Friday, January 9, 2015

EVERTON BLUES


Luke O’Farrell
ESPNFC Everton writer gives his opinion on how the Everton/City relationship stands in 2015

On and off the pitch, time has widened the gap between Everton and a Manchester City side who have cemented their place at the top table in recent years. The two are in the same league only by default, particularly on the monetary side. Even the new television deal cannot hide the gulf between the two.
Everton produced record turnover last season of £120.5m; City were not too far away from tripling that with their £347m turnover. As such, the blue half of Manchester barely registers in our thinking, save for the two occasions the sides meet on the pitch.
You are title challengers on a yearly basis and we are Champions League chasers at best – and on current form, we could not be any further away from that goal, or a revitalised City team led by the outstanding Sergio Aguero.

One thing to lessen over time, though, is any ill will previously afforded City. The Joleon Lescott saga is old news and the bitter ramblings once dished out by Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini no longer concern.
City has the finances, modern stadium and strength in depth Everton can only dream about and yet there is no begrudging your success, which is perhaps due to the similarities of years past, with the two built on a loyal fan base with all too recent memories of bleak days.
As City emerge convincingly from the shadow of their high-profile, more prominent neighbours, Everton aspire to do the same."

Simon Hughes
Everton season ticket holder since the 60s sees his club thrust suddenly and unexpectedly into a crisis of confidence and management
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Two years down the line since Everton’s last games against City under Moyes and much has changed. Unfortunately, the overarching picture and likely outcome against City remains pretty much the same. Everton drew that game thanks to a goal bundled in by Fellaini – he doesn’t do pretty – and a resolute defensive performance that was typically Moyes-esque. Fellaini’s gone, so has Moyes, and Everton’s resolute defence now has more holes than my old socks. However, the intervening season, the first under Martinez, was a thing of beauty. Suddenly the Blues were playing expansive, progressive football. We had more possession than we knew what to do with and our fullbacks were spending more time in the opposition area than in our own. We didn’t need money, we had the magic formula. Pass, pass, pass. Typically for Everton we still managed to miss out on the top four due to some late aberrations, but a return to Europe set hearts aflutter and hopes were high for a further push.

Summer was therefore a bit confusing. We had a bit of money, but most of this went on retaining the services of the previously on loan Lukaku and Barry. Besic and Atsu were welcome arrivals, but hardly ones to make an immediate impact. The squad looked good, but not necessarily stronger particularly with players returning from a tiring World Cup. A feeling of slight unease began to creep in when it appeared we had scant pre-season fixtures and were putting them together last minute with all the professionalism of the White Lion second eleven. A slow start ensued, the team looked half-fit at best. We took the lead at newly-promoted Leicester – twice – and threw it away. Two goals up against Arsenal led to an inevitable draw. We took the lead against Palace at home – and lost. A pattern had set in, only interrupted by confident displays in Europe that saw us despatch Lille and Wolfsburg. Injuries, a perennial problem at Goodison have played a part with Barkley, Barry, Stones, Alcaraz, Oviedo, Kone, Mirallas, Coleman, Pienaar, McCarthy and Naismith all spending time out. Just as we seem about to develop a head of steam it comes sputtering to a halt. One nil up against Spurs and Hull led to defeat and a draw.

Questions are now being asked of Martinez, as it does appear that teams have sussed Everton out. We like to pass it about and rarely put crosses in. As a result teams keep it tight and press us in midfield in the knowledge that the distribution from the back – I’m looking at you, Sylvain – is likely to return the ball to them sooner or later. The fact that our full backs charge onwards also leaves gaps in behind for teams who can break quickly. Palace exploited this, so did Hull. God knows what City might make of it. Saturday will provide a major test of Martinez. Naismith, McCarthy and Stones would be ideal for this fixture – and he needs to find a way to get a result. Is he prepared to change his philosophy? Does he know how to? We’ll soon find out, but I fear playing an in-form City will be too much for an Everton lacking energy and confidence.
School of Science solution?
It’s fair to say that this season so far is probably the most bizarre and disheartening I’ve experienced, and I’ve experienced a few. These days football is increasingly predictable (mainly due to the constraints of finance) but no-one predicted the shambles that Everton has become under Martinez, who seemed almost universally well-regarded.

There had been a few warning signs. I’d previously mentioned the ridiculous pre-season preparations. I’ve never know a top-flight team have so few fixtures, almost entirely organised at the last minute and therefore often against poor opposition. We drew with Tranmere and Porto, lost to Leicester, Celta Vigo and Paderborn. Players joined training late. We looked unfit, but it was only pre-season. By contrast Liverpool, a good comparison, played 8 pre-season fixtures almost entirely against top-level opposition. We barely strengthened the squad, but then the squad was pretty strong with decent cover in most positions.

 What was readily apparent at the start of the season was the lack of fitness with the team conceding goals late on and throwing leads away with regularity. This lack of fitness and preparation has translated to all the significant performance stats. We fail to press and close down, we make fewer tackles than any other team, we’re offside more than anyone and make more individual errors – and we get punished for them.

We don’t cross the ball – ever. I’ve never seen a team play with such lack of intensity. We have the two best full-backs in the league and they’ve been reduced to bystanders. Our passing is incredibly slow, so that when the ball reaches a player he’s already closed down. Barry is playing so deep he might as well be in the crowd and we just concede the midfield. He’s been as awful as he was good last year, but still gets picked. Selections and substitutions have been very strange.

Besic is one of the few to play with energy, yet gets ignored or subbed. On numerous occasions we’ve played with three Number 10’s, all getting in each other’s way. Injuries have also played a massive part and we’re missing key, reliable performers like McCarthy, Osman and Stones. The number of hamstring and muscle injuries is ridiculous and you have to wonder what goes on in training. The suggestion is we don’t train on full pitches, we don’t practice defending or corners at either end because it doesn’t fit into the Martinez philosophy. The Head of Medicine has left the club and the Head of Fitness seemingly due to disagreements with Martinez, who is a qualified physio!? Confidence has now gone through the floor and we’re being well beaten and bullied by shit teams. What will happen when we play City doesn’t bear thinking about.

Unless something drastic changes we’ll go down. Martinez doesn’t seem willing to take the pragmatic approach to get results and I don’t think he can turn this around. I think he’s only got a couple of games before this explodes in his face. Personally I’d get McLaren in from Derby (you have no idea how much it hurts to say that) or go for a temporary solution with Joe Royle and Sheedy (both already at the club) just to try to keep us up. Unbelievable
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