The Everton half term report (Part Two)

With the arrival of the midway point of the 2014/15 season following Everton’s defeat to Newcastle United three days ago, there is no better time than to look back on the performances of both Roberto Martinez and his first team squad.

Part One of Everton’s half term report, concerning the Blues’ goalkeeping and defensive players, can be found here. In this second part, the Toffees’ midfielders, forwards, strikers and manager are reviewed:

Gareth Barry: Lauded for his calming influence in the middle of the park last season, the 33 year old has struggled to regain the kind of form that made him a firm fans’ favourite within his first few matches at Goodison Park. The midfielder has won 85% of tackles, and possesses a passing accuracy of 87% so far this season, but costly mistakes have contributed to at least two of Everton’s ten self inflicted goals this term. Rating: 5/10

James McCarthy: One of the few bright sparks in an otherwise disappointing campaign so far. The 26 year old’s tireless performances in the middle of the park have resulted in the Republic of Ireland international sitting out recent matches with muscle fatigue in his hamstring, and the Blues have certainly missed his effervescent performances during the current poor run of form. Rating: 7/10

Darron Gibson: The 27 year old has only managed seven appearances during another injury hit season, and yet it is arguable that the midfielder has been missed, with the Irishman possessing a 94% pass success rate and with the Blues only losing one of those seven matches in which Gibson has played. Rating: 5/10

Muhamed Besic: A mistake with his first touch in the Premier League led to Chelsea adding their sixth goal in the 3-6 rout at Goodison Park in late August, but the Bosnian appears to have gone from strength to strength since his summer move to L4. The 22 year old’s combative displays in the middle of the park have won praise from sections of the Goodison faithful, which culminated in an extremely mature performance as the holding midfielder in the 3-1 win over Queens Park Rangers earlier this month. Promising. Rating: 6/10

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McCarthy has performed admirably for Everton this season

 

Leon Osman: The 33 year old has not played as often as he might have liked this season, but when the midfielder has played the Blues have looked more creative and sturdy, with just four losses in the sixteen matches that Osman has played a part in. Not the most physically imposing, but the Toffees have arguably missed his fight and spirit in recent weeks due to a tendon injury. Rating: 6/10

Steven Pienaar: The South African’s season has been one of frustration so far. Hampered by injuries, the 32 year old has only figured ten times in the Royal Blue this term, and only completed 90 minutes once. His link up play with Leighton Baines has been missed. Rating: 5/10

Christian Atsu: The Chelsea winger has failed to make his mark for Everton during a season long loan thus far, and it remains to be seen whether the Ghanaian will return to Goodison Park following treatment for a hamstring strain at his parent club. Disappointing. Rating: 4/10

Aiden McGeady: Despite looking fit and sharp in three matches of the season, the Republic of Ireland winger has failed to carry on that form for much of the campaign. The 27 year old has often frustrated the Everton crowd with his desire to overplay, as well as giving the ball away that resulted in goals being conceded. Needs to improve his consistency to regularly start for the Blues. Rating: 5/10

Kevin Mirallas: Quite possibly Everton’s standout performer throughout the 2014/15 season. Whenever the Belgian international plays well, Everton play well. The 26 year old forward started the season in fine fettle, netting three goals in Everton’s first five matches but, following a lengthy period out with a hamstring strain, Mirallas appears to have come back even stronger – scoring four times and assisting two goals in his last seven appearances. He will be extremely influential if the Blues are to arrest their current slump. Rating: 7/10

Ross Barkley: After seeing his start to the season curtailed by a last minute knee ligament injury, it took until late October for Everton’s young star to make his first appearance. His performance, on his return, in the win over Aston Villa showed fans what the Toffees’ first team had been missing, but his form since then has been inconsistent, and not aided by claims that the 21 year old was a diver following the win over West Ham. With only one goal and one assist to his name this season, the attacking midfielder will need to find form to help Everton climb the table. Rating: 6/10

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Lukaku needs to find the net more to justify his price tag

Steven Naismith: Another one of the few bright sparks in a season where Everton are currently underachieving. The Scottish international has enjoyed a complete reversal of opinion on him since Martinez took over from David Moyes in the summer of 2013, and has netted six times for the Blues during the first four months of the season – three of which came in the Toffees’ opening three league matches. Like McCarthy, the 28 year old’s energetic displays have become vital to Everton’s overall performance, and the Scot will be of extreme importance to helping turn the club’s fortunes around on the pitch. Rating: 7/10

Arouna Kone: The Ivorian’s eighteen month long lay off finally came to an end at the start of the month when he started the final Europa League match against FC Krasnodar, and put in good displays against both the Russian outfit and Newcastle United last weekend – the latter of which saw him register his first goal for the Club. If he can stay fit, he will be a vital component in Everton’s squad for the second half of the season. Rating: 5/10

Samuel Eto’o: The arrival of the 33 year old six months ago seemed like a masterstroke of a signing from Martinez, with the former Cameroonian international becoming a firm favourite amongst Evertonians from the moment he first stepped onto the pitch. The striker may have seemed a little off form in recent weeks, but his experience and knowledge of the game have been invaluable to Everton’s younger players this season. Rating: 6/10

Romelu Lukaku: The Belgian international struggled for form and fitness following his World Cup exploits with his national side, but the 21 year old has performed at a much higher level in recent weeks, despite a lack of service and the Blues’ poor run of form, thanks to his link up play with the fit again Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith. Needs to score more goals to justify his hefty pricetag, however. Rating: 6/10

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Martinez has to turn Everton’s fortunes around as soon as possible

Roberto Martinez: The Spaniard’s second season as Everton manager has been inconsistent to say the least, and is currently experiencing his first real period of discontent amongst Evertonians. The 43 year old’s tactical nous has paid dividends in the Europa League, but his lack of a plan B, stubborness and positive outlook has come under fire in recent weeks. Has the ability and experience to turn around the Toffees’ fortunes, but must do so as soon as possible. Rating: 5/10

 

Tom Power would like to wish all of his readers a Happy New Year, and hopes that 2015 will bring you much joy, both in your own lives and with regards to Everton. NSNO!

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The Everton half term squad report (Part One)

It’s difficult to believe that the 2014/15 Premier League season has already reached its halfway point, as it seems like only last week that Everton kicked off their campaign with a disappointing draw away to Premier League newcomers Leicester City.

It’s been a season marred by inconsistency so far for Roberto Martinez and his first team squad, with a so-far successful Europa League campaign balanced out by disconcerting form on home soil, both in the league and the League Cup, which the Blues exited after just one round of fixtures in September.

With Sunday’s defeat to Newcastle United ensuring that the halfway stage of this season has been reached, and with the New Year just around the corner, the last few days of 2014 present an opportune time to look over the form of both Martinez and his first team players, starting with the Blues’ goalkeepers and defenders:

Tim Howard: The American was lauded for his displays at this summer’s World Cup, particularly in the round of 16 match against Belgium, but the 34 year old has struggled for form for the Toffees thus far in the league. With only three clean sheets to his name and a save percentage of 55.6%, the worst save percentage in the league concerning each club’s first choice goalkeeper, Howard will know he needs to improve once he returns from a six week layoff with a calf injury. Rating: 5/10

Joel Robles: Everton’s number two goalkeeper has struggled to displace Tim Howard in between the goal posts, despite the American’s erratic form, but the Spaniard has the opportunity to stake his claim for a regular first team berth following the injury to Howard. Could be a make or break period for the young keeper. Rating: 5/10

Tony Hibbert: The veteran’s season has once again been plagued by injury but, in the matches the 33 year old has played a part in, he has not put a foot wrong. Experience will be vital to help Everton climb the table. Rating: 6/10

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Howard has struggled for form this season

Seamus Coleman: The Republic of Ireland international has not performed at his best this season, compared to the normally high standards that is expected of him, but the 26 year old has weighed in with three goals and two assists this season, and his marauding runs down the right have continued to cause problems for opposition defences. Rating: 6/10

Tyias Browning: The young defender has only appeared briefly for the Blues’s first team, but it was his run and cross that contributed to the Toffees recording a draw against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby in September. Definitely more to come in 2015 from the 20 year old. Rating: 5/10

Sylvain Distin: The Frenchman has struggled for form throughout the season and, with a rumoured fallout between the 36 year old and Martinez following the League Cup exit to Swansea City, was apparently exiled from the squad for a few matches. Since returning to the starting lineup, Distin still looks shaky and it would not be surprising if this is his last season as a regular in the Blues’ starting lineup. Rating: 4/10

Phil Jagielka: The Toffees club captain made a shaky start to the current campaign following his exploits at a disastrous World Cup for England but, following an exquisite equaliser in the Merseyside derby at Anfield in late September, the 32 year old turned a corner and helped the Blues concede just one goal in five matches between mid-October and early November. A steadying influence at the back who can consider himself unlucky to be part of such a miserable run of form. Rating: 6/10

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Jagielka’s goal against Liverpool sparked a mini-run of good form for the Toffees

John Stones: The young centre back has played reasonably well for the Toffees, despite the number of goals conceded during his inclusion in the starting eleven, and the 20 year old was looking to be hitting top form before injuring his ankle in the defeat to Manchester United back in October. Looking more and more likely to be starting alongside Jagielka as Martinez’s centre back pairing for 2015. Rating: 5/10

Antolin Alcaraz: The Paraguayan was part of the side that helped Everton concede just one goal in five matches before a dislocated shoulder curtailed a promising partnership alongside Phil Jagielka. Since returning the 32 year old has not played particularly badly on a personal level, but has still been a part of the Everton side that has lost the last three matches. Rating: 5/10

Leighton Baines: The full back may not have been as defensively sound as recent seasons, but he has certainly found his feet going forward once more. The left back weighed in with a staggering eight assists and two goals in the opening two months of the season and, whilst the goals and assists have dried up in recent weeks, the 30 year old has always looked to try and create opportunities for his team mates when possible. An early season shining light who will find form again. Rating: 7/10

Bryan Oviedo: The Costa Rican has been hampered by the horrendous leg break he suffered almost twelve months ago, which has restricted him to just three appearances this season. The 25 year old has looked bright in those matches, however, and could play an important role for the Blues during a campaign blighted by a lengthy injury list. Rating: 5/10

Luke Garbutt: The 21 year old has played his way into Martinez’s first team plans in recent weeks due to the extent of Everton’s injury list but, apart from a lack of experience at the top level, the left back has looked bright on the ball and has a vicious set piece delivery. One to watch in 2015. Rating: 6/10

Part 2, concerning Everton’s midfielders, forwards and strikers will be available tomorrow.

Monday Musings: Stubborn Martinez needs change of tack

There was always an irksome quality, about former Everton manager David Moyes, in that the Scot would regularly and stubbornly stick to the same footballing principles.

All too often the 51 year old would make defensive substitutions that occasionally backfired, especially from winning positions, rush players back from injury, play members of his first team squad in positions that were foreign to them, or steadfastly refuse to switch tactics despite those strategies failing to come to fruition during certain matches.

Roberto Martinez would do well to take heed of these frustrating tendencies if he is to turn around a spluttering 2014/15 league campaign.

After the Spaniard took over from the then Manchester United bound Moyes in the summer of 2013, his optimism, free flowing football and match altering tactics and substitutions were a breath of fresh air for all associated with the Blues during his debut season in charge of the Merseyside outfit.

And yet, as the halfway point of the current season draws near, it would be forgivable to think that Moyes had returned to Goodison Park, such has been the baffling nature of Martinez’s stubbornness in recent weeks.

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No more so was this defiance in evidence than in the 3-0 defeat to Southampton two days ago when, despite watching his side go two goals down with twenty five minutes to go, Martinez refused to haul off some of his underperforming stars, stating in his post-match interview that he believed “the team was the right one to get back into the game”.

It has been evident, and noted on this blog previously, that playing both Samuel Eto’o and Ross Barkley in the same side, behind Romelu Lukaku, causes Everton to rely on Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman to provide the width for the team, which makes the inclusion of Steven Naismith, another player who is most effective playing off the main striker, playing alongside Barkley and Eto’o behind the Belgian even more perplexing, as this further narrowed the pitch when the Blues were on the atttack.

Of course, the Blues missed the pace, invention and directness of the injured Kevin Mirallas but, unlike earlier in the season, Martinez had options for the wing positions in Steven Pienaar, Aiden McGeady and Bryan Oviedo, which begs the question why were none of those options were used from the beginning, or brought on when it was clear that his starting eleven were struggling to break down the South coast outfit.

The 2014 FA Cup winning manager must also guard against the fact that his charges are lacking in penetration in the final third of the field. Too often in recent weeks has a promising attacking situation arose, only for the ball to land back at the feet of goalkeeper Tim Howard seconds later.

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Naturally, Martinez’s ethos of keeping possession will allow for such behaviour but there will be occasions, much like last Monday’s home encounter to Queens Park Rangers, where Evertonians will show their disgruntlement in watching on as another attack peeters out.

That is not to say that the booing, that occurred that Monday night, should not be condemned, especially when the match was already won despite Bobby Zamora’s late consolation for the visitors at Goodison Park, but Martinez will have to be aware that frustration may boil over once more if this Moyes-like trait continues to present itself.

Perhaps most frustratingly of all, however, is Martinez’s lack of a plan B when his crisp, passing style of play is being nullified by the opposition.

The Spaniard’s philosophy is a joy to watch when the Blues are high on confidence, or when the opposition want to play football themselves, as the Toffees are then afforded more space to exploit vulnerabilities in the opposition’s own back four, but against sides that press high up the field (Southampton, Chelsea, Swansea to name but a few) or clubs that sit back to prevent Everton from incisively cutting them open around their penalty area (Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Hull City), there is a tendency for Martinez’s men to run out of ideas.

If the former Swansea player had a back up plan to counteract these tactics then the Blues might be better off in the league currently but, such is Martinez’s belief in playing football the right way, there will always be the possibility for results such as those that occurred against Southampton, Crystal Palace and Hull City.

Martinez believes that Everton are better equipped and have a better chance of achieving a top four finish this season than his squad did last season, due to the tight nature of the current league standings. Nonetheless, unless the Spaniard is willing to set aside his stubbornness and adapt to individual matches, fans may begin to feel a frustrating sense of deja vu emanating from within Goodison Park.

Tuesday Thoughts: Festive fixtures are make or break time for Everton

According to the traditional Christmas yuletide carol “Deck The Halls”, it is the season to be jolly.

Unfortunately for Everton, there doesn’t appear to be much joviality around as the seasonal festivities march towards Christmas.

Without a win since the 2-0 away victory at Wolfsburg in the Europa League two weeks ago, and with only a solitary win in the Premier League since the beginning of November, it would be simple to assume that Roberto Martinez and his charges would struggle over the festive period –  a spell that will see the Toffees play seven matches between 11th December and 3rd January, five of which are to come in the Premier League.

And yet, stringing a number of victories together, as Manchester United and Newcastle United can attest to at this stage of the season, can propel any club into the higher echelons of the Premier League.

Just six points separates eleventh placed Aston Villa and eighteenth placed Hull City, whilst the gap between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, in third and tenth position respectively, is a reasonable seven points, such is the snug nature of the current standings.

It is this kind of congestion that Everton can take advantage of, during the Christmas fixture schedule, should the Blues find some form and confidence.

Normally, this year’s run of fixtures during the Christmas and New Year period would be looked upon affectionately by Evertonians but, such has been the erratic form of the Toffees in the league, it would be reckless to presume that five successive league victories would be forthcoming.

Everton v Fulham - Premier League

Tough away trips to Hull City, a resurgent Newcastle and Southampton, this season’s surprise package, are sandwiched inbetween home encounters with Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City – the latter two of which, in recent years, could be regarded as potential victories at fortress Goodison, but just two home wins in seven home clashes in the league have proven that, this year at least, Goodison Park is anything but formidable.

Couple this inconsistent form with a spate of injuries and weary legs from an already packed fixture list, and it might be possible to surmise that the upcoming flurry of fixtures could see the Blues further losing pace on the clubs above them in the league table.

With the Christmas and New Year period, however, comes hope anew, and it is also equally as plausible that Martinez and his men could use the impending crop of fixtures to reverse the relative gloom that encompasses Goodison Park.

Since the 2004/05 season, Everton have played 55 league matches in the month of December, winning 24 of those encounters and losing just 14, equating to a fairly impressive 43.7% win rate throughout the typical festive calendar over the past ten seasons.

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The Blues can also look forward to welcoming back sidelined stars such as James McCarthy, Steven Naismith and John Stones over the course of the next month or so, which will no doubt aid manager Roberto Martinez in rotating his squad in the coming weeks and months of the season, whilst key players like Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku have shown signs finding their best personal form since the last international break in mid-November.

As for this year’s Christmas fixture list, the Toffees can take heart from the fact that they boast impressive home records over Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City (winning 63% and and 66% of matches at Goodison against each club), are unbeaten in five and four matches against Alan Pardew’s Newcastle and Steve Bruce’s Hull City respectively, and have only lost one of the last eight encounters with Southampton.

With the final Europa League game against FC Krasnodar effectively a dead rubber, after qualifying for the knockout stages of the competition thanks to that victory at Wolfsburg, Martinez also has the opportunity to rest key players such as Lukaku, Tim Howard, Gareth Barry, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines ahead of the testing run of league clashes, and thereby allow some of his stars to enter another cramped period with fresher minds and legs.

If Everton are looking to build upon last season’s progress under Martinez and his coaching staff, it is imperative that the club rack up as many points as possible, over the course of the next three weeks, to ascend the Premier League table and garner some confidence and form as the season enters its second half following the turn of the year.

Ahead of the most action-packed time for footballers nationwide, it is make or break time for many clubs, and Everton must make sure that it is themselves that thrive, and not falter.

Tuesday Thoughts: McCarthy conspicuous by his absence

McCarthy conspicuous by his absence

Sunday’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane left Everton manager Roberto Martinez with much to ponder, not for the first time this season, ahead of the upcoming fixture packed Christmas schedule.

One of the more glaring issues for the Spaniard to address is that of formulating a game plan for when the effervescent James McCarthy is missing from the Blues’ starting lineup.

The Republic of Ireland international’s second hamstring injury of the season ensured that the midfielder sat out of the trip to North London, and his absence was notable due to the manner in which Mauricio Pochettino’s side carved through the Toffees’ midfield at will during periods of the encounter.

Noted for his tireless, all action performances, McCarthy would have been the ideal inclusion to Everton’s starting eleven against a Spurs outfit that intensely pressed Martinez’s men when the Blues were in possession of the ball, and the 24 year old’s pace, tackling and stamina would have been put to excellent use when the Lilywhites counter attacked with purpose, especially with the Toffees chasing the game in the second half, and in his superb covering role when the marauding Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman joined in Everton’s attacks.

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True, there is little that McCarthy potentially could have done to prevent either of Tottenham’s goals, with the blame resting upon the shoulders of Tim Howard and Gareth Barry for the mistakes that led to Christian Eriksen’s and Roberto Soldado’s goals respectively.

Adddtionally, Barry himself was making his first appearance in the Royal Blue shirt after three weeks out with an ankle injury and would, therefore, not have been firing on all of the proverbial cylinders going into this clash, whilst Muhamed Besic is still adapting to the frenetic nature of the Premier League, despite showing signs of potential quality since his summer move from Ferencvaros.

Martinez can ill afford to lose McCarthy to his hamstring strain for much of the Christmas period, however, with a run of eight matches in a month, in which the Spaniard’s entire squad will be needed, peering over the horizon. Any further omissions of the £13m signing from Wigan Athletic and the current Everton boss will have to consider tinkering his tactics and game plan.

That is not to say that McCarthy makes Everton a one man team, but the Toffes are certainly a stronger side with the midfielder present in their starting eleven, and his return sooner rather than later is of paramount importance to the Blues ahead of a testing month.

Blues must tame tigers to keep pace with top half

Wednesday’s match at Goodison Park against Hull City will no doubt be viewed as a must win by Evertonians, especially if the Toffees are to keep pace with the teams above them in the Premier League.

Steve Bruce’s men travel to Merseyside having lost all four of their league matches in the month of November, which has seen the Tigers slump to 17th in the standings, have registered just one win in seven games on the road in the league this season, and glancing over the head to head record between the two sides appears to point to a home victory for the Blues in tomorrow’s clash.

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The Blues hold an impressive record over tomorrow’s visitors. In thirteen encounters stretching back to the 1951/52 season, Everton have won eight of the thirteen fixtures played, including five of the last seven, and have only lost once at Goodison Park to the Tigers in their entire history.

Furthermore, Roberto Martinez holds the advantage in contests between himself and Bruce, with the Spaniard coming out on top in four of the seven encounters between clubs managed by the pair, with Bruce managing only a solitary victory over Martinez from this particular head to head.

Naturally, statistics and records count for nothing once tomorrow’s contest has begun, but Martinez and his charges certainly have the upper hand, in all departments, ahead of a match that the Toffees have to win as they bid to erase the weekend defeat to Tottenham Hotspur as soon as possible.