Not withstanding the result on Wednesday, a match I think many of us are now viewing with fear and trepidation, surely the time has come to re-appraise the manager's position.
I have tried to be even-handed with Martinez, seeing better football under him than we have for several years, but the point has been reached, for me and many others I suspect, that our patience has just worn out. We are not a ‘sacking club’ and as fans we are far more patient than many, perhaps too patient, but we cannot continue as we are without fundamental change. That change must either be the way the manager trains, coaches and selects the team or we change him. By common consent we have as good a squad as many in the Premier League but our results tell a different story and that must be down to the manager, who for me has several fundamental flaws in the way he manages that he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge or address.
Firstly, he has managed in the Premier League for almost six years, during which time he has consistently been accused of playing good football but showing neither a desire nor an understanding of the need to defend. The arguments about whether it was Stones or Howard's fault yesterday deflect from two fundamental issues. If you want the back five to pass the ball around then the goalkeeper has to as comfortable with the ball at his feet as the rest. Howard never has and never will be comfortable with the ball anywhere near his feet, so why has this not been addressed either in training or by replacing him?
Equally I doubt there is a coaching manual in the world that thinks playing out from the back involves the centre half receiving the ball in deep wide positions, thereby exposing the centre of the defence and trying to play out from there. Stones is without doubt one of the best footballing centre-halves around, but he is a poor defender because he spends far too much time being a ‘footballer’ not a ‘defender’. Martinez shows no desire or understanding that his first and foremost job is to help stop the ball going in our net, not starting attacks – that’s a bonus after his day job. The old adage runs true: ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’. So after six years of trying to play this way in the Premier League and it consistently failing, why does he think it will work now and why has he not got a competent specialist defensive coach on his staff?
Secondly, his rigid insistence on a system that a) involves giving at least one player carte blanche and assume little or no defensive responsibilities (Barkley); b) always playing with two wide men even if they are not natural wingers (Kone, Cleverley, Osman); c) only ever having one player ‘up top’; d) 2 holding midfield players irrespective of the opposition or the game situation. For someone lauded as a great tactician by the media, where is his flexibility and innovation? When over the last two years have we adopted something different to make the opposition sit back and think? The arrogant manner in which he stands alone by the touchline strikes me as of a man who has no truck with criticism and is not willing to listen to other views. It's his way or the highway. If you always do what you’ve always done...
Thirdly, his unwillingness to accept that in English football the set piece is a valuable weapon and cannot be ignored either defensively or in the attacking sense. It is no coincidence that we have scored the fewest number of goals from set pieces in the Premier League and even though Barry’s and Mori’s two recent strikes have improved that statistic, it is still reprehensible. Defensively, everyone’s heart goes in their mouths when the opposition get a corner or a free kick; put it on our goalie or hoist it into the middle and the team panic with the crowd. His stubborn refusal to accept this part of the game and plan accordingly is disgraceful.
Has anyone seen anything other than a shot when we get a free kick within 30 yards? Where is the innovation and guile? Where is something different from this master tactician? He appears so reluctant to consider the set piece as part and parcel of the English game that I wonder what he has been watching in his 20-odd years of English football.
Finally, his use of substitutes – or in many case his lack of use of them – is just as baffling. When he does use them there is one common theme: to continue playing the same way. I cannot think of a time when his substitution has been used to change our formation or the manner in which we play. Take the Chelsea game as an example: 2-0 up and he takes Lennon off and brings on Deulofeu to keep width and keep attacking. Had it been almost any other manager, Lennon would have been replaced with a more defensive-minded player but – surprise, surprise – he doesn’t see fit to put that type of player on the bench.
2-1 down at home yesterday and his final substitution is to swap right backs?! So we change personnel but continue playing the same way with no thought to adopting anything other than his original plan. Then there is his reluctance to use substitutes. Is there something in his rule book that says no changes before the 70th minute? When 35,000 can see someone is struggling in the first half why does he wait?
As I said at the start I have tried to be patient with him but it has run out, Martinez has to change or leave. Will he change? No, so for me will Bill Kenwright get rid of him...?