After what was a great victory over Wolfsburg in the Europa League last week, the Toffees were back in Premier League action on Sunday at Goodison Park as they hosted Crystal Palace. Martinez mixed the team up and that decision – plus our inability to defend – came back to bite us on the arse as we lost 2-3 to Neil Warnock’s men. The result left Evertonians frustrated, annoyed and somewhat worried and although we showed signs of improvement against West Brom and Wolfsburg, it was evident on Sunday that there are still some serious issues within this team and it is essential that we sort ourselves out as we go into a tough run of away fixtures.
Tonight we have the chance to progress in the League Cup when we travel to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City and a win would be a boost ahead of the Merseyside Derby at Anfield this Saturday. Evertonians will be looking for a reaction after Sunday’s disappointment and below are my five things to discuss from the defeat to Crystal Palace at Goodison Park.
How much do we miss the influence of Ross Barkley and Steven Pienaar? On Sunday, and in other games this season, I’ve noticed how we lack that somebody to ‘drive the team on’ offensively. We’ve got the excellent duo of McCarthy and Barry in their central roles but they are defensive minded and it isn’t their responsibility to be creative, whereas Martinez has attempted to utilise Naismith in a more central role behind Lukaku, but in all honesty there is still a gaping hole within the side. Barkley offers the ability to take the ball and glide past the opposition, create space and bring other players into the game. He can relieve the pressure on his team mates and possesses brilliant offensive attributes that are sorely missed, and obviously his goals too. I can’t wait until he is fit and back in the side as his absence does leave a void when he isn’t involved. Pienaar plays out wide as we know but he too has the ability to make things happen going forward, and the frustrating injuries he suffered last season appear to be hampering him again this term. I don’t need to say anything about the South African’s link-up play with Baines, you already know how much we miss it, so the sooner he and Barkley get themselves back involved the better.
Mirallas has been the star man so far this campaign and without him we would seriously be lacking in the creativity department. McGeady has done well but at the moment we are playing without that cutting edge going forward, and once the likes of Ross and Pienaar are back this can only benefit our strikers too who feed off their service. On Sunday Atsu showed a couple of moments of quality out on the right hand side but overall he looked off the pace and he will take time to get to grips with the Premier League. As for Leon Osman I don’t know where to start with him. I think some of our fans can’t wait to get on his back but sometimes he just doesn’t help himself does he? He was caught out for Palace’s second but some of the possession he lost was schoolboy stuff. Ossie needs to improve and although he has been a great servant to the Blues he can’t just get in the team because others are being rested, he needs a rocket up his arse after Sunday (not the only one) and hopefully he wants to prove his worth to this side in the coming weeks and months and we see a reaction from him. Eto’o was pushed out on the wing during the second half and although he obviously still possesses real quality, he is a striker and in positional terms on Sunday the team was all over the show as Martinez attempted to break down Warnock’s side. The sooner we get our creative flair back the better I say, then we can deploy players in their natural and most effective positions and hopefully see the rewards.
Where do you start with this one? From the first game of this season questions have been asked of our defence and although there was encouraging signs against West Brom (clean sheet) and Wolfsburg (fought hard to keep a clean sheet), to summarise we’ve looked all over the place at the back since the Leicester game and we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Martinez needs to decide who he is going to play as his central defensive partnership and although many would pick Jags over Distin to partner Stones, the Blues Captain hasn’t really warranted a place ahead of Distin, and he may only keep his place in this side because he is the skipper. Stones was played at right back on Sunday and quite simply this does not work; he isn’t a right back and although he has done well in that position recently for his country, he is a centre half and that is where Everton need to utilise him. On Sunday he got skinned by Bolasie on numerous occasions and even if Coleman was unavailable for the game what has happened to Hibbert, can’t he get a game in his natural position? OK Hibbert doesn’t have the pace but at least he knows that position, and we wouldn’t be forcing players out of position just to give them a game! Hibbert got a new deal at Goodison Park but is yet to be seen this season. On the subject of right back, is Tyias Browning not ready yet to step in when necessary too? We have a squad at Everton now and rather than pushing players out of position to make allowances for others I think Martinez needs to be a bit more wise with some of his decisions because Sunday was the latest example of our side looking disjointed, erratic and full of mistakes. Admittedly the players who started the game have the ability to overcome a side like Palace but I think our naivety, our nervousness and individual errors cost us dear and this needs to be addressed straight away before we suffer any more embarrassments on our home turf.
3. Tim Howard
Tim Howard probably had one of his best seasons at Everton during the 2013-14 campaign but there is certain parts of his game that have always had us Evertonians face palming on a regular basis. Howard was the star man against Wolfsburg, but had a shocker against Palace just three days later. Every Blue will tell you he is ‘a great shot stopper’ but I’ve said this before and I’ve said it again; in the Premier League in this day and age you need much more than that from your ‘keeper. Before anyone thinks I am being over-critical of the American I do believe he is a true pro and has been a great servant to Everton, but his inability to command his area and his distribution have always been a sticking point for me. The penalty incident on Sunday wasn’t just his fault; his defence was half asleep as well, but for Palace’s third when Campbell headed home he was absolutely clueless. That should never happen and it was painful to watch. Overall I think in the near future we need to be looking at investing in a younger, talented goalkeeper who can eventually take over from Howard, but to be fair to Tim he has great athleticism and will probably play on for another 5 years at least. Would you be happy to see him continue at Goodison Park beyond this season? It would be interesting to get your views on this Blues. As I say, I do believe Howard has been consistent at Everton and had a brilliant World Cup recently for his country, but with us always striving to improve all of our positions with fresher and better players at the Club, maybe we should be starting to look to invest in the goalkeeping department too as we eventually prepare for life after Tim in between the sticks at Everton.
4. Yannick Bolasie
You’d think we would have learnt our lesson last season against Palace wouldn’t you? Once again the Palace forward ‘tore Everton another one’ as he played a vital role in our downfall on Sunday. Palace beat us by the same score line at a crucial stage of last season and they managed to overcome us again without being anything brilliant, but by putting their chances away and again taking advantage of Everton errors. We struggled against Bolasie and co at Goodison last time out and if I remember rightly it was Baines who was tasked with marking the Palace youngster, and this time it was John Stones that faced the task of keeping him at bay and he quite simply could not handle him. He has pace to burn and plays with such confidence and positivity, and we found it tough to deal with him all afternoon. Watching him play it wouldn’t surprise me if any of the so-called bigger clubs came in for him in the near future (just as they did with Wilfred Zaha) and would it be such a bad thing if Everton made a move for the 25-year-old? We do already have players with pace at Everton but nobody as quick as Bolasie, and yet again his attributes helped Palace put the Toffees to the sword on Sunday.
5. Resting Players
On Sunday Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas were both left on the bench after playing in midweek against Wolfsburg. Martinez does have options with his team selection nowadays but to see both of the aforementioned duo thrown on against Palace with half an hour to go to me is slightly confusing. Obviously if you don’t start a game then you are automatically ‘resting’ but to leave both Mirallas and Naismith out of the clash with Palace was frustrating, especially as them two have probably been our best two players so far this term. Both of these players have scored goals already this season and although they were supposed to be rested they ended up playing half an hour anyway, so to me it defeats the object. I suppose me saying this is born out of pure frustration that we were beaten but I felt that the Palace game was a real opportunity to keep up the momentum after two wins on the spin and we could have then mixed it up a bit tonight against Swansea. Now that momentum from the previous week has gone and we face a run of fixtures that could see us struggle in the coming weeks.
I am expecting to see a reaction at Swansea tonight and it would be nice to have a run in the League Cup – a competition that we’ve struggled in and never managed to win. A cup is a cup and I want us to take every game seriously, so it will be interesting to see how we line up at the Liberty and see whether or not our players stand up to be counted after the disappointments of Sunday. It was a typical few days as an Evertonian, being built up by the Wolfsburg victory only to be knocked down by the Palace defeat, but I suppose now we just need to look forward and put a stop to these mistakes that are costing us. All of our players need to collectively improve and they have the perfect chance to get a boost tonight with a win and progress in the Cup, let’s hope they do the business and we are smiling again tomorrow morning.
Up the Toffees.