovich who was half a yard offside but was allowed to proceed and double the visitors' advantage.
The Blues could have capitulated entirely in the face of Chelsea's early intensity but it was to their credit that they eventually got things back on something resembling an even keel as the first half progressed, although not before Howard had escaped a possible red card in the eighth minute for clearly handling the ball outside his area. He was fortunate that the referee's assistant had not caught up with play and was deemed to have gathered the ball on the line. It wasn't even close and you wondered if there wasn't some sympathy at play for an Everton side reeling against the ropes from the Londoners' early one-two punch.
Growing into the game more and more, Martinez's side began controlling the play and looked to have halved the deficit after a quarter of an hour when Seamus Coleman won a corner on the right, Romelu Lukaku thumped a header from Kevin Mirallas's resulting set-piece off the crossbar and Distin stabbed the loose ball over the line. The linesman's flag put paid to Goodison's celebrations, though, signalling that the Frenchman was offside.
Steven Naismith flashed a left-foot shot a yard wide from 25 yards a minute later and Mirallas – energetic, inventive and practically indefatigable all afternoon – tested Thibault Courtois with a decent curling effort from just outside the area but his compatriot in the Chelsea goal was well positioned to make the save.
Everton came very close to being punished for not making the breakthrough that their improved play had deserved, though, when Jagielka was – unforgivably – robbed of possession in a dangerous area in his own half two minutes before the break and Costa was played in on goal again to try and make it 3-0. This time it was Distin who failed to execute the offside trap but another erroneous offside decision saw the flag go up with the striker level; in any case, he hit the post with his shot.
And just two minutes after that let-off, on the stroke of half time, the Blues scored in a moment of beautiful fluidity. Aiden McGeady, starting in place of the injured Steven Pienaar, threaded an inch-perfect pass down the right channel to meet Coleman's overlapping run and he clipped his centre with similar precision to find Mirallas who powered a header into the far corner on the run to send Everton into the break with their tails up.
More normal service seemed to have been restored and Martinez's men spent the next quarter of the contest trying to respond to this stern examination of their top-four credentials which would surely have been enhanced had they been able to claw back a two-goal deficit against one of the title favourites. Though they remained largely in command of proceedings, they found chances at a premium with Lukaku's wayward shot from Mirallas's inviting cut-back just after the restart their only real opportunity until the final 20-odd minutes of the match.
The Blues remained susceptible to being sliced open by Chelsea, though, which they were eight minutes into the second half when Howard had to divert Costa's shot wide with an out-stretched foot to keep it at 2-1. And the contest looked to have been put beyond them midway through the second half when Eden Hazard brushed past James McCarthy along the byline with embarrassing ease and aimed a low ball for the centre of Howard's six-yard box but Coleman was helpless as his attempt to cut out the cross merely guided it into his own net via the far post. Costa gathered the ball from the net and couldn't resist class-lessly taunting the Irishman in retribution for an earlier spat that had seen the Spaniard booked and that prompted a furious reaction from Howard that could, on another day, have earned him an early bath.
And then all hell broke loose for 10 madcap minutes. Everton immediately moved up a gear and McGeady finished a jinking run by picking out Naismith beautifully with another nicely-weighted pass that split the visitors' defence and the Scot buried his shot into the net with the outside of his foot. 3-2. Game on. Enter Samuel Eto'o for his debut as McGeady made way, not knowing that his good work was about to be undone by more slack marking at the other end.
Once again, the blue shirts stood off as the yellow of Chelsea swarmed around the edge of their area five minutes later – McCarthy and Distin the chief culprits this time – and Ramires was able to roll the ball square to Nemanja Matic who set himself and fired a deflected shot inside the post to restore the two-goal margin.
Again Everton came back, though. Baines swung in a free kick from the left, picked out Eto'o, and he steered an impressively cushioned header past Courtois's despairing grasp and it was game back on at 4-3.
Once more, however, the seas of the Blues' defence parted all too easily at the other end as Barry lost Matic for the umpteenth time and allowed him to exchange a one-two pass with Ramires as blue shirted players chased shadows around the box and the Brazilian found the inside of the far side of the goal with Howard rocking back on his heels to make it 5-3. Frustratingly, Everton were just unable to stabilise themselves long enough to stay in touching distance of Chelsea.
And yet still they came back and almost scored what would have been a stunning fourth goal that might, you felt, have given them sufficient momentum to grab an improbable draw in the closing stages. Another scintillating move down the right ended with Mirallas steaming into the box to meet a cross from Coleman and his first-time shot seemed destined for the back of the net until Courtois finger-tipped it onto the post. It was not to be.
Their fire largely quelled at this point, Everton seemed resigned to their fate going into the last five minutes and Martinez introduced Muhamed Besic for his long-awaited debut with a couple of minutes to get a taste of Premier League action. Unfortunately, his first touch would be a memorable one for all the wrong reasons; an inappropriate piece of exhibitionism in the centre circle saw his backheel send Didier Drogba into space behind the stranded centre-halves and the Ivorian's own backheel took Distin out of the game again to allow Costa to beat Howard with a low shot into the far corner to complete the Blues' misery.
The Bosnian's error set the seal on what will hopefully be an important learning experience all the way around. In the fallout of this first defeat of the new season, Jagielka and Distin – and to an extent Howard, as well – have borne the brunt of the criticism that has exploded on social media and online but their individual errors tell only part of the story. Of equal concern is the manner in which McCarthy and Barry, a seemingly telepathic partnership last season that was a vital component of the Blues' rearguard, gifted Chelsea's players as much time as space as they needed in which to carve out chance after chance. Without the protective shield of their industry and tenacity in front of the back four, it doesn't matter which central-defensive pairing Martinez opts to try next, they will continue to be exposed.
Our sudden fallibility at the back has rightly been the centre of attention but buried beneath that awful defensive display were some truly wonderful attacking moments and a never-say-die attitude that continues to be a credit to the manager and his players alike. Everton carved Chelsea open with some lovely football at times, scored three fine goals and might have had a fourth were it not for Courtois's heroics and that bodes extremely well should Martinez find the solution to his new-found problems at the back. Despite Lukaku's middling start to life as a permanent Blue, this Everton team will score goals this season, as Eto'o (who looked sharp), Mirallas and Naismith – three players who emerged from the game with enormous credit – showed, but they can't go on conceding like they did today.
Plenty for Martinez to ponder and work on over the international break, then, ahead of the meeting with struggling West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. Thankfully, he has a little time but not much margin for error as important games come thick and fast in the second half of September.
You wait for a decent strike-force for years and now we've got one, the defence falls apart. Typical Everton...
Reader Comments (43)
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1 Posted 31/08/2014 at 09:01:55
2 Posted 31/08/2014 at 09:11:12
What a pity they are too young to replace our ageing defence. :-)
3 Posted 31/08/2014 at 09:49:29
4 Posted 31/08/2014 at 09:50:28
I know Jags and Distin have been poor this season and probably deserve the stick they are getting. However, we had the 3rd best defensive record last season with the same players, so hopefully Roberto can get them and the defence back to the way they were or even better.
To say Roberto's bubble has burst, as some are saying, and that this is his true self, is utterly ridiculous, though these may possibly be just knee-jerk reactions to this defeat.
5 Posted 31/08/2014 at 09:20:38
The criticism levelled at Distin and Jags in other posts misses the point. It is not simply that one of the best centre-back pairings in last season’s Premier League have suddenly deteriorated overnight.
Too often in the first half, the ball came back immediately from our attacks with pacey Chelsea players slicing through our midfield, putting constant pressure on our back four.
The mental attitude also has to be questioned. Goals were given away last season through lack of awareness and concentration. The same problem in the first 3 minutes cost us this game. We did not react to the Chelsea tactic of the instant harassment of our ball-playing back players. It threw us completely.
Maybe all the things that can go wrong in a football match have happened in this one game. We did produce some superb attacking moves and goals and Eto’o looked sharp.
We now have some time to sort out tactics, formations and minor injuries and, hopefully, draft in a couple of more players.
6 Posted 31/08/2014 at 10:20:20
7 Posted 31/08/2014 at 10:37:03
8 Posted 31/08/2014 at 10:48:29
9 Posted 31/08/2014 at 10:48:02
I'd have put one of Gibson or Besic in when Barry's legs had gone as it was the same issue in the previous 2 games. I don't understand how Martinez didn't see his defensive mids were dead on their feet and he had 3 central midfielders (albeit not like for like) on the bench.
This doesn't excuse Distin, Jags, Howard and Baines but as Others have alluded, if the defence has lost confidence AND hasn't got any protection then you're asking for trouble.
Double defensive drills for the defensive mids, full backs and centre backs, bring in Weir again if need be and praise Naismith, Eto'o, Mirallas and to a lesser extent McGeedy (threaded 2 fantastic through balls but does give the ball away) and go again in 2 weeks.
I'd also start Eto'o as Lukaku has seemed better at falling over, mis-controlling and generally being more of a cart horse than Anichebe so far this season so give him a rest, get his foot right, fitness up and hopefully come off the bench with a point to prove. Coybs
10 Posted 31/08/2014 at 10:56:11
For me this was criminal as against the lesser sides you may get away with it but against teams with the likes of Fabregas in it you will be punished all day long. Pretty much every goal came from us not pressing the ball and allowing them to pick out one of their own within what should be the tight confines of the 18 yard box or thereabouts.
When we picked up the ball 40 yards from goal we were closed down on every occasion and had to work an opening to get our goals. I feel most of theirs yesterday were down to a mixture of showing the opposition too much respect, naivety and crucially poor decision making in not pressing the ball and man in the final third.
This has gone on all season (albeit only 3 games in) and during pre-season to and for me was the biggest disappointment of yesterday as I felt we were the major contributors to our own downfall. A defensive coach needs to be found to drill this back into not just the defenders but the team as a whole cos as the old sating goes you 'defend from the front'. Looking at Costa yesterday running down our defenders on most if not all occasions as well as the Chelsea team as a whole is something we should be doing and should be expected as a given otherwise when the Man City's and other free flowing teams play us they will punish us maybe not to the tune of yesterday but punish us to the point of nil points.
I was fuming yesterday with both our centre backs mainly Jags who for me needs dropping and replacing with Stones as he IMO has become a bit of a liability not just this season but the last 3rd of last season too. The main reason I was fuming yesterday though was the reluctance as I said previously to not close and press such gifted opponents. This has to change along with one or possibly both centre backs being rested/dropped to allow Stones and hopefully fingers crossed another quality CB to come in and shore up what was the 3rd best defence in the league last year as this cant go on.
I do hope RM has one last gem to spring on us before the transfer deadline is up and it HAS TO BE ANOTHER CENTRE BACK. Who that is god only knows but to date he hasnt let us down in the most when it has come to transfers so I will leave him to weave his magic and hope beyond hope we have a new CB at the club come Tuesday morning.
P.s Besic needs a slap for that flick yesterday and I hope he learns quickly from it ! I do know he will never forget it being his debut first touch in a blue shirt at Goodison and costing us a goal. Stick to the simple stuff lad and play your game as you aint Lionel Messi so don't try playing like him !!
11 Posted 31/08/2014 at 11:16:03
12 Posted 31/08/2014 at 11:20:55
13 Posted 31/08/2014 at 11:20:41
14 Posted 31/08/2014 at 10:59:08
First thing to say is that this was a nutty result; even more weird when you look at the stats; 62/38% possession 17/12 shots in our favour, doesnÃ‚t make it the drubbing that it looks on paper, and IÃ‚ve witnessed many a game at Goodison that if it would have been a boxing match it would have stopped in the first half-and this one doesnÃ‚t even come close to that.
It reminded me of a game v Norwich some years ago which we lost 5-1 despite us have having all the possession with Efan Ekoku scoring 4 (I think), which prompted the headlines, Ã‚ItÃ‚s Efan hell for EvertonÃ‚
But back to yesterday; this is the same defence that have been together for some years and that kept 15 clean sheets last season, and Martinez needs to decide whether this is a temporary blip or major surgery or a re-think of tactics is needed.
IMO, the most important part of the 4-2-3-1 is the 2 DMs, they are the glue that holds the system together, which allows the full backs to play high up the field and fills in the holes that such an open system produces.
What has alarmed me is the fitness levels with players looking dead on their feet after the 45-50 minute mark-all the more baffling when you realise that because we dominate possession it should be the opposition that are running out of steam.
Martinez wonÃ‚t change his philosophy but surely leaking 10 goals in the first 3 games he must get back to basis-Oh for four scrappy 1-0 wins in September.
15 Posted 31/08/2014 at 11:26:09
I know there are problems and if we lose our next two games in similar fashion then it really will be time to worry about the season but I saw enough yesterday to suggest that there is a lot more to come from this Everton team and fortunately given the negative reactions of many, they also have the strength of character to respond to it, if they don’t then we will be in terrible trouble.
16 Posted 31/08/2014 at 11:25:25
I want us to play a passing game but that doesnt mean I want to see Jagielka and Distin making 6/7 passes between each other. Seems that players are more worried about their pass completion stats on opta than actually trying to move the ball forward quickly. I didnt see Chelsea constantly passing along their backline, looked to me that they tried to get the ball forward and into our half as quickly as possible.
I think spending practically all our budget on Lukaku was a huge risk and when you compare him to Costa who only cost ٢ million more the gulf in class is enormous. Yes I know Lukaku is only young and hopefully will improve but his first touch is shocking and I have seen milk turn quicker. Eto at 33 looks a steal and while I don't think he will play many 90 minutes he will give us a threat for maybe 40-60 minutes.
Just a mention for Naismith I think he has been our standout performer in all 3 games and to think the stick the lad got when he first came despite him not being fully fit speaks volumes for the lad.
Obviously 10 goals in 3 games tells you were the problem lies, I also think McCarthy has been woeful in all the games this season, funny that we are playing 2 supposedly defensive midfield players who rarely venture into the opponents half yet are so porous in defense.
17 Posted 31/08/2014 at 11:45:06
Naismith is turning out to be a gem up top, a real finisher and almost an automatic choice at this stage.
Still early days and if the fault lines can be ironed out we can be a match for most if not all the teams in the top half of the league. Chelsea look well placed to win the league this season.
18 Posted 31/08/2014 at 11:44:50
No I just can't see anything in those goals that could be blamed on how Jags and Distin are arguably inept at passing the ball out from defence. It might be a personal preference for some that the CB's hump the ball forward at the earliest opportunity but playing it around at the back shouldn't be given as a reason for conceding six goals when it was purely poor defending by individuals or the team as a whole that was responsible for it.
19 Posted 31/08/2014 at 11:54:09
Our defensive deficiencies have been laid bare for the world to see. Sort this out and we can have an incredible season. We have outplayed Leicester and arsenal for 80mins, outplayed Chelsea for large parts of the game so if we can tighten up the central defence (Seamus and Bainsey were great yesterday) we will be more than fine.
20 Posted 31/08/2014 at 12:02:35
I wasnt saying that any of the goals conceded was a result of Jags and Distins inter passing, what I was trying to point out was neither seems comfortable on the ball and there seems to be a reluctance from either to move the ball quickly out of defence. And no I don't mean hoof it up field I mean move it quickly to the more natural footballers in midfield.
Also seems like a 25-30 yard pass from the back has become redundant in the players minds since RM has taken charge. There are many ways to score a goal and sometimes it need not entail making 30 passes before you score.
21 Posted 31/08/2014 at 12:17:19
22 Posted 31/08/2014 at 12:36:18
23 Posted 31/08/2014 at 12:32:12
24 Posted 31/08/2014 at 12:35:32
I'll get slated for this, maybe, but despite Besic's boob y'day, a threesome of him along with By and My might have given us a stronger defensive mid, but / and with the potential to springboard into attack - Besic has very quick feet and an eye for a long pass with the ability to execute it.
25 Posted 31/08/2014 at 12:43:25
26 Posted 31/08/2014 at 12:46:53
28 Posted 31/08/2014 at 13:11:08
Jamie @19, I feel your pain. & maybe just to give a view on setting up defense; have a look at our very high defensive line for the first Chelski goal...an argument for excusing Jags' playing Costa onside could be made...
29 Posted 31/08/2014 at 13:20:27
30 Posted 31/08/2014 at 13:18:45
We've scored 7 goals, 5 of them in the first half.
We've conceded 10 goals, 7 of them in the second half, of which 6 have come in the last quarter of an hour.
I suppose this may be too simplistic as an analysis or maybe a coincidence, but it doesn't look or feel that way, when you see players seemingly running out of steam after about 70 minutes, which looks a bit like sitting back like the old days.
Maybe it's deliberate, with RM aiming to reach a peak to coincide with the heavy workload about to hit us over the next few months. I suppose time will tell but it's bloody frustrating so far, that's for sure.
31 Posted 31/08/2014 at 13:24:28
32 Posted 31/08/2014 at 13:26:30
Crucially at the back it seems that both Jags (due to his injury) and Distin (due to age) have lost a yard or two of pace and as such just look a little slow to react. I think Lyndon is right that Mccarthy and Barry in particular have to take a share of the blame in terms of not providing enough protection.
33 Posted 31/08/2014 at 13:55:18
34 Posted 31/08/2014 at 14:18:49
35 Posted 31/08/2014 at 14:35:55
36 Posted 31/08/2014 at 14:51:31
37 Posted 31/08/2014 at 15:11:03
38 Posted 31/08/2014 at 18:03:13
Howard as well looks out of sorts, slow and ponderous, and clearly mentally not right, no matter what Costa said he shouldn't have tried to throttle and head butt their players, what the hell does he think he's doing.
The negatives done , the positives - what a great attacking performance, Mirallas, Naismith, McGeady, Coleman all firing on all cylinders and for first 75 mins McCarthy was in the same bracket till he ran out of gas. Baines needs Pienaar, he's only half the player without him, its the combination of the two of them which makes Baines stands out as something special.
Besic was doing drag backs, back heels all through pre-season and you cant get away with that at the top level. For the guy to shine fully which he can he needs to cut out the tricks.
39 Posted 31/08/2014 at 20:40:56
The failure to close down quickly was very costly. Stand off top players and they murder you.
40 Posted 31/08/2014 at 21:47:46
A few other observations - Howard made some good saves and shoreline could have been at least two more. One from Costa when he saved with his feet was excellent and a second when he dropped sharply into a shot that was close to him was also from the top drawer. A few other player has good games - Naismith, Mirallas and Coleman in the first half when he looked very dangerous and defended well. Besic made a horrendous error but then tried hard to atone in the final few minutes - he didn’t hide which he could easily have done. Finally, Eto’o looked a class act (and I write as a sceptic when he signed) and hopefully he’ll help Lukaku who seems to be carrying the price tag heavily.
All in all. An entertaining game for a neutral but one of the most depressing matches I’ve seen at Goodison for a considerable time - the first two goals were really pathetic, the fourth which was directly below our line of vision allowed us to watch a line of unmarked Chelski players about 2 metres behind the Everton line leave before the last player took a shot. Like something from Subbuteo.
41 Posted 01/09/2014 at 18:39:39
Though some on here have inexplicably described him as a "shitehouse", there is little doubting that he is very much a big game player. Sure, he can be found wanting on occasion but we are so much the stronger for having him in the team than not.
42 Posted 03/09/2014 at 15:06:31
The 3rd goal was a case of three lads without a clue. Coleman, McCarthy and McGready. With the quick Hazard hemmed in on the touchline, the quick Coleman withdrew. The very quick McGready stood still three yards away with his hands in his pockets. This left the slow McCarthy with the quick Hazard. No contest.
43 Posted 04/09/2014 at 07:08:03
The Brazil World Cup has left our captain with similar problems to that of Johnny Heitanga. A sharp dip in confidence and form. Heitanga went from Everton player of the season 2011 to Everton pariah of the season 2012 in lightening speed. The Dutch calm ball playing centre half finally imploded at home against Aston Villa. Goodison can be a mean place for out of form players. I remember Bob Latchford getting shouted at for being a lazy fatherless child, then casually sticking a goal away. Distin is obviously sensitive to the crowds feedback and showed it with a well publicized spat with a fan a couple of seasons ago. Captain Phil is obviously an all round nice guy judging from the official site videos I've seen. He gives his all and has saved us on numerous occasions with heroic blocks and last gasp goal line clearances. It could be the poor pre season preparation plus press criticism of mistakes on the world stage. Whatever it is, we need to encourage and resist the urge to further destabilize them, otherwise our season could really suffer. Goodison, go easy.
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