The malaise around Goodison Park and Everton’s startling inability to defend has been discussed at length amongst Evertonians in recent weeks, and even managed to seep into the national media over the weekend with Stan Collymore amongst others offering their opinion. But what are the root causes of the issue?
Many fingers have been pointed at Roberto Martinez, with the Catalan’s leaky defence at Wigan trotted out. Indeed , it is easy to understand how a team whose go to centre half was Antolin Alcaraz shipped goals left, right and centre. That said, it should simply not be happening with the personnel he has at his disposal at Everton. Although in recent weeks Funes Mori has looked a little shaky, he has generally done ok, whilst John Stones’ ability is widely recognised. Although Jagielka is sorely missed, with cover as quality as the young Brendan Galloway, it is unacceptable that we have the worst home defensive record in the league.
Martinez is to blame in my opinion, but it is simplistic to simply blame his tactics. For instance, although he never rotates Gareth Barry, few could argue against the fact that the veteran has been mainly outstanding this season, and probably helped us concede less in general (bloopers such as WBA away not withstanding). Yes, we are open, but so are many teams in the league. Us being attacking is not the sole reason for our porous back line.
One facet of Martinez’s regime that has not come under scrutiny is his coaching structure. The only recognised defender on his staff is Denis Lawrence, and his career was hardly esteemed. It would appear that, as a good friend of mine has mused recently, he may even be training the defenders in isolation. Even if not, it does seem that with coaches like Duncan Ferguson there is an imbalance on the staff. For all his flaws, David Moyes did encourage strong defensive coaching with the staff to back it up. We have moved on from Moyes (and I personally am glad of it) but the need for looking after the fundamentals remains. It may improve us going forward if we strengthen the coaching team in this respect.
Another issue that has been raised by anyone with half a brain and a set of eyes is the goalkeeper. Tim Howard has enjoyed a decent Everton career, but the past 18 months have seen a frightening decline in the American’s powers. I am not going to wheel out the damning stats we have all seen each passing week. It is clear that we need to replace Howard, with palpable tension between him and the fans, as well as his defence, creating an atmosphere of outright fear whenever the opposition attack, particularly down the flanks. Martinez is culpable for this and there should be no room for sentiment. If Howard Kendall could be ruthless with an icon as great as Neville Southall towards the end of his career, then Martinez has to show such a steely side. And do so quickly.
Notwithstanding the above, there seemed to be some slight defensive improvement against Spurs, particularly once Mo Besic was introduced. The Bosnian did enough to keep his place for the crucial game against City in the league cup in my opinion, and it is no coincidence we have looked even shakier than usual with both him and James McCarthy missing in recent weeks. Let’s hope that this is a sign of things to come, and Roberto can break the habit of the past 18 months and learn from his mistakes.
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