Last season Roberto Martinez took Everton to dizzying heights. Throughout the campaign they looked like they were going to be the men to break top 4 and end Arsenal’s consecutive seasons in the qualification positions. Martinez himself was earning his plaudits, some comparing his fortune with Everton to David Moyes and his misfortune at Man United even begging the question “Should United have hired Martinez instead?” It wasn’t such a wild notion, Everton were playing some wonderful football. It appeared as if the tactical shackles had been taken off Martinez now that he was able to work with a much higher caliber of player rather than relegation battler’s at Wigan Athletic. The performances were impressive, the results were impressive and Everton looked to be entering a new era under a young manager with the brightest of futures in management. Fast forward a year and things aren’t quite as impressive on the blue half of Merseyside. With 21 points from 20 games the Toffee’s find themselves sat only 4 points above the relegation zone. It’s hard to see them getting dragged into a relegation scrap but it still paints an ugly picture in comparison to last season.
At this juncture last season after 20 games Everton were; 1 point off of 4th spot, 17 points better off, had won double the games they have this season, conceded 13 less goals and scored 3 more and had only lost twice. Coming into 2015 Martinez and his side have lost 9 games this season and have won as many games as newly promoted QPR have. 12 months has seen everyone’s favourite second team turn to mid-table mediocrity and even dangling perilously close to the relegation zones.
There are a few reasons worth exploring in order to form an opinion on why Everton haven’t been able to achieve the results this season that they frequently did last year. Firstly, there wasn’t much change to the squad over the summer. Of course being able to secure Lukaku as a permanent signing was massive for the club, being able to guarantee his goals for seasons to come is paramount for a club with any sort of European aspiration. However, over the piece there wasn’t a great update of the squad. This begs the question why try fixing something is it isn’t broken? Everton were onto a winner and were able to keep all the major cogs of that so they done what they had to. A sound logic but, the Premier League doesn’t work like that. You cannot allow your squad to become stagnant for various reasons First being player’s need competition for spaces. If you have 11 players who are guaranteed to start every week just because that’s one less motivating factor to their game. Secondly, such is the tactical prowess of managers within the league they will figure you out eventually and formulate ways to counter your squad’s positives. Both Merseyside clubs are the prime examples of this. Neither has been able to duplicate the frightening form they had last year. The best sides in this league are those that have an extra dimension to their squad and tactics. No matter what the achievements of the previous season the top sides are always looking to improve their squad during the summer, constant update is needed to keep ahead of the following pack. As soon as you allow familiarity to dictate your squad you risk falling behind. Admittedly, a major reason why Martinez wasn’t able to spend to improve in various areas was that the majority if not all of his transfer budget went to securing Lukaku from Chelsea, whether that was money well spent overall is yet to be seen.
A major reason for not being able to reach last year’s heights is the fact that at the end of the day Everton didn’t make top 4. Reaching for that brass ring is such a strenuous task for all involved that when you nearly make it but ultimately fail you crash down and have to begin the journey again from the bottom. It’s the old myth of Icarus, fly too close to the sun you’ll get your wings burnt and in many ways it would seem this analogy fits Everton’s season. The only way Everton were going to be able to compete again in the mix for top 4 would have been if they qualified for the Champion’s League and received the rise in financial stature that such an achievement allows. With last year’s achievement being an anomaly for the most part without gaining the transfer market capability European competition allows they cannot compete with the teams that can improve their squads further while figuring out the tactical approach you have taken in daring to challenge their supremacy. The same analogy can be applied to their Merseyside neighbors on different scale. They shocked everyone with how they came close to winning the league. Had they managed to secure the title last year how different things could have been and Everton are no different. They could have been able to sign Lukaku and then improve I other areas of the team, imagine.
A final reason for Martinez to ponder is the Europa League distraction. Last year in his first season in charge, he was unburdened with midweek European fixtures. The ability to focus wholly on the Premier League fixtures cannot be ignored as an advantage when competing for places with teams that go on into the latter stages of the Champions League and even Europa. This year the hindrance of away games against the likes of Krasnodar has undoubtedly taken its toll on the Toffee’s domestic form. A competition that most pay little attention to because the financial rewards are nearly as lucrative as those available in the Champion’s League plus the fact it’s played on a Thursday night making the Premier League fixtures at the weekend all the more strenuous. The difference with the Europa League this year is that now that it has decimated any dreams Martinez had of having his side challenge for top 4 spot in the league, it is in fact his only route left into the Champion’s league this season This is the first season that the winner of Europa League will gain qualification to Europe’s elite competition making Europe’s mickey mouse competition that bit more prestigious as it’s a road to the big pay day of the UEFA Champion’s League. Besides a complete renaissance in the second half of the season that see’s Everton climb all the way into the top 4 Europa League is their only route to European success. The competition that has been a major part in their fall from Premier League grace is their opportunity at European gratification. By no means are they favorite’s for the tournament, given their form overall this season they would struggle to juggle both the league and Europa into the latter stages they would need to stop spinning one of the plates and that’d be a question Martinez does not want to answer.
Martinez was held in high regard by a lot of people when he was at Wigan Athletic, especially after the FA cup final victory. His debut season with Everton saw him being revered by some of the biggest in the game. Shouts of Martinez to be next Barcelona coach were being met with nods of approval by most in football. No one is saying at this point Martinez’s stock has fallen because this season isn’t as good as last season. What it is though is a test of his credentials. He set the bar for himself last season with fans and neutrals alike. How the Spaniard responds to this seasons form and deficiencies within the squad is key to further success he can have in the game. Also it will play a major part in whether Everton can become regular contenders for top 4 or just continue in their place as perennial Europa League qualifiers.