Connect in the back of the net

Roberto Martinez’s troubled second year at Everton bore the Toffees’ worst league campaign for 11 years and poorest domestic cup showing ever. An 11th-place finish and two immediate exits dauntingly undermined an impressive debut season. The drastic response that might reasonably be expected hasn’t happened. Much the opposite in fact.

Everton have lost a few fringe players and loanees, and thriftily added just two: squad depth, brutally exposed last year, is yet to be addressed. Martinez is taking a huge punt on his ability to source quality late in the transfer window without losing ground in the Premier League.

Everton suffered from the outset last year when it became immediately apparent senior pros could not match the previous year’s standards. They suffered most as Martinez’s first European season as manager saw him catastrophically tweak fitness preparation. Long-term focus criminally neglected the short term – from start to finish, Everton were playing catch-up.

Fitness issues/ an ageing defence kept Everton at the top of the individual errors table, which ruined the whole side’s confidence. Passing became bland and tedious, goals became elusive. Martinez tackled squad limitations in his first year by signing a player in each department a month into his reign – something similar wouldn’t go amiss here to tackle widespread deficiencies.

Instead, Martinez has signed just two midfielders: Tom Cleverley on a free, Gerard Deulofeu for an absurdly low £4.7m. Although the lively duo offer the forward momentum Everton’s stale midfield has craved, their arrival, from a squad perspective, merely offsets the departures of loanees Aaron Lennon and Christian Atsu.

At the back, Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz have been released, Luke Garbutt has joined Fulham on loan, and Tony Hibbert was sporting a leg brace at the weekend. Everton need defensive reinforcements badly.

The addition of an experienced, reliable centre-half, supported by promising young centre-backs Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway, who should primarily cover Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman respectively, would see Everton in decent shape defensively (if they retain John Stones).

 

Bad omens

Some have suggested Martinez is awaiting August’s enabling TV windfall before embarking on the transfer window equivalent of a late-night reduced-section raid at Tesco. Bargain-hunting is of course a pre-requisite for an Everton manager nowadays. The truly worrying aspect of this approach is the Toffees’ first ten games. Watford at home will be followed by all of last year’s top eight in the next nine fixtures, West Brom away the odd one out.

Everton managed just 13 points from their opening 10 games last season, and just 12 from a possible 48 on offer against the eventual top eight. Any repeat of last year’s season-limiting poor start, which you’d have to say looks likely at this stage, could spell the end for Martinez.

On a brighter note, Everton have a wealth of promising youngsters who will, in theory, all improve from last year. The Toffees’ youthful core – Stones, McCarthy, Barkley and Lukaku – have (at least until this point) been retained. Deulofeu, Browning and Galloway, Muhamed Bešić and perhaps even Conor McAleny will address the Toffees’ age-old ageing squad problem, but their inclusion only brings to light a stark fact.

 

What do the Toffees still need? 

Everton possess a mere 25-man squad, nine of which are currently listed as injured (on PhysioRoom.com). That’s an injury away from naming a youth team player on the first day of the season. It’s not just in defence Everton are lacking, they need to restock every department.

The Blues need a striker, a creative midfielder and a winger. Added to the urgent need for a centre-back, that’s some list considering Martinez would never “bring someone in for the sake of it”. Can any manager, let alone the current custodian at Everton, reasonably expect to sign four quality players in the final month of the transfer window?

After Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial, Martinez said: “We are looking [up front], the number 10 position, and centre-half – the three areas are quite clear”. On April 30, he said something similar: “It’s quite clear we don’t need anything glamorous apart from getting two or three players”.

If Martinez fails to rectify the squad’s alarming weaknesses soon and Everton suffer another poor start, it will be quite clear whether or not he’s the man to take the club forward.

 

Written by Chris Smith

Follow Chris on Twitter @cdsmith789

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