Liverpool Football Club’s disastrous season thus far has had numerous victims and scapegoats, but for the blue half of Merseyside it has come across as a welcome veil; soundproofing the alarm bells ringing out loud at Everton. Until now. The magic trick is finally over. Everton are 12th. There is no Europa rampage to hide behind, no Liverpool meltdown(however short-lived that might be) to hide behind and no referees to blame. Or maybe there are a few referee complains from the Stoke game. However nothing will change the fact that Everton are in the bottom half of the table going into the last game of the year and sit closer to the relegation places than the Champions League places.

Feels like yesterday when Everton were giving Arsenal a run for their money for that coveted and now infamous fourth place in the league. If there is anything called second season syndrome, Roberto Martinez and Everton Football Club are probably the best illustration and subsequently the biggest sufferers of the same right now. Free falling and now almost a free hit for most of their opponents, the Toffees have gone from Champions League/Europa League candidates back to their bygone days of chasing crosstown rivals Liverpool in the league table. With 1 win in the last 6, Martinez’s men sit in the relegation places on the form table with an identical record in their last 6 games as their Sunday night opponents Newcastle United. Most of the core squad remains the same, the manager remains the same, the tactics have been more or less the same, so what changed? Europa League distractions to be blamed? Or are the injuries becoming too persistent to deal with? Before Sunday’s crucial clash against another free-faller in Newcastle, we take a bird’s eye view at Everton’s present plight and if the coming year could bring some cheers at Goodison.

The Ross Barkley conundrum

Lost on the wings?

Lost on the wings?

Either Roberto Martinez is spoiled for choice in central midfield or his hand is forced at the shortage of wingers, whatever be the case it is absolutely criminal on the part of Martinez to constantly fiddle with Ross Barkley’s starting position. In fact on the three occasions that Barkley has started central he has eventually ended up out wide. Not only does his impact on the game nosedive from the wider positions but also robs the team off any width on the right making the wing nearly dead with the out of form Coleman(more on this, later) barely threatening the facing fullback. Other than the QPR game where Barkley for once looked like his former self from last season, there has been an absolute vacuum in terms of confidence and that is something you could hardly point a finger at, at any point last season. Maybe it’s the team’s performances that’s rubbing on, or maybe it’s just a form thing. Either way the Blues need him back to his best and firing and Martinez probably needs to play him centrall, thrusting him with the complete creative responsibility in the team, which right now yo-yos between Barry, Baines, Mirallas, Naismith and Barkley himself.

Where is THE Seamus Coleman?

At one point last season Seamus Coleman would score goals for fun, frighten opposition left backs and end up in the box as many times as the primary striker in the side. That PFA right fullback of the year looks a shadow of himself right now. One instance during the first half of the Boxing Day match vs Stoke, sums up Coleman’s season so far. With a clear sight on goal from just the right hand side of goal inside the box and nobody marking close enough and with 2 attackers making runs, albeit in not very good positions in the box and another couple around it, Coleman not only panicked but also made a horrible side pass which was easily intercepted. That situation, last season and the net would have rippled vigorously. There is something fundamentally wrong about Coleman this season and as it is with most of the Everton squad, stems from an evaporated sense of confidence. Fact that Everton are often caught with their pants down on that side of the field makes him even more vulnerable in attack and uncertain at the back. Seamus Colema has always given the impression of a proper right wingback(winger even) playing as a right back and maybe, just maybe a small switch to a 3-5-2 could get the best out of Coleman. In the world of Martinez, the fullbacks are the bishops in the game of chess. Vertical damage.

James Mccarthy has no replacement

And it’s true. If you are to accompany Gareth Barry in midfield, you need to be James Mccarthy and nobody else. Besic might be a dynamic player and well versed to cut his teeth in this league but he just is not the type of player you play alongside Gareth Barry. Barry’s passing and spreading of play is essential in Martinez’s system which makes Barry more of a free body in the middle, given license to join the attack, if and when need be. Which automatically burdens the “other midfielder” with more work ethic and the obligation to sit deep. One of the major reasons Baines and Coleman have looked so ineffective going forward this season is precisely because of Besic’s instincts to bomb forward leaving holes at the back and the 2 central defenders all by themselves. Mccarthy’s return from injury could just be the tonic the doctor ordered for Martinez. Triumvirate of Mccarthy-Besic-Barkley anyone?

Where’s the Plan B?

Martinez has often been lauded as a thinking manager, a manager with lots of ideas up his sleeves, fast flowing football messenger and what not. Yet all we have seen from Everton this season has been the same old same old. With the best of managers, the buck stops with stubbornness. Only once, that too with the same team structure did Martinez go with a 3 striker lineup, a formation in which the 3 midfielders were expected to be defensive while the 3 attackers would remain cutoff from that midfield. A first switch and fail. The one thing that has been symbolic about Martinez sides is the fullback and wing play. Bainnar is as good as finished with Piennar nearing his twilight years and Baines-Mirallas really don’t fit as well. So why not shuffle a bit? Maybe give Oviedo a run in? Or try Kone for Lukaku? Go 3 at the back, freeing Coleman and Baines or just go all gung-ho in a 424? Or maybe go more basic in fielding 2 standard CM’s in Barkley and Besic in a 442 with Mirallas and McGeady playing conventional wingers and not ones who keep getting seduced towards the 18-yard box rather than the byline.

 

Is the pricetag proving too heavy for Lukaku to carry?

Is the pricetag proving too heavy for Lukaku to carry?

Considering where Everton find themselves right now Roberto Martinez doesn’t have much of a choice than to roll the dice, and there probably will not be a better chance in an away game than when they head to Newcastle. Start with keeping things simple and tighten the defence, which without Stones and Jagielka, is easier said than done. Martinez’s side let in 17 times in their first 18 matches last season. Everton have conceded 27 already and counting. Another key area that has been making Martinez look very unsure is the team selection to go hand in hand with monodimensional tactics. Striker Romelu Lukaku also needs to start finding the back of the net sooner and thus start repaying some of the 28 million Bill Kenwright Ai??decided to splash on him, if Everton are to start laddering up the table. It’s not all doom and gloom for the Toffees yet, but if nothing changes anytime soon, this half season blip will turn into a full blown crisis in no time. Sooner or later comparisons with David Moyes will again rear their heads and with a much stronger at his disposal than Moyes had, Martinez is under immense pressure no doubt. But last season after 2 defeats in the first 23, there was a minor blip with 3 losses in quick succession, Everton bounced back with 7 wins on the trot. Let’s see what the Spaniard has got up his sleeve this time around? The buck stops at Roberto Martinez.

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