Everton put in a vastly-improved defensive display to hold Tottenham on Sunday, but Mark Holmes wonders how long Roberto Martinez has before he is under pressure?
Having thrown away a 3-2 lead to lose 4-3 to Stoke City at Goodison Park on Monday, all eyes were on Everton to see whether they, in particular Martinez, had learned their lessons…
Carragher criticism of Martinez tactics
Speaking before the game, Jamie Carragher said that Everton are “massively under-achieving” this season and ought to be challenging for a European place with the players available to him.
And the former Liverpool defender was in no doubt about what the main problem was for the team with the worst home defensive record in the Premier League.
“It comes from the mentality of the manager,” Carragher said on Sky Sports. “If you go back to his Wigan teams, they always conceded lots of goals.
“This is a different Everton team to the David Moyes team, which was a lot more solid but wouldn’t always be as easy on the eye.
“There’s nothing wrong with trying to play good football the way Roberto Martinez does, but at certain times during a game – a perfect example was the Stoke game when they went 3-2 up with 15 minutes to go – you’ve got to change and become more solid and difficult to beat.
“It’s just for 10-15 minutes, it’s not saying that’s how you want to play as a manager. But at certain times you’ve got to change suited to how a game is going.”
Everton change approach for Tottenham
To Martinez’s credit, Everton adopted a much more solid set-up in the first half against Tottenham on Sunday. There is an argument to say they were simply forced back by an impressive Spurs side, but Romelu Lukaku was the only player in blue whose average position was inside the visitors’ half after 22 minutes, when Aaron Lennon fired the Toffees in front.
Spurs were the dominant side in terms of possession and hit the woodwork either side of Lennon’s goal through long-range efforts from Harry Kane and Ben Davies, but Everton cut off all space for the likes of Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela in the final third. Every player apart from Lukaku got behind the ball; it was the sort of defensive organisation rarely associated with Martinez teams.
However, just when it looked as though Everton would go into the interval ahead, Toby Alderweireld’s long ball out of defence caught out the hosts as Dele Alli ran through to brilliantly collect on his chest and volley home.
There was no obvious mistake made by the Everton defence – certainly no more so than at the other hand when Lukaku headed down a long ball to set up Lennon – but it was the sort of goal which managers hate to see their teams concede.
Martinez shores up further on hour mark
The game was more open at the start of the second half, with Lennon and Ross Barkley pushing further forward for Everton, but Spurs going closest to creating a clear-cut opportunity when a ball just wouldn’t come down for Kane in the box following a chest-down from Alli.
Everton were certainly getting more players forward, but seeing his side still struggling to keep hold of the ball, Martinez brought on Muhamed Besic for Arouna Kone in a bid to flood the midfield, with Tom Cleverley playing as a tucked-in left midfielder.
Gerard Deulofeu replaced Lennon at the same time and stuck to the opposite flank, but it certainly appeared to be a defensive switch by Martinez which suggested his priority was simply to stop the rot after back-to-back defeats at Goodison Park. Boos were hard from the home stands.
As it happens, Everton enjoyed their best spell of the game after the changes, with Besic forcing Lloris into action with a dipping volley and Barkley also having an effort saved in stoppage time, but Tottenham survived the late pressure to make it nine Premier League games unbeaten on the road.
They remain fourth, now six points behind Arsenal, but Mauricio Pochettino’s side are playing arguably the most convincing football of any of the title challengers right now. They will certainly not feel too down about their tally of seven points over the festive period.
Everton, however, are still down in 11th, a not insurmountable seven points behind Manchester United but with Carragher’s accusation of under-achievement unlikely to go away any time soon.
They have undoubtedly missed Phil Jagielka at the back, while Tim Howard’s propensity to give away goals continues to frustrate Blues supporters, but a team containing the attacking talents of Lukaku, Barkley and Deulofeu should not be in the bottom half after 20 games.
This performance was an improvement in some ways, one which suggests Martinez is at least willing to consider ways in which to combat their defensive problems, but the Spaniard must find the right balance on a consistent basis if he is to reach the end of the season without questions arising regarding his long-term suitability for the job at Goodison Park.