Most pundits will tell you Everton play good football under Roberto Martinez – that if only the Spaniard could sort out the Toffees’ defence, and their home form, they’d be much higher up the Premier League table.
It’s a judgement that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. Even the phrase itself doesn’t make much sense. What is good football, anyway? Watching the two defensive midfielders exchange passes with the two centre-backs isn’t exactly thrilling. And there’s an argument that the best football is the football that gets results – and since Everton have won nine games out of 29 in the league, only four of which have been at home with eight defeats, that’s hardly the case here. Last but not least is the fact that defending is as much a part of football as attacking, and Everton are woeful in that area.
It should also be noted that, contrary to revisionist history, David Moyes’ Everton could be easy on the eye. In particular, the trio of Leighton Baines, Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini producing some sparkling stuff down the left wing, as good as anything Martinez’s teams have displayed. It’s perhaps the biggest indictment of Martinez’s tactics that almost three years into his reign, there’s no comparable partnership developed. There’ve been flashes, between Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, or Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu or Lukaku and Aaron Lennon, but they’re the exception, not the rule.
The Everton that fell to Arsenal on Saturday was more representative of the team under Martinez than the victory over Chelsea a week earlier. Stifled by their own possession philosophy, Everton were impotent. Everyone comes towards the ball, no one runs off it. This is a team with exciting and dynamic players such as Lukaku and Barkley, and Deulofeu sitting on the bench, who want to run with the ball at defences. Instead Lukaku plays with his back to goal, Barkley is tethered to always coming deep and Deulofeu can’t get in the team. It’s a counter-attacking side trying to square the circle of playing the manager’s possession game.
It’s 4-2-3-1, no matter what. It’s a high defensive line, no matter what. It’s two holding midfielders no matter the personnel or the opposition. It’s a confused transfer policy that in January saw £13m spent on Oumar Niasse, who has barely made a ripple with April around the corner. It’s questionable substitutions, an inability to hold onto a lead, the same post-match comments over and over regardless of performance or result and always looking for someone or something else to blame and it’s fair to say Evertonians are tired of what they’re seeing and hearing. It’s a manager liked personally, but no longer wanted.
Everton’s FA Cup run might be Martinez’s saving grace, but really shouldn’t be. Victories over Dagenham and Redbridge, Carlisle United, Bournemouth and Chelsea don’t make a successful season. Martinez may yet deliver Everton’s first trophy since 1995. He could lead them to a semi-final defeat, as Moyes did in 2012. Either way, the end of the season presents the right time for Everton and Martinez to part company. This is a squad of young talents at a club now with a wealthy investor. There’s little evidence to suggest Martinez is the right man to sit in the dugout in what could be a transformative time.