Roberto Martinez’s first year in-charge of Everton was full of pleasant surprises. The former Wigan boss did a wonderful job as his side finished in fifth place and gave Arsenal a scare for the last Champions League spot. In hindsight, the 2013-14 season was one of overachievement for the Merseyside managers. Brendan Rodgers took Liverpool to almost win the title, eventually finishing in the second place and his counterpart at Everton ensured Everton finished with the European spot. In striking parallels, the former Swansea bosses couldn’t keep up with their own achievements and finished the league in 11th place. Unlike Rodgers, who got the sack earlier this season, Martinez still has his job. Though how much better has he fared since?
Everton find themselves in the 12th place, and their only hope of Europe or a trophy is the FA Cup, where they face the resurgent Chelsea in the quarter-final. It would take something special from the Toffees to end the season with the silverware or with a European berth next season.
Against West Ham in the league recently, Everton seemed to be cruising. A 2-0 lead with just 15 minutes left. However, West Ham got going and courtesy a goal and an assist from Dimitri Payet, the Hammers went home with all three points. Conceding three goals in 15 minutes is beyond shambolic but somehow doesn’t come as a surprise as Everton have let go of their lead all too often in recent memory. Against Bournemouth was perhaps the most eye-catching example. It didn’t come as a surprise when it was pointed out that after the game against West Ham, Everton have lost 45 points from winning positions under Roberto Martinez’s management, and 14 since late November. That seems like an appalling statistic even though to be fair to the manager, the number is meaningless without context; for example, the point tally compared to the rest of the league. Even so, 45 points is massive and quite frankly the difference between success and failure.
Martinez’s management has come under fire for the West Ham defeat. The removal of Aaron Lennon who was comfortably the best player on the pitch, for Oumar Niasse, a substitute with little experience at a top level, and an attacker who offers little in defence, was extremely careless.
Martinez has always been fond of the beautiful style of playing football, and his teams have displayed a good attacking brand of football. Everton have delivered on that front. Statistically, they are sixth and fifth when it comes to most total shots and shots on target in the league, respectively. Their finishing has been extremely good as they lead the league in scoring percentage. They have scored 51 goals in the league this season, second highest alongside Tottenham Hotspur and one behind Leicester City and Manchester City. Romelu Lukaku’s goal tally shows the Toffees are extremely clinical.
However, when it comes to the defence, the side looks average. Having conceded 39 goals, the side has the worst defensive record in the top 13 teams, including 9 goals more than promoted Watford.
The problem is about closing out games and it is quite evident that Martinez needs to address this instead of looking lost of answers. The kind of football Martinez likes his sides to play invites counterattacks and recently, opponents have thrived on the Merseysiders’ vulnerability on the flanks. In fact, Michail Antonio was quite blunt as he pointed out that West Ham manager specifically instructed his side to cross as much as possible. Obviously the manager can’t be solely blamed for everything that goes wrong on the pitch. But in football, that is how it goes.
The upside with Everton right now is that they are able to score. Martinez has a potentially world-class goalscorer within his ranks. He also has other talented youngsters in Ross Barkley, John Stones and Gerard Deulofeu. The manager has assembled a good side. However, he needs to add pragmatism to his philosophy for Everton to hope to finish in a respectable position and possibly excel in the FA Cup.
The 42-year-old needs to address what is going wrong with his side at the moment. He recently made a plea to the Everton fans to get behind the side as they take on Chelsea in the FA Cup but Martinez needs to earn the fans’ trust back before he can make such demands and statements in the press conferences. Fans thrive off results and performances of the team and when his side throw matches in the manner they did against the Hammers, it is difficult to ensure their backing in the team and think they’re in the wrong for not being the 12th man for the team. Four league wins from 14 home games all season is simply unacceptable for the club.
Martinez is the advocate of beautiful football, but for now he must try and imitate Tony Pulis’ pragmatism. No one wants to watch boring football, but boring football can win you points. Pulis must be doing something right if he finds himself above Martinez in the league table.
Martinez must be flexible with his ways, or it might cost him quite dearly.