You have to admire managers who possess an unshakeable conviction in their own beliefs. Those who, despite what all external outlets will say, remain steadfast that their way is the right way and the most beneficial way for their team to progress.
Roberto Martinez is definitely a man who falls into that category. Once the Catalan has meticulously drawn up his gameplan, it takes something pretty drastic before he strays away from it. That much has been evident in recent weeks, with his Everton side showing flashes of brilliance, and a fair share of bald naivety.
Norwich City was the latest example, as another two points were relinquished after a first half of stunning approach play and rank bad finishing.
There are plenty of playing personnel who can shoulder the responsibility for this defeat. The forwards, Romelu Lukaku and Arouna Kone in particular, who were especially profligate in front of goal, and the defenders, who once again failed to cope with a rudimentary ball into the box for the second match in succession, were both found wanting. Others dotted about the team were also well below their best.
But Martinez’s decision-making left much to be desired at Carrow Road on Saturday, as control of the contest slowly slipped away from Everton in the aftermath of Norwich’s equalising strike.
There have been times this season when the Everton fans have demanded a substitution in contests and Martinez has been unmoved; I’ve agreed with the manager’s want for continuity with the team on top on occasions too. But other matches lately, his inactivity has been worrying.
In away ties at Bournemouth and the Canaries, Kone has been a passenger late in games. The Ivory Coast forward has dovetailed wonderfully with Lukaku in home matches but away, after an hour, he’s clearly felt the physical effects on numerous occasions. Yet he’s been on for almost the entirety of the last couple of away fixtures.
To withdraw both Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley instead, the Toffees’ two most creative players this season, left Everton looking tepid in their attacking forays at Carrow Road.
It’s almost as if Martinez has a reluctance to admit, by making a substitution, his scrupulously formed ploy isn’t working. Infamously, the Catalan made no changes during a 3-0 defeat against Southampton last year and this term, his prosaic interventions, despite waxing lyrical regarding the depth of his squad, has left many supporters scratching their heads.
There are other facets of his management which has left many bewildered too, set pieces being the main one.
Everton are rank bad at this crucial component of the game, whether that be taking them, attacking them or, most pertinently of all, defending them. And this accumulation of goals conceded from crosses into the box is down to further failures to address obvious longstanding issues.
The first is the goalkeeper. While Tim Howard was not directly at fault for the goal against Norwich, his reluctance to come out and collect crosses has the back four on edge.
With the American stuck to his line, it’s been noticeable how teams have sought to float crosses into the box against Everton in the last month, from which panic typically ensues. That Joel Robles remains on the substitutes bench despite showing this kind of authority in his fleeting appearances, represents a massive blind spot.
Not having players in the penalty area who attack the ball doesn’t help either. With Everton’s best headerer of the ball on the halfway line in Lukaku, it’s rare to see a blue shirt get to corners first. Leighton Baines admitted in the aftermath of the clash against Norwich this is an area the Toffees are working on, but it’s a focus which has yet to bear fruit.
Martinez has done many brilliant things for Everton this season and the fact this team is attacking with an irrepressible swagger, creating chances and proving tough to beat are all positive factors which can be built upon going forward. But the obvious frailties in the team and the unwillingness to address them does not reflect well on the manager.
So with teams starting to ruthlessly expose these chinks in the armour, some changes must be made.
It’s encouraging to hear Baines reveal set pieces are to be worked on; it’s clear some massive progress is needed there. In addition, to help expedite this process, Robles must come into the side at the expense of Howard, especially now Martinez can offset the experience which the American brings with the return of Baines.
The left side needs to be addressed to help ease the Englishman’s return to the team as well. Kone, as much has he has improved this season, is not a 90-minute player. Again, the manager must act in matches to come, especially against energetic outfits like Leicester City, Newcastle United and Stoke City.
There’s certainly no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater as Everton seek to progress. But if Martinez remains reluctant to address perennial problems, a chance to capitalise in a wide open Premier League will pass Everton by.