‘TheHardTackle Whiteboard’ is a semi-regular column which anatomizes the tactical development/non-development in the game. So if chalkboard, formations, FM series and Herbert Chapman arouse you, then you are looking at the right page. Today we focus on the Roberto Martinez and how is yet to fully utilize Baines and Fellaini’s abilites.

Roberto Martinez has been one of the most enigmatic managers in the Premier League for the past few seasons. Wigan under him won over the neutrals with their attractive style of play, something which few managers with such a weak squad would have attempted. The Spaniard emphasized on keeping the ball on the ground, and quick counter-attacks. Although Wigan failed to survive relegation last season, Martinez was able to build a reputation good enough to earn him a job at Everton.

Everton under David Moyes has always overachieved as a team. With a thin squad and negligible transfer budget, Moyes has always been able to get the best of his players and team functioned like a well-oiled machine. This summer, the build-up at Merseyside was mostly about how Roberto Martinez’s arrival would change Everton’s style of play tactically. David Moyes had built a squad, which was suited to playing football with a more direct approach. Roberto Martinez will require time to remould this side with his footballing philosophy.

In the opening game of the league against Norwich, Everton played out a 2-2 draw in what was perhaps the most entertaining match of the weekend. That is perhaps what is expected of Roberto Martinez side – they almost guarantee entertainment. But the opening match also provided fuel to beliefs that the Spaniard often compromises on defence to strengthen his attack. Defence has always been the Achilles’ heel for Roberto Martinez’s sides and the two goals conceded against Norwich was perhaps an precursor of what is to come. Under David Moyes Everton have been a resilient side.

Last season they conceded 40 goals in the league – statistically the fourth best defence. Roberto Martinez’s Wigan conceded 73 goals – the worst in the league along with Reading. But it won’t fair to compare these statistics as Roberto Martinez didn’t have the same resources at Wigan at his disposal as David Moyes did at Everton. So the Spaniard is expected to fare a lot better this season.

This weekend, in their match against West Brom Roberto Martinez seemed to have over compensated and although they managed to keep a clean sheet, Everton failed to score at the other end. This is perhaps an indication that Martinez isn’t quite sure about the balance of his side and the way he used Fellaini in the last game suggested that the Spaniard is yet to understand where and how to fit one of Everton’s most influential player in his starting eleven – tactically.

Martinez used a 4-4-1-1 formation against Norwich, in which he fielded Fellaini in-behind Jelavic, but he changed to a more common 4-2-3-1 formation against West Brom and the Belgium international was asked to partner Osman in the double pivot.

In the match against West Brom the main problem that Everton faced while in attack was the fact that they often lacked bodies in the box. Baines and Coleman put in a number of crosses, but Jelavic was the only target man they had inside West Brom’s penalty area. Fellaini, who is such a potent threat in such situations, was criminally restricted to a defensive role. Two of Everton’s best moment in the second half came when Fellaini made his way forward into the box and the West Brom defence struggled to contain him.

Fellaini has evolved as a footballer over the past few years. He might have started off as more of a defensive minded midfielder, but his best performances for Everton came when the shackles were released and he was give a free role in behind the striker. One of his most memorable performances came last August when Everton defeated Manchester United on the opening day of the season and Fellaini scored the winner. He tormented the United defence with his physical presence and proved to be an wonderful target man upfront as Everton air-mailed the ball to him and he won it in the air all day long. That was in fact a repeat of the performance he gave against United back in April, 2012, when Everton drew 4-4 at Old Trafford. But the question arises whether Roberto Martinez is comfortable using him in that role or playing the style of football that suits him.

Heat-map of Fellaini during Everton’s 4-4 draw at Old Trafford. Note his involvement in attack upfront and across the pitch.

Fellaini has played in the pivot for Belgium as well, alongside the more defensive minded Axel Witsel. But in recent times he has mostly been used as an second striker, with Dembele shining through alongside Witsel.

By using him as a defensive midfielder, Roberto Martinez is under-utilizing Fellaini as a footballer. While his attempt to implement his footballing philosophy is admirable, there is a point where he must realize how important the big Belgium is to this Everton side and how he can get the best out of him. In Baines and Coleman, Martinez has two good crossers in his side and in Fellaini he has one of the best headers – by restricting Fellaini he is not only underusing him, he is also underusing the abilities of these two fullbacks.

Interestingly, Martinez has always preferred attacking full-backs, something he used extensively at Wigan – which was utmost importance given he used a three-man defence at the back. He has resisted from using similar tactics at Everton, but perhaps he has a squad which can adapt to his tactics at Wigan. Even David Moyes used a three-man defence at Everton for a period last season and the results were encouraging.

This is the biggest job in Martinez’s career so far, and often such big responsibilities and expectations urge a person to take a more cautious (read: defensive) approach. Perhaps the Spaniard is too circumspect to experiment with his favoured 3-4-3 formation. Full-backs have always enjoyed great freedom under Roberto Martinez, and he has provided similar freedom to Baines on the left. But the problem arises from the fact that in a 3-4-3 formation, the third defender covers for the full-back, but in four-man defence that responsibility fall largely on the shoulders of the defensive midfielder – in this case Fellaini and Osman. The heat-maps shows how the Belgium international had to drop deep against West Brom and cover the space left behind by Baines.

Heat-map of Fellaini in the 0-0 draw against West Brom. Note how he had to drop deep and was restricted in his attacking role.

Heat-map of Fellaini in the 2-2 draw against Norwich. Note how he covers for Baines on the left.

This provides great freedom to the Englishman in attack, and he utilized it in the match against West Brom by putting in 14 crosses – most by any player on the pitch (Dorrans was the second highest with five). But the important statistics is that only two of those 14 crosses where accurate. There was no one in the box to get at the end of those croses as Jelavic was marked out by McAuley and Olsson. Pienaar is not an intimidating presence in the box, he likes to operate on the channels and outside the box, while Mirallas is seemingly finding his feet under Martinez as well.

Moreover, it is not only his attacking prowess upfront that is being restricted: in modern day football, the need for a player who can press and disrupt opponent’s deep-lying playmakers is of utmost importance. Fellaini’s physical presence and defensive abilities can be effective in stifling down opponent’s link between defence and attack.

Roberto Martinez has made his reputation on his brave tactics and he must not allow his surroundings to change that. Whether Fellaini will be an Everton player after the transfer window closes is something up for speculation, but as of now the Spaniard must find a way to get the best out of him and restricting him to a holding midfield role is surely not the way forward.