Our one step forward and two steps back season plummeted to its nadir on Saturday, as a horrific display ended with us slumping to a 0-3 defeat at the hands of a workmanlike Southampton second string. The line ‘this is the worst I’ve ever seen us under Martinez’ has been trotted out at least 3 times in the last month by this misery guts, but this was surely as dire as we’ve ever seen under the Catalan tactician.
This ramble will zoom in on the seven most frequent gripes levelled at RM from the fanbase. We’ll sift through the detritus and try to rationalise how legitimate these moans are through a mixture of contrariness, metadata and sweeping generalisations.
Sin #1 – No plan B
Key Stat: The % of our shots taken in the opposition box is currently at 48% for the season compared to 57% last season.
This is arguably the biggest critique of Martinez’s often tantric, centralised approach. A reduction in width is shown by us going from making the most crosses per game in the division 2 seasons ago to our current status as making the fewest. Were not advocating punting crosses aimlessly into the box here, but making the pitch as big as possible with combinations between the wide players was one of the best aspects of our game but currently it’s nowhere to be seen.
A reduction in the % of our passes going long and a more inward approach have been indicative of a less varied approach which is often easy to defend especially when sides defend narrow and in numbers. Engineering opportunities in the opponent’s danger zone is clearly an issue and our chances created and shots taken figures are both down on last season’s figures.
A legitimate gripe of the Martinez approach is his reluctance to expose opposition weak links whether it be individually or collectively. Southampton, perhaps anticipating our preference to play through the middle, flooded the central areas of the pitch with 3 centre backs and a dog in front of them – in doing so pretty much surrendering the flanks. Rather than look to make the pitch bigger and replace the injured Mirallas with McGeady, Martinez chose to leave him on the sidelines and play with 3 number tens. It was all a bit shite.
Sin #2 – Corners
Key Stat: Only West Ham have scored more goals from set plays than Everton this season
Corners are currently a major source of irritation for a lot of fans, with the fume factor reaching ‘aldo after 15 pints of fosters’ levels every time Baines fails to beat the first man with his delivery.
Previous studies have shown it takes around 35 corners to score a goal, so if you get around 10 corners a game it doesn’t take much to deduce the likelihood of a goal from this source is unlikely. Martinez has spoken before about his indifference with goals from set plays and how he prefers to retain possession and score from open play. If that is the case then why not play every corner short?
Our goals from corners this season (2) is about average for the top flight. Sides with a bigger physical presence like Chelsea and West Ham have scored more than double that amount, but plenty of sides have the same or fewer.
For what its worth I don’t think this is as big a deal as people are making out. Firstly, we no longer have an abundance of players good in the air. Pip Neville’s motd ‘analysis’ suggested Lukaku is the best header of the ball at the club, a comment which is even more ludicrous than his latest hairstyle. The Belgian is great at some things, albeit not much at the moment, but in terms of attacking crosses in the air he is last. All things considered, I don’t really see the point in us ‘putting the ball into the mixer’ with greater regularity with the players we have.
Sin #3 – Backpassing
Key Stat: Everton’s volume of forward passed per game (322) is comfortably better than most sides in the league, and equal to that of league leaders Chelsea.
Personally I don’t see this as one of the major issues either, despite the comedy boos last Monday night.
Despite us making more forward passes per game this season, the percentage of forward passes is actually down 2% on last season’s total, from 62% to 60% this season. Backward passes have gone up by 2%, but in general positivity on the ball isn’t a big problem for us in relation to other sides.
Whether you like or loathe the Martinez approach, it’s principally about bringing teams onto us to create space at the other end, and sideways and backward passes are needed here in order to move opponents around and replenish energy levels.
Sin #4 – Passing Tempo
Key Stat: Everton’s passing tempo is the fourth slowest in the league this season, but it is statistically faster than last season
Whilst our forward passing isn’t a problem for me, the tempo recently has been an issue.
We had a look a few years ago at our passing tempo under Moyes, using the opta model of time in possession / passes made to calculate how fast we move the ball. The model showed we were 9th slowest in the league in terms of speed of distribution at the time. Using the same calculation we would currently be the 4th slowest in the league at the moment.
The issue this creates is of course that opposition defenders are afforded the time to get back and into their shape before we get into dangerous areas.
Sin #5 – Defensive naivety
Key Stat: Everton have conceded the same amount of shots (13) per game as they did last season.
Data wise we are conceding the same amount of shots as last season, a campaign in which we had the third best defensive record in the league. Fast forward 6 months and we now find ourselves with the third worst defence in the league.
So what is behind such a turn around?
We said at the start of the season that defensively we are a team in transition. To emphasise this point Martinez line-up in the recent defeat to City was the oldest since the dying days of the Walter and Archie car crash, with 6 of our 7 defensive players all in their 30’s. Managing this transition is proving difficult but individual errors have been the most crucial factor.
Chief culprit is the blundering oaf Tim Howard, albeit he’s been aided and abetted by the bungling duo in front of him, Messrs Jagielka and Distin.
The bearded keeper’s performances have been error strewn in what will surely be his last season as number one, with his saves/ shots ratio the worst of his Everton career, down from 2.83 last year to 1.28 this campaign – one of the worst in the division. The comical defeats to Palace and Southampton are perhaps the saddest indictment of his plight, conceding 6 goals from the 6 shots he faced.
Whilst Martinez is stubborn he could point to Howard having his best ever campaign last campaign as a logical reason to persist with him this year.
Sin #6 – Selections
Key stats: In the 4 games Barkley and Eto’o have started together we’ve won none and as a team scored just 1 goal from open play
Whether it be the constant tinkering of Barkley’s position or the vanity project of persistently starting with Eto’o rather than using him more sparingly from the bench, Martinez calls in the attacking midfield slots have been enough to make a lot fans think that daddy’s hat has fallen off and he’s now just standing there naked.
I see what he is trying to achieve with the duo.This analysis shows the impact Eto’o’s movement had with Hazard last season, and playing to one of Eto’o’s strengths that hasn’t been affected by his age is in theory a plausible approach. However it just isn’t working for either of them when both deployed behind Lukaku and more conviction is needed from the manager here and if necessary sacrificing a big name for the good of the team.
Injuries to Barkley and Mirallas have played a part too. Granted, some of Barkley’s displays since his return have been more disjointed than a lemo head watching Donnie Darko, but him and Mirallas in the same team makes us a different proposition. The slow passing, draw them on strategy in our own half works if its combined with their dynamism and direct running, and this is evidenced by our points per game tally which is almost doubles in the league games the duo have both started.
The Executioners Verdict:
Sin #7 – Substitutions
Key Stat: Everton are 5 points and 4 goals worse off from substitutions than at the same stage last season
Bemused fans at the St Mary’s watched as Martinez became the first manager in over 12 months of Premier League football to go an entire game without making a substitution. It wasn’t the first time this campaign that his changes, or lack of them, from the bench had been subject to much derision.
This resistance to fix something that was clearly broken had many scratching their heads and questioning what had happened to the manager whose changes in personnel and tactics from the bench last season were chiefly responsible for us claiming a stack of points from losing positions.
I still feel there’s a lot more that’s good than bad about Martinez and that he and us will both ride again soon. I also think we’ll get better after the turn of the year and there is plenty still to play for this season if we can wheel our first choice team out more often than not.
Nobody is beyond reproach, however, and Martinez is rightly feeling some heat at the moment for the situation we are in. No side with as few points as we have at this stage has ever got into the top six, let alone the top four, in the final standings, so 7th is already looking as good as it’s likely to get this season. A review of our targets and priorities is certainly needed then, and a lot will be determined by how he addresses the issues we’ve already discussed above.
I guess it’s always darkest before dawn, and on Boxing Day lets hope that Martinez blue sky will eclipse, and subsequently cave in, all its recent frustrations squarely onto the grid of granny haired snide Mark Hughes.
Up the toffees.
p.s Many thanks for your time in reading this blog during 2014. Seasons greetings and see you in 2015!