Monday, 5 January 2015

Assessing Everton's season so far

Everton’s third round FA cup tie at home to West Ham on Tuesday will be their 28th in all competitions so far this season. They go into that game on the back of a four game losing streak in the Premier League which has led to growing pressure on Roberto Martinez. Everton have suffered as many defeats this season as in the whole of the last campaign.

As it stands Everton are 13th and just 4 points above the relegation zone and 13 points adrift of fifth place and a successive European qualification. Their record is less than stellar, five games won, six drawn and nine lost. Only QPR have conceded more goals than Everton. Their problems have been at that end of the pitch, the Toffee’s are the league’s 6th highest scorers. It’s worth noting they have been unable to field a regular settled back four this season, Distin has played just 12 times and at 37 he is nearing the twilight of his career. Injury has prevented promising youngster John Stones from picking up the mantle, but it is presumably he and not Antolin Alcaraz who Martinez will look to in the future. Tim Howard’s injury is a further blow, his lack of experience is being missed between the sticks.

Leighton Baines has seven assists to his name so far this season compared to five in the whole of the last campaign and that’s certainly a positive. His prolific relationship with Steven Pienaar has been disupted through injuries.

Securing Romelu Lukaku’s services on a permanent basis following a successful loan spell at Goodison last season was seen by many as a coup. The big Belgian has six goals so far this season, making him the sides leading scorer. Last season he bagged fifteen goals in 31 games, so he is a bit behind that rate. However, I think it is worth considering that he has been overplayed and may be suffering from some burn out, especially since he featured quite heavily in the World Cup as well. He is winning just 1.4 headers per game this season compared to 2.9 last, perhaps Everton are playing less directly to his strengths or perhaps he is just burnt out.

Last season’s success was built around the solid foundation provided by JamesMcCarthy and Gareth Barry. Barry who also made his loan move permanent in the summer, has provided similar defensive cover this season, with 2.2 tackles and 1.6 interceptions (compared to 2.7 and 1.6 last season) while McCarthy has made the same number of interceptions (1.5) but fewer tackles (1.5 compared to 2.5) than last season.

Last season Everton arguably overachieved, in Martinez’s first year they finished 5th securing a return to European competition, albeit in the Europa League. That competition has been the reason for Everton’s manic fixture schedule. However, Martinez has refused to hide behind the gruelling schedule of Europe’s second tier intercontinental competition. That said, Everton have picked up just seven of a possible eighteen points in the games following Europa League excursions and three of those came after the Krasnador game when Martinez fielded a youthful side. That record suggests they have been struggling as a result of their extra commitments.

Some of the critiscim levelled at Martinez has been his lack of adaptability, with his side sticking to a passing approach at times when a more direct one may favour them more. Maybe other teams have got used to the way Everton play and have a system to stop them.  In his time at Wigan Martinez showed he was willing to change system, changing to a back three kept them up a few years ago, but he won't dismiss his philosophy so easily. 

With one of the worse defensive records it’s unsurprising that Everton have made fewer tackles and interceptions this season than last (16.4 and 11.3, compared to 19.4 and 12.2). Despite that they have conceded roughly the same number of shots (13 and 13.1) per game as last season, maybe their opponents are finishing better or perhaps getting better opportunities.

What is behind Everton’s poor league performances this season? It’s tough to put it down to one thing, I think the Europa League has undoubtedly taken its toll and injuries have played their part too.  Martinez hasn't been able to name his strongest side or even his strongest back four on as many occassions as he would like. Martinez will be granted more time given his successes last season and he deserves it too. Everton fans will be hopeful of a turnaround in form and maybe a cup run could be just the ticket to get that started. 

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