If Everton’s performance this season has taught me anything, it’s that optimism is for saps and romantics. In my naivety, I had said that the Toffees would manage to crack the top four when they never even looked like getting close. In fact, they barely even managed to get out of the bottom half of the table and found themselves languishing near the relegation zone for far too long.
Quite the change from last season when I had watched my boyhood club play the best football I had seen from them in my 23 years of life. It was stylish, flowing and scintillating – it looked like the doors to the School Of Science had been flung open again after a long hiatus. Martinez’s side played with a verve that had been sorely lacking in Moyes’ ten-plus years in charge, fans quickly forgot all about what the Scot had done in his tenure and looked to Martinez as the future of the club. However, I found myself wishing far too often for David Moyes’ return at points this season.
It’s almost unbelievable that I am writing something so condemning just ten months after my initial preview of the 2014/15 season. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that this has been one of the most disheartening seasons for Evertonians in a long time.
So, what went wrong? Was it Martinez’s arrogance in refusing to stray from his rigid system? How about top players simply not rising to the occasion? Or was it just a lot of bad luck? Probably all three of those factors and a million more which stopped us from hitting the same heights as last season.
Roberto Martinez: False Messiah?
I used to have a lot of time for Robbie, as he is/was affectionately called by the blue side of Merseyside. As well as reinventing Everton’s style, he comes across as just a nice guy. Perhaps this niceness proved to be a shortcoming and is what made him lose control of the dressing room.
Anyone from the outside looking in could see that there was just something not right about Everton all season long. The cohesion of last season just wasn’t there and everyone looked like strangers whenever they took to the pitch. Talk of dissent in the ranks spread by the likes of Eto’o and Mirallas is not too much of a stretch to believe and it appears as if Martinez lost the respect of his team along the way. Say what you want about David Moyes, but he certainly knew how to rein in the bad apples.
There was also an evident lack of adaptability in Martinez’s tactics at many points this season. Teams had sussed Everton out towards the end of last season, so it was quite baffling to see us play in the exact same way with half as much conviction. I watched far too many matches in which we were passing just for the sake of passing and ended up getting mauled on the counter as a result. It looked like Roberto simply had no answer and refused to acknowledge that change was needed. When he did eventually switch it up, the season was already a lame horse.
The European Dream and the Nightmare in Kiev
Everton’s form over the season has largely been blamed on the European exploits: we (perhaps quite naively) fielded a full strength team in midweek and paid the price for it on the weekend. The team looked sluggish back in the Premier League, but at least we were nailing it in the Europa League. The stars were aligning, we’d had the luck of the draw and were playing some fantastic football.
And then came Dynamo Kiev and Antolin Alcaraz. I would prefer to have Per Kroldup, Paul Gascoigne (in his current condition), Alex Nyarko and Andy van Der Meyde back in the Everton side than see that excuse for a footballer wear the royal blue ever again. A contender for the worst player to ever set foot in Goodison Park, Alacaraz handed the game to Dynamo and sent us crashing out with a woeful, unforgivable performance.
It was no coincidence that after the Ukrainian heartbreak, our form made a drastic upturn and made Everton look reminiscent of the team that we used to be. If this is going to be the outcome of every Europa League adventure, I would like to avoid it like Alcaraz avoids the ball.
MIA: Everton’s Best Players, Last Seen in the 13/14 Season
Blaming fatigue from our European adventure is one thing, but surely if these players were paid as much as they were, they would still be able to deliver back in the Premier League?
It was an odd campaign in which Barkley went missing, Lukaku’s performances were belied by a respectable end of season goal tally and the defence just forgot how to do their jobs. If this season has proven anything, it’s that you cannot get away with being an outfield player at the age of 37 every matchday in the Premier League anymore.
Sylvain Distin has never been my favourite footballer and this season did nothing to sway my opinion. Along with a dispirited Jagielka coming off the back of an abject World Cup, Everton’s defending at times was befitting of Sunday League. It’s lucky that we have John Stones to fall back on or who knows where we would have ended up come the end of the season.
As cruel as it sounds, there is a lot of deadweight to shift in the squad with plenty of players whose best years might be behind them. Excluding Jagielka and Osman, I would on everyone over the age of 30. Our youth academy is overflowing with top talent and the likes of Tim Howard and Gareth Barry are just kit numbers at this stage of their career. I would single these two out as our biggest under-performers and I’m sure not many would disagree.
A Brief and Begrudging Look on the Bright Side
Alright, so it wasn’t all bad this season. John Stones has matured into being regarded as one of the top 5 English footballers plying their trade right now, Besic proved to be a cult hero who gives his all out on the football pitch, and Joel Robles went from being a laughing stock to everyone’s favourite underdog.
There were also a few great performances to commend, although they were few and far between. The 3-0 drubbing of Manchester United, the demolition of Wolfsburg in the Europa League, and the heroics against West Ham in the FA Cup when down to ten men certainly warmed the heart.
It was also great to see Everton’s youth step up when called upon with the likes of Garbutt (who we certainly should keep hold of) and Galloway not looking at all out of place in the starting eleven.
Next Season’s Team
We don’t need a huge overhaul, just a few changes.
Baines is slowly losing his legs so putting him in a Lahm role where he can distribute the ball with his magic left peg and instead fielding Garbutt makes sense; delivery from the middle of the park has been poor over the past eight months. McCarthy would be the enforcer in the middle and, if his form does ever return, Barkley would play just behind Lukaku again. Next season is a critical one for the youngster.
Keeping a tight defence is key next season and although Jags and Stones have been formidable in recent months, we will need extra cover. Coleman had a poor season compared to last but he’s still the right man for the job as he just never gives up. Doubt we would be able to find anyone as good as him for £60,000 again.
Up top, the dream signing for most Everton fans would be the recapture of the little Spanish dynamo Deulofeu, whether on loan or permanently. It looks like Mirallas is sulking his way out of the club so I would bring Lennon back in from Spurs and have probably the quickest wingers in the Premier League causing havoc. If Lukaku can get better delivery, he should be able to hit twenty goals in the Premier League and break the record Yakubu has held for far too long.
Although this is Everton we’re talking about so I won’t risk getting punished for optimism again.
A torrid season, all in all. A lot of work has to be done in the transfer window this summer and Martinez should show more faith in youth for next season. Although some of the excess fat has already been trimmed thanks to Distin’s and Alcaraz’s departures, there is still plenty of refining in the squad to be done. I am not going to get ahead of myself and say that we will finish in the European places next season, but a top half finish is an absolute must before we become labelled as also-rans.
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