Following the introduction of Roberto Martínez at Everton during the summer, many began to assess what positive differences the upbeat Spaniard could bring to Goodison Park in place of long-serving manager, David Moyes.
A captivating and optimistic manner when talking about club affairs on-and-off the field, a unique style of football, which relies on the talent of players to win football games as the 40-year-old puts it, and courageous in-game tactical decisions were three advantages right at the top of everybody’s list.
But in the midst of some cheerfulness over his appointment came a few grumblings from certain sections, in particular to do with how his Wigan Athletic side defended and whether Martínez was the right man to maintain, what various people called, Everton’s “defensive solidity” under Moyes.
Whilst Martínez’s defence at Wigan wasn’t the most sturdy to say the least, it’s narrow-minded to not consider the severe injuries that occurred at the Latics last season in which defensive options, in an already paper-thin squad, soon became exceedingly scarce – including the absence of arguably his best centre-back in Iván Ramis through cruciate ligament damage.
And whereas that further strengthens how huge of an achievement it was to guide Wigan to FA Cup glory in that same season, it was again foolish for anybody to assume that those defensive frailties would follow Martínez to his new club when inheriting a regular back four – containing three internationals and Sylvain Distin, whom has over 400 Premier League appearances to his name.
In the first 16 games of last season under Moyes, Everton kept just two cleansheets (Manchester United & Swansea City) whereas in contrast to this campaign under Martínez thus far, the Toffees have kept eight in the same amount of fixtures and are now just two away from equalling last season’s overall total (10) after 38 matches.
Those unfair fears about Martínez’s ability to collect cleansheets as a manager have quickly evaporated and whilst he has not just transformed the whole feel around the club into extreme positivity in an impressive short space of time, his methods have saw Everton’s defence not just preserve their firmness but kick-on and improve.
The way he has got central defence pairing Phil Jagielka and Distin adapting to his tactical values, which instructs them to feel more comfortable on the ball and expand further apart, is admirable and bold – but nothing less should be expected from the man.
It’s a fair judgement to say that, right now, you can see an improvement in most of the players Martínez inherited from Moyes in June. But one in particular – that being Seamus Coleman – is currently exemplifying Everton’s evolution under Martínez, both in defence and attack, debatably more than anybody else in the team.
Defensive Work: Coleman 12/13 vs Coleman 13/14
To earn six more cleansheets within the same fixture amount, with a squad that had been built by Moyes, who was more concerned than Martínez with keeping things tight in games once in front, is remarkable in itself – as is losing just once (Manchester City) in those games compared to losing twice (West Bromwich Albion & Reading) last season.
In Martínez’s debut season so far, there aren’t many strikers that can be instantly pointed towards as being somebody who caused Everton’s backline major issues – an achievement considering the likes of Luis Suárez, Sergio Agüero and Loïc Rémy have all been put in front of them.
Whilst establishing a central midfield duo of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry, who add a mixture of brawn and composure to help protect the defence more than previous years gone by, putting greater emphasis on retaining possession also means Everton’s defence shouldn’t be worked as often – bearing in mind mistakes aren’t caused when being pressed on the ball.
But in conjunction with controlling games more, Coleman is looking an assured figure at right-back under Martínez when it comes to defensive responsibility, something he has always been good at to be fair, and is presently on course to surpass his defensive statistics last season providing that he continues his fine form at the moment.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Martínez very early on in the season praised Coleman’s defensive performances.” quotestyle=”style02″] We know Seamus is an attacking full back who can give you a lot in the final third. I’ve been very pleased with the other side of his game, though. The way he has been defending and keeping the other balance of the team. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
During 26 appearances in 2012/13, Coleman made 62 tackles in total with a success rate of 83.8%, whereas in contrast to this season so far, the Republic of Ireland star has already made slightly more than half (34) and has succeeded in 88.2% of them.
With the only disappointment of his defensive exhibits, at this time, being conceding two penalties against both Manchester City and Aston Villa respectively, the former Sligo Rovers man has picked up from the same string of stellar displays he produced at the end of last season in terms of reading danger and intercepting play.
In his last two games against Arsenal and Fulham, Coleman made 13 interceptions in total and took his overall tally up to 34 for the season so far, which is way more than half of his 52 interceptions throughout the whole of last season.
With it being a mixture of ball retention relieving pressure in games and sustaining the strength of the back four Moyes constructed, Coleman is also flourishing in the attacking aspect of his make-up under Martínez’s stewardship.
Attacking Exploits: Coleman 12/13 vs Coleman 13/14
In his days on the touchline at the DW Stadium, Martínez was a firm advocate of using width to break teams down through his use of the 3-5-2 formation involving wing-backs, and therefore many expected a natural transition in terms of him prolonging Everton’s strength on both flanks in recent times.
And although Martínez is attempting to make Everton a better-rounded team by assembling a stronger central midfield to keep possession easier, and also the integration of several exciting youth prospects, he is giving Coleman more licence to get into the box and score goals – which is currently working an absolute treat.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=” Coleman lauded Martínez, whose instillation of the mindset to attack without fear earned them their first win at Old Trafford for 21 years this season. ” quotestyle=”style02″]It’s been too long really and the manager [Martínez] has been working hard to get us to believe we could come here [Old Trafford] and get a result. It came on the way we’ve been playing, the way we’ve been keeping the ball and the confidence that has built. He just wanted us to play with no fear. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
During his 26 outings in 2012/13 for Everton, Coleman scored no goals in the Premier League, with just one strike coming against Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup, whereas he has so far scored three goals under Martínez in the first 16 games.
Although the season is still relatively new, Coleman’s attacking power has stepped up to another level under Martínez’s setup. The above image shows Coleman driving into the box against Fulham on Saturday just gone to tap home and this has been a recurring theme in all of his three goals.
Coleman’s bursting runs and weaving nature have always been eye-catching and obvious, but his intent to get into goalscoring positions within the opponents box, sometimes even beyond the striker, is something innovative this season and the 25-year-old is reaping the rewards from it through his goals.
Despite putting more goals away, his creativity statistics aren’t taking a knock. In all of his appearances last season, Coleman created 27 chances, including assists (5), whilst this season he has conjured up 20 already – but with just one assist so far.
Passing wise, just about everybody has improved because of how possession-heavy Martínez wants Everton to be. But Coleman, who completed a monstrous 98% (45) of his 46 attempted passes against Fulham, is rarely putting a foot wrong when in control.
In 2012/13, Coleman completed 74.3% of his attempted passes whereas balanced against this season so far, he has completed 85.2% and is becoming not just a huge Everton influence game-by-game but one of the Premier League’s best players in his position.
A modern day full-back with a gentle attitude, Coleman isn’t just feeling the benefits of Martínez’s presence around Everton and his structure is aiding the left-back spot as well, with Bryan Oviedo since shining when throttling his chance to impress in the loss of Baines through injury.
As the above image against Manchester United tells the story, Martínez has ensured that Everton continue to remain strong in wide areas, although not overly reliant, and that there is the potential for greater end product from their talent by getting into strong goalscoring positions on a consistent basis.
In the first 16 games of 2012/13, Everton defenders had scored two goals – with both coming from Baines against Newcastle United and Martínez’s Wigan – and only seven came from the defence in the full 38-game schedule. So far this season under Martínez, Everton defenders have already matched that with Oviedo and Baines each scoring twice next to Coleman’s trio.
At the same time as being admired for their willingness to attack from the first minute to the last, no matter what the scoreline, it is also important to note that the Martínez era at Everton is also built on an experienced defence thriving in a new style and he is proving the doubters about his capability, in that facet, wrong at the minute.
A spirited belief that they can beat anybody by dictating the tempo of games and the maintaining of the magic that comes from wide areas are two colossal plus points about Everton so far this season, with Coleman being one player in particular that is not just benefitting from Martínez but is flourishing.
Interception stat images via the excellent FourFourTwo StatsZone app.