Balance. It’s a component which is vital to the success of football clubs across the globe, both on and off the field of play.
On the field, it is the equilibrium between a team’s effectiveness both offensively and defensively, and any slight alteration to either can have repercussions on whether clubs achieve their targets, or fall short.
Before a ball was even kicked, the 2013/14 season was being described by many Evertonians as one of transition, following the departure of David Moyes and the arrival of Roberto Martinez in the summer of 2013.
Yet the Spaniard managed to marry Everton’s stubborn defensive qualities, that were a hallmark of the Moyes era, with his own possession based philosophy, to substantial effect, in a season that saw the Goodison Park based side register a fifth placed finish with their highest points tally ever for a Premier League season.
In contrast, throughout the course of the current campaign Martinez and his charges have struggled to build upon that relative success.
And it is clear to see why.
Compared to last season’s resoluteness in defence, the Toffees have shipped an uncharacteristically high amount of goals so far this season, with the number currently standing at 43 strikes against in all competitions – 14 more than at the same stage of the 2013/14 season.
The increase in the total number of goals conceded might usually be passed off as an issue over the quantity of matches that Everton have played compared to the previous campaign, but the Blues have only played four games more than at the same stage of last season (33 this season compared to 29 last campaign).
So what’s changed?
Roberto Martinez categorically stated earlier in the season that the late goals conceded against Leicester City and Arsenal, in the opening two matches of the season, coupled with the six goals shipped at home to Wednesday’s opponents Chelsea, contributed to a lack of confidence in defence and caused agitation and anxiety in defence whenever opposing teams attacked the Toffees’ defensive third of the field.
The former Wigan Athletic manager has not been able to call upon his first choice back four – Seamus Coleman, John Stones, Phil Jagielka, and Leighton Baines – for the vast majority of the season either due to injury, with the quartet only managing to figure together in 7 of the 33 matches played so far this season. Include a sustained period out for the tenacious James McCarthy due to a niggling hamstring strain, and the below par performances of Gareth Barry, and the protective shield in front of the back four has not been able to screen effectively to restrict opposition chances.
In a bid to solve Everton’s defensive problems, Martinez has revealed that a ‘back to basics’ approach was required to instill a steely resolve in the Toffees’ rearguard, and one goal conceded in four matches in recent weeks shows that this slight tweak in mentality is starting to pay dividends.
Such an approach appears to have come at a cost higher up the pitch, though.
Martinez’s side have notched 44 goals in all competitions thus far this season which, ordinarily, would reflect well on the Spaniard and his first team squad.
However, by the same point last season, the 41 year old had watched on as his first team squad found the back of the opposition net on 48 occasions.
And recent results don’t make for good reading either. In the first 17 matches of the 2014/15 season, Everton’s first team squad accrued 28 goals between them. Compare that to the last 16 matches, and the total reads a miserly 14 – including 7 matches were the Toffees failed to register a single goal.
The brutal run of results over the 2014 festive period, which saw Everton lose all four league fixtures, diminished confidence within the first team ranks at both ends, but it was particularly noticeable among the Blues’ frontline, with the Toffees drawing a blank in three of those four matches.
In fact, over the course of those four encounters alone, Everton’s first team stars only managed a 25.58% total shots to shots on target ratio – further reinforcing the lack of belief amongst the playing staff.
That percentage may have dropped slightly more to exactly 25% over the last six corresponding games, but the total number of shots (76 to 43) and shots on target (19 to 14) have increased during a run of one win and five draws, which alludes to a slight improvement in confidence within the first team ranks.
If Everton are to finish as high in the Premier League as possible in the remainder of the season, as well as progress to the latter stages of the Europa League, Martinez will have to rediscover last season’s balancing act blueprint.
Doing so would be a welcome fillip to everyone associated with Everton.