A lot has been written and even more has been said in recent weeks with regards to where this season has gone wrong; some of it valid, some of it the classic heat – of – the – moment nonsensical stuff. The fact of the matter is, the performance of the squad over the course of the season has not been what was expected and thus enquiries as to why this has been are of course expected.
As in any walk of life, great anticipation and expectation bring with them a lingering threat of disappointment. This has certainly been the case for Evertonians this season. A campaign that has had an array of cracks, often papered over by Thursday night performances, has now reached a point whereby the league position no longer has the European adventure to gloss over its shortcomings.
So, questions must be asked as to why a side which flourished last season had fallen off the pace so badly this season. The obvious excuse would be that a (relatively) small squad has struggled to cope with the extra European demands but considering that the points return following Thursday night games has been reasonable, this does not wash.
The pre-season regime and tactics employed by Roberto Martinez have come under severe scrutiny from a growing number of Blues throughout the season. There is no doubt that the early season struggles evidenced a lack of fitness in the squad and this is something which must (and in all likelihood will) be addressed this time around.
The tactical debate surrounding Martinez is for me a more intriguing one. The success of last season was based on a 4-2-3-1 system, with the same system having been employed this year. Aside from the noticeable exception of Deulefou, the players have generally been the same too, which makes the performances seem all the more baffling.
So where have the problems stemmed from? The amount of individual errors has been well documented and cost vital points and it can only be hoped that such mistakes do not carry over into next season. The form of pivotal players in last years’ success has for me however has underpinned this season’s struggles. Tim Howard, Gareth Barry and Ross Barkley have all struggled following superb campaigns last time out, whilst the likes of Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas have never really hit the same heights we know they are capable of. That is six key men, over half the team, who have relatively speaking underperformed. The dilemma now for Martinez is whether he sticks or twists; does he rely on the hope that these tried and tested players can spearhead another assault on the top four next year, or does he look elsewhere?
In the cases of Barkley and Coleman, they must be kept at all costs. Both still young and perhaps victims of being found out by others this season, they have time on their side and should be raring to go in August. Whilst Baines does not fall into the same youthful category, he again must be kept on due to his undoubted value to the team when on form. In Barry’s case, I imagine he will still be at the club next year, however the likes of Besic and Barkley must come into the reckoning to take his deeper role in order to provide more energy in the middle of the park.
As for Howard and Mirallas, they arguably represent two priority positions which need addressing in the summer. There is no doubting that Howard has been a great servant to the club. No honours are won on sentiment alone though and it would appear that his better days are coming to a close. With mid table looking to be the likely finishing position, surely Joel Robles ought to be given a go in the closing games of this campaign to see a little more of what he can offer. Either way, a new goalkeeper is likely to be required come the summer transfer window.
Mirallas is an interesting conundrum. On his day he can be unplayable – the problem being that that day comes around far too infrequently for someone of his undoubted talent. The penalty incident appeared to derail him of any kind of form this season, whilst an at times apparent over – inflated opinion of himself suggests that other options should be sought. A decent amount of funds are likely to be raised should Mirallas be cashed in on. With all other winger options currently at the club being either on loan or forever in the treatment room however, it is likely that both a left and a right winger need to be brought in and so it is crucial that significant money is invested in these areas. There are of course other areas of the squad which in an ideal world need strengthening (centre half cover and another striker in particular), yet in consideration of the realistic budget available, a keeper and two high quality pacey wingers must be the priority.
Rightly or wrongly, Martinez has come under pressure from sectors of the fanbase this year. He has perhaps been a little rigid in his tactics at times, yet the performances of last season domestically and this campaign in Europe suggest to me that he remains the right man to take what remains a very promising youthful spine of the side forward in the long run.