Connect in the back of the net

It was perhaps unfortunate in the end. Unfortunate that Romelu Lukaku presented David De Gea with the simple task of saving his penalty, or that Tom Cleverley wasted his glorious chance by blazing over, or that Anthony Martial gleefully dashed through to score in the 93rd minute. Everton’s loss to Manchester United in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final was a story of misfortune but the tale of how Roberto Martinez could lose his job will be far bigger than the one told at Wembley.

Martinez has insisted that he’ll “not waste time” discussing his future but the issue is unavoidable given a torrid campaign that has mired Everton in stasis. The season after the Spaniard inherited the post from David Moyes he guided the Toffees to a fifth placed finish, the adventurous and enterprising football lauded as an effective upgrade on his predecessor, but last season they fell to eleventh which is where they now sit this campaign with four games to go.

The investment of Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri has been welcome but in Martinez they now have a manager resembling a lame duck. Rooted in mid-table with 41 points, a club aspiring for silverware and a return to the Champions League, ambitions Martinez still believes he can deliver, are currently being held back.

 

Danger

The danger is it could see Everton left behind as Tottenham and Leicester have now applied to join the league’s band of elites and rivals Liverpool seem set to progress under Jurgen Klopp. Successive mid-table finishes will render any coming investment irrelevant in the search for the calibre of player who can take them forward; without the European football their rivals can freely provide, they will be shopping for a Renault with a Ferrari budget.

One wonders who would even trust Martinez with the wallet and the shopping cart given the way he brought the much derided Arouna Kone and Antolin Alcaraz with him from Wigan, has failed to sign a commanding goalkeeper to replace the declining Tim Howard and spent £13.5 million on Oumar Niasse in January, the 25 year old striker who has played just 29 minutes of football since joining from Lokomotiv Moscow and who Everton themselves admit is looking way out of his depth.

The impact of Klopp across Stanley Park, laid bare for everyone to see at Anfield last Wednesday as Martinez’s Everton were dismantled, may convince Moshiri what can be achieved by changing a manager whose ideas are beginning to turn stale. It may have already persuaded vice-chairman Jon Woods who had decided he had seen enough on the hour mark of last week’s derby and made his way out of Anfield.

The “pretty shocking night” and “horrible experience” as Martinez described it was like the apogee of a frustrating season that has seen Everton win just four times at Goodison Park, only the appalling Aston Villa have a worse home record and the relegated Midlands team are the only opposition, bar Chelsea in the quarter-final of the cup, they have beaten since the beginning of February.

 

Poor form

A remarkable stat reveals the Merseyside club have won just 21 of their last 72 Premier League fixtures and Leighton Baines’s recent revealing comments about a lack of team chemistry didn’t deserve the reprimand it earned from Martinez.

A leaky defence has cost points since the opening day 2-2 draw with the newly promoted Watford and Martinez, like he showed at Wigan, seems incapable of plugging the holes. Again, only Villa have conceded more goals in the comfort of their own home and losses like 3-4 to Stoke and the 2-3 reversal to West Ham, when Everton were two goals to the good with Lukaku lining up a penalty with 20 minutes to go, have been indicative of a rollercoaster outfit built on the sandy surface of a weak and naïve backline.

The 3-3 draws at Bournemouth and Chelsea both saw possible late victories snatched away by even later equalisers and that defensive fragility was exposed by Liverpool and torn to shreds. The sight of John Stones, seemingly out to make a mockery of the £50 million price tag that was banded about in the midst of Chelsea’s interest last summer, continuously playing out from the back casually enough to believe he is convinced he is playing in his own time-zone, has led to haphazard and hesitant defending that so often undermines the encouraging attacking play.

Liverpool exposed them at full-back, where they have been vulnerable throughout the season and Manchester United, on the stretching surface of Wembley, also brushed down the left-side so easily to set-up Marouane Fellaini’s opener.

The eagerness of Stones and Phil Jagielka to step up and go for the ball opened up wide areas in behind and it is has all the hallmarks of a defence that isn’t being coached properly. Martinez’s admission on the eve of his team’s second leg League Cup semi-final with Manchester City that “his way of working is not to keep clean sheets” was a poorly misguided insight into his methods. Of course that tie was lost from a 3-1 winning position as Everton self-destructed in the second-half at the Etihad.

 

Nice guy image proving a hindrance

Martinez comes across as likeable and it can be difficult to watch his star fall, he has after all done some good things for Everton, namely handed debuts to Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway and driven plans to extend the club’s academy at their Finch Farm training complex.

However Martinez’s nice guy image has possibly over-indulged his players, the stream of over the top praise lavished on Ross Barkley for example– in regression as a player hindered by poor decision-making on the field- hasn’t helped.

The defeat at Wembley showcased both the good and bad sides of Martinez’s Everton, good vibrant attacking play that can cause any team problems mixed in with callow defending that can make them easy prey for anybody.

Those ingredients may have been allowed to mix for too long to save Martinez with Everton trophy-less and in fear of becoming a long-term member of the Premier League’s squeezed-middle.

“As cruel as football can be” Martinez said after the loss to United. He can have few complaints if it gets even crueller.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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