Roberto Martinez’s Everton debut in the Premier League saw Marouane Fellaini take centre stage as he was often the trigger for Everton’s change of tempo, either through Fellaini himself dictating the tempo by keeping in line with the play with his lung-bursting running around the pitch or through the Belgian giant’s advanced positioning that would lead to a “fast-transitional” pass (not seen by Martinez as a long ball) being played into Fellaini that would come under his control regardless of how the ball was played into him – Fellaini made the joint second most number of passes this weekend with 88 passes (joint with Steven Gerrard, behind only Aaron Ramsey) and had a staggering 106 touches during the course of the game (a touch of the ball every 51 seconds).
With the help of one of Martinez’s former colleagues at Wigan, a whole chapter has been written in my upcoming book about the of possession philosophy of Martinez and an article was written on EPLindex about his philosophy over the summer. As a result we can confirm that the former-Wigan tactician is a man of two elements of play when in possession: creating overloads and isolating the opponent’s full-backs into one vs. one scenarios, regardless of formation. Martinez’s view on football is essentially one that views the spaces on a field through a very specific and clear pair of lenses.
Martinez’s perception of space on a football field is certainly relevant to the English Premier League and the following diagram details the rationale for this simplistic view of the spaces on a football field
EVERTON’S FORMATION WITH THE BALL
EVERTON’S FORMATION WITHOUT THE BALL
So when Norwich lined up to defend in a 4-4-1-1 deep defensive block regardless of where the ball was positioned, Norwich were doing so to protect key spaces – those that 63% of all goals are assisted from (remembering that 25% of all goals are either unassisted or assisted from set pieces).
Therefore by setting up as Norwich did so, defending set pieces well and riding their luck, they would have a fair chance at cancelling out 88% of all the assisting locations on a football field in the Premier League. Even with all this protection of space, Ross Barkley’s goal was able to get through a season of nine bodies – the deep defensive block simply won’t hold all the time.
The Canaries would also cancel out any consistent overloads through the system with their attacking midfielder dropping back to mark the spaces centrally and through their disciplined defensive method of doubling up on the Wigan wingers – resulting in Everton throwing two or three men onto the wings and lacking in numbers to meet the cross inside the box. Thus, Martinez’s debut was always going to be a difficult one.
While Everton were allowed to build up from the back as Norwich would quickly fall back into their defensive set up (with Van Wolfswinkel pressurising momentarily to delay the ball coming forward), they struggled to achieve any central overload or the ability to isolate Norwich’s full backs consistently (as Callum McManaman had done so well against Clichy in the FA Cup Final 2012).
You may conclude from this game that Norwich had set up perfectly to counter any threats that Everton would provide and that Hughton and his back-room staff had done their work, however for Norwich to win with this method it would require a lot of luck given the shortage of chances that the Canaries would be able to create using this method (Norwich had just two shots on target for the whole game and 23.75 minutes per shot; inferior to Everton’s 6.3 minutes per shot and 13.57 minutes per shot on target). By no means am I bringing this 2-2 draw down to Norwich’s luck, but you only have to look at both the goals scored to make a considered case for Whittaker’s lucky cards.
Having said that, Martinez and his back-room staff will be pleased with the quick implementation of the Spaniard’s philosophy and required style of play (with 67.5% possession) and it would be dangerous for you to conclude that Martinez has shown all that he has to offer in terms of how he can achieve his central overloads and one vs. one moments. On countless occasions while at Wigan he surprised the pundits by playing with lop-sided systems, liberos and two men at top without possession – all of that however is still to come.
Juego de posición (Positional Play) is Martinez’s game and I have no doubt he will over the course of the season have time to implement a plan b and a plan c for such problems faced at Norwich.
What is different this time for Martinez?
- Fellaini’s power and ability to player from his triggered movement
- Barkley to consistently hit shots through those who set up as Norwich did so
- Pressing to win the ball as well as to delay (sparingly used with Fellaini vs. Norwich)
- Quality of players in key areas to implement the overloads and one vs. one’s