Examining the reasons for Everton’s slide
Once one of the EPL’s rising clubs, a year later Everton have more questions than answers.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Roberto Martinez and Everton were the darlings of the Premier League. They finished fifth last season, then strengthened their team with permanent deals for Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry, added the quality experience of Samuel Eto’o to the mix, plus the energy and potential of Christian Atsu and Muhamed Bešić.
Yet somehow, things have fallen to pieces for the Merseyside club, which currently sits 12th and in the middle of a three-match losing slump after losing to Newcastle on Sunday. It was yet another painfully flat performance, with three goals allowed in sloppy fashion and little to no drive in the attack for most of the match. Yes, it was a lineup with a fair bit of rotation from Friday’s loss to Stoke City, but Newcastle did rotating of their own and looked more cohesive and functional in their shakiest moments than Everton did at any point in the match.
How did they get here? What’s gone so wrong that Everton look like a shell of the team that roared their way through England last season?
Injuries have played a significant part, particularly given the players who have been sidelined. Ross Barkley and James McCarthy are two vital midfielders to Martinez’s tactics and style, but both have missed stretches of the season, and their absences were keenly felt. The injuries suffered by John Stones and Kevin Mirallas may not have had such a tactical impact, but badly hurt Everton in terms of quality and depth at positions where they lack it.
That leads to problem number two: Martinez and his seeming refusal to adapt to the situations he finds his squad in. Even when key players like Barkley and McCarthy are hurt and he lacks a true like-for-like replacement, Martinez refuses to change his tactics, instead preferring to shove octagonal pegs in to square holes, putting in players who are ill-suited to the tasks being asked of them. That stubbornness has cost Everton in a number of matches this season, as the lack of comfort left the quality of their play sorely lacking.
A general decrease in form certainly hasn’t helped Everton either, with Lukaku, Mirallas, and others having taken a big step back in the quality of their play compared to a year ago. A heavy reliance on older players like Eto’o, Barry, Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka, and Sylvain Distin has also cost them this year, as each has seen a decrease in their abilities. Howard in particular has seen a large falloff, with the American international goalkeeper showing barely a sliver of his once-imperious form.
So in the end it’s not one big thing plaguing Everton, but rather a culmination of factors that have left them so poorly off compared to expectations. No one thought coming in to the season that they’d be 25 points out of first place just after Christmas, and only five points clear of the relegation zone. While they’re almost certainly not going to be embroiled in the relegation battle come the end of the season, they’re definitely too close for comfort at the close of 2014.
It’s going to take a lot of hard work and more than a little luck to get them competing for European places again, but if you can bet on one thing, it’s that Roberto Martinez will have his team’s sights set that high. Whether or not Everton reach their goal now is up to … well, Everton.