When Wigan Athletic knocked us out of the cup at home and effectively ended David Moyes' last chance of winning anything with Everton, and probably the easiest chance he ever had, a national sports radio station asked was this the end for Moyes at Everton, and if so who would be the man to replace him? I called in and named my choice - Roberto Martinez.
"Why though, what would he bring to Everton that David Moyes didn't? What's he done at Wigan apart from avoid relegation" I was asked. My reply was simple. He had just out thought and out played David Moyes in his own back yard in front of a sell out crowd (away section aside!) and his side played without fear. I'd watched Wigan a few times as their TV appearences increased as they battled to stay in the Premier League season after season and each time I watched them I was impressed with their football. They just went for teams, knowing what was at stake.
So when the announcement came that Martinez had been appointed, although slightly cautious I was optimistic. I wondered if Martinez applied his philosophy of nice, neat, patient possession, finding space and attacking at every available opportunity with a higher calibre of club and playing staff at his disposal what the outcome would be. It excited me.
One other thing which impressed me about Martinez was that he didn't mess about with his signings. He'd obviously gone to the board and said "right, I want him, him, him and him, and if you can't get them then I'd like him, him, him and him. Don't mess about, just do what you have to do." The signings of Joel Robles, Arouna Kone and Antolin Alcaraz are very astute. Joel looked excellent pre-season, especially in Austria, and will push Tim Howard all the way for the gloves. Kone was powerful for Wigan and on the occasions we played them he gave our defenders a hard time, and no one could disagree we needed another forward. Alcaraz is a good defender, and on a free no one can argue with that either. And then there is Gerard Deulofeu, who numerous clubs were interested in but he chose to come to Everton because both he and Barca liked Martinez and his philosophy, and they felt Everton was the best place for his development. We have a potential gem on our hands here, Barcelona don't put €35m release clauses into contracts for nothing!
I also like his persona in the media. I have to say, every time I have watched and listened to Martinez in the press, or read something he has said, I smile and I get that reassurance that he is the right appointment. I get this sense of optimism and I look forward to this season and probably more importantly next season, when he's embedded his mannerisms, thoughts, ideas, philosophy etc.
On the field though, the change in play, for me, has been massive. Martinez has employed a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-5-2 mainly during pre-season, both to very good effect in what has been a quality pre-season in terms of opposition. We played very well v Juventus and Real Madrid, looked tired v Valencia, Austria Vienna was our first pre-season game while it was one of their last and the fitness levels showed, and Betis were no mugs either.
He also isn't bothered about throwing youngsters into the mix if he feels it right. John Stones impressed during pre-season, as did Ross Barkley. Stones was on the bench yesterday and as we all saw Barkley started and was our best player by a mile.
When Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene, David Moyes played him left midfield before giving him a crack up front, his natural position. When Jack Rodwell came through the ranks, he played right back, right midfield, left midfield, despite coming through the ranks as a centre half and later as a central midfielder. Last season, the only time a youngster played was out of necessity, as in we didn't have the strength in depth of players. He started Ross Barkley on the right side of midfield v Blackburn. Ross didn't do too well and made a crucial mistake which cost us a penalty. Moyes dropped him and shipped him out on loan for most of the rest of the season.
Yesterday, Martinez started Barkley after saying how impressed he has been with him during pre-season. He didnt put him left, or right, he put him in the hole behind Jelavic, with Fellaini and Osman sweeping up behind him in front of the back four. That's exactly what Ross needs. It's something I've been saying since last season. Let the lad play, learn, and have the peace of mind to know that if he does give the ball away and can't win it back, someone else will win it back for him and give him the ball back to go again. Although I have to say yesterday on the rare occasion Ross lost the ball he worked bloody hard to get it back.
In terms of patterns and phases of play, the main changes have been in positional sense. At the back, we are a little more open and adventurous. The centre backs are further apart, the full backs further up the field and one of the midfielders now comes short to receive the ball. This in turn creates more space for the rest of the midfield and more options further up the park. And it works. The wide men, yesterday Mirallas and Pienaar, tend to come inside more now to support the forward. Fellaini is playing in a more defensive role, his task to break up play, which is a role for which he was originally bought. Jelavic was absolutely central yesterday, hardly pulled out wide at all - something he did very often last season under Moyes; which probably explained his low goal tally.
Set piece wise, when defending, Martinez leaves a man outside the box now. Mirallas, Pienaar and Barkley all shared that task out between them. Moyes had all 11 men inside our box and then wondered why the ball was coming right back at us once cleared.
When in possession, most of the passing is done short and along the floor. In a recent documentary, Martinez explained how he integrated his philosophy at Swansea City, upping their passes per game from around 160 to an average of 800. It looks like he's trying to do the same with us. The long ball is the very last option, even going backwards to start again is preferred to lumping it. Tim Howard rolls the ball out or takes his goal kicks short. The passing around the box is short, sharp and has an end product to it.The whole picture is more pleasing on the eye.
However, we do look more susceptible to the counter attack. At one point yesterday we had 6 men in the Norwich half and play broke down. We were left 5 v 4 at the back and luckily we defended well. But, at Wigan, their defence consisted of Emerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa. At Everton, it's Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines - the fourth tightest defence in the league last season. So, in comparison, the calibre of player here should be able to sort that out.
I watched the cup final between Man City and Wigan. Wigan played well considering the wealth of individual quality at City's disposal. However, I couldn't help but think that if that was us there, Moyes would have taken an attacking player off for a defensive one, gone for extra time and probably lost. Martinez swapped a midfielder for a midfielder, played without fear, went for City and reaped his rewards for it. There in lies the difference in mentality.
I'm certainly optimistic for our future under Martinez. Of course we need to understand that nothing drastic will happen overnight, it's a work in progress. But there is no reason why this team cannot emulate David Moyes' team and then build on it.
Allez Allez Allez Ohhhh!!!!
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