It’s great for the fans, not so great for the players, and all the managers moan about it. So why is England one of the few countries that continues with this overload of fixtures over the Christmas period? It wouldn’t be Boxing Day or New Years Day without football but when you look at the performances and energy levels of some of the players you can see that Everton would have benefitted more than most from a couple of weeks off. Four games in eleven days has taken its toll, with Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin succumbing to muscle injuries it’s not been a good period. The defeat to Sunderland and point against Stoke City have dented our excellent start to the season. Maybe now’s the time to look seriously at a Christmas break?
The Sunderland and Stoke games are Osman’s Everton career in a microcosm. An awful touched and being substituted early one game, game changing penalty winner the next. It’s really easy to overlook his importance to the squad and I touched on the positions he’s played for us in a recent article, wide and in the middle, defensive and attacking, and he never give less than 100% commitment. Roberto Martinez summed it up well after the Stoke game: "I was really pleased with Leon Osman, football is a game of risks, you will make mistakes and it’s all about how you react to things like that (his mistake on Boxing Day). Osman is one of the reliables in the dressing room. He represents Everton and you know when you are facing adversity, you can rely on him. The way he has coped with what happened over Christmas is magnificent. I’m delighted with him and he’s set those standards and I’m pleased he has shown those magic feet in the box at the right time."
We need more from the Belgian. That’s the crux of it. He showed against Stoke that he’s a match winner when he’s in the mood, unlucky to hit the bar and the post, he’s got the pace, skill, and technique to be one of the best attacking players in the Premier League. This season though he;s just not been at it, whether it’s because he’s been a bit in and out of the team who knows, but in the setup Martinez likes us to play he has more of an attacking role than under David Moyes, yet he’s not hitting the heights. Hopefully we’ll start to see more consistency of quality in the second half of the season.
Goodbye and thanks for the one season
So it looks like John Heitinga is on his way out, with confirmation from Sam Allardyce and the fact he was missing from the squad on Wednesday, even without our two first choice centre backs. The writing has been on the wall for sometime but it’s a pity it has ended like this. Heitinga was excellent for us in 2011/12 when he won player of the year, but actually out of five years one good year is pretty poor for a Dutch international who’s reputed to be on £60,000 a week. The other likely departure is Nikica Jelavic, the Croatian striker looks like a lame duck. He, Martinez, and the crowd have lost all confidence in him, he’s almost a passenger now when he actually makes it on to the pitch. And the only reason he does make it onto the pitch is because there is literally no-one else. A damning indictment.
One of the more obvious differences between the current manager and former manager is their belief in younger players. That has most obviously been demonstrated in Roberto Martinez’s use of Ross Barkley as a central player this season, even when he’s underperforming. A more stark example was John Stones’ inclusion against Stoke, something that would not have happened under David Moyes, you would have seen either the departing Heitinga or an out of position Tony Hibbert starting ahead of the youngster from Barnsley. In the first team squad, Romelu Lukaku, Bryan Oviedo, James McCarthy, Joel Robles and Gerard Deulofeu are all under 23, with a raft of youth players out on loan getting competitive experience, we can only hope that this continues in to next season. Although it does make you wonder what’s up with Apostolos Vellios...