[box_light]Please Note: This article was written before Roberto Martinez was confirmed the manager of Everton Football Club.[/box_light]
Whilst David Moyes faces the impossible task of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson as the Manchester United manager next season (albeit under the guidance of Ferguson himself in his new role at Manchester United), Everton FC’s future is uncertain at best.
Everton are faced with a few options: do they opt for a Moyes-like Malky Mackay? Or do they opt for change in the form of ex-Swansea and current FA Cup winning manager of Wigan Roberto Martinez? Martinez has been touted for several jobs in the last few years with Aston Villa and Liverpool being mentioned. He was even pictured with Liverpool owner John Henry last summer.
I’m sure anyone who analysed the FA Cup Final vs. Manchester City would have made a number of notes on how brilliant Martinez’s tactical solutions were; so brilliant that they controlled a game against a side that accumulated transfer fees in excess of more than ten times Wigan’s total squad cost. (Wigan FC first XI: £11.5 million, Man City FC first XI: £187 million).
Like Moyes, Martinez wouldn’t dream of sending his team out on a Saturday without a game plan. A game-plan so well thought out that fans would be forgiven for getting caught up in those moments of games that dominate our memories as they review the going-ons in the aftermath. The Wigan players are provided with the structure and system that allows freedom to flourish within; Callum McManaman was allowed to isolate his opponent over and over again, a carefully planned tactical input on Roberto Martinez’s behalf.
Martinez is a firm believer that players win matches, but the manager and coaching staff should prepare players in the best way that they can – and I believe this to be that of a detailed positional system that offers the players with the passing options and opportunities to outnumber the opposition in dangerous areas of the field, both in defence and attack.
My immediate thoughts on Roberto Martinez, hypothetically, being appointed as the new Everton manager were concerns that perhaps Everton didn’t possess the playing profile required to become a possession-control based team. However, on understanding Wigan’s positional system we can really begin to explore these original concerns.
When in possession Martinez’s team adopts an unsymmetrical 3-4-3 formation, a formation that allows his wingers to isolate full-backs and yet when in the final third, pack players into the opposition’s 18-yard box and zones right outside the 18-yard box. For a possession team, it seems odd that a great deal of importance is placed on looking to isolate the opposition’s fullbacks – however, to understand why Martinez has employed this solution at Wigan we need to get a grip on a simple but highly effective piece of advice that I often give to youth players at clubs I work at:
[quote]If the player you are looking to pass to makes a diagonal run, you can play a straight pass for him to run on to. However, if the player you are looking to pass to makes a straight run, you should look to play a diagonal pass to penetrate the opposition.[/quote]
So with that thought in mind, the movement in Martinez’s team in the final third becomes easy to understand – a system that encourages angled passes and runs in dangerous areas of the field. Roberto Martinez’s approach is all about movement to aid creativity
“Both [art and football] ask us how we should fill space. Both are concerned with drawing movement from space. In each we layer a sequence of lines over and over until they are thick and we begin to read the traces of our body on the earth itself”
Phillips Roberts, Run of Play “Roberto Martinez and Abstract Painting”
Martinez’s striker is never a static forward, but a striker that looks to take up a wider position and only find space internally when support arrives (from the left-wing back). Maloney’s ability to roam free and find spaces in amongst the opponent’s defensive block allows Martinez to find fluidity in the final third, allowing Wigan to outnumber the opposition’s full-back and take up the positions necessary to find the key passes that create goalscoring opportunities.
At Everton, we have Pienaar, Baines, Mirallas and Jelavic – who are in my opinion improvements on Maloney, Espinoza, McMananman and Kone (who are all fantastic players too). All of a sudden, it looks like the ‘wrong player profiles’ are in fact, perfect and improved profiles of exactly what Martinez requires to implement his tactical approach. Wigan’s back-line works because they are all comfortable on the ball and yet quick enough to cover any space the opposition finds – Everton have Distin, Jaglielka and Heitinga, who could all succeed in these roles. Should Everton keep Leighton Baines, they would have a left-wing back that Roberto Martinez’s system could only dream of and central midfielders who have the capacity to both attack and defend.
Martinez looks to outnumber the opposition in key areas in all areas of the field, both in their attacking form and defensive form. The striker (Kone) falls out to the left in a medium block (as in the supporting diagram) and the free role midfielder becomes the central player in a front three who supply the primary pressure on the opponents.
When in a deep-block, Wigan would fall into a defensive line of five who would position themselves in relation to the danger areas (zones 13.5 to 14.5) and Maloney would fall back to create a midfield trio (by leaving two up front, Wigan have the option to counter-attack when appropriate). One of the methods Wigan employ that allows them to be very successful is the freedom for the spare defender to go forward and look to ‘get involved’ when it looks like he could win the ball – this is one of the biggest advantages to Martinez’s approach to outnumbering the opponents in these regions of the field.
The single biggest concern that pundits have when admiring the attacking threats of an all-attacking full-back like Espinoza is his ability to fall back into this defensive line of five. However, Martinez likes to use an unsymmetrical system to allow for flexibility when the opposition counter-attacks by using a full-back on one side that isn’t expected to push on as much – allowing him to find the right-back position and form a back four until the left-wing back has recovered.
As with all managers, Martinez is likely to use his ‘good relations’ to bring in players from his existing club to further the current Everton squad and who wouldn’t want ex-Everton academy player Callum McManaman after his displays this season (and in the FA cup final) – a winger and striker whose fearless dribbling approach and explosiveness strikes fear into any full-back in the league at the moment (not to mention he’s only 22 years old).
Other than McManaman, Everton could be looking towards the technically gifted Maloney who Martinez admires:
“Shaun Maloney could have been born in any other country in terms of the technical ability and the quality he has”
But it isn’t the players that have allowed Wigan to flourish as a possession-based team, but the positional system that they play within. Therefore, Roberto Martinez brings more to the table than any of the other candidates I’ve seen linked to the Everton job and his ideas and philosophy could potentially transform the playing style that exists at the club.
I’m optimistic for Everton’s future and Moyes has left Everton with a fantastic squad of players who could quite possibly challenge for the fourth spot over the next few seasons with only a few new additions – and perhaps Martinez’s playing philosophy is the single biggest new addition that could change everything.
“If I go, Wigan goes on. That happened at my previous club”