The Twittersphere is ablaze after Everton's 3-0 defeat at the hands of Swansea. The occasional fan calling for Roberto Martinez's head is blatantly overreacting, of course, but there are some legitimate gripes to be had with Everton's manager.
But first, let's remember why the sky is not falling.
First, this loss came in the League Cup, far and away the least important of the four competitions Everton will play in this season. If we're honest with ourselves, bailing out of the
Coca-Cola, Worthington, Carling, Capital One Cup comes as something of a relief with Europa League group stage matches on tap for much of the first half of the campaign.
Second, Martinez's mentality about which matches to get a first XI on the pitch for seems correct, if not at the very least reasonable. Last week's Europa League match against Wolfsburg brought a talented club to Goodison Park, and allowed Roberto to make a statement of intent regarding the club's mentality about Europe's second-tier competition.
The upshot of that decision, of course, was fielding a less than top side against Crystal Palace over the weekend and Swansea City tonight.
In theory, that rationale passes the test. A serious top-four contender ought to beat a foot of the table club at home while resting some starters, and as already noted, the League Cup was always going to be the sacrificial lamb offered by the club for the ability to compete in the Europa League.
Third, while it is clear the defense has struggled, there is a silver lining.
I doubt most Evertonians would deny that the team's optimal back-four at this stage is Baines-Jagielka-Stones-Coleman. That configuration thus far this season has played two matches together. The combined score of the two matches? 6-1, with the lone goal conceded coming from a last second free-kick against Wolfsburg with the match already well in hand.
All that being said, there are a few monumental head-scratchers over the course of the last few days that deserve discussion.
Martinez's tactical choices and personnel selection against both Palace and Swansea were similar, and ultimately failed the team both times.
The 4-3-3 was the formation of choice in both matches, with the midfield three coming into critical focus most clearly.
Against Palace, the midfielders were Leon Osman, James McCarthy, and Gareth Barry, with the side sliding between a 4-3-3 with Osman leading the midfielders, and a 4-4-2 with Osman on the left and Samuel Eto'o moving up to play as a pure striker.
Ossie, not for the first time in his Everton career, became a victim to his own willingness to play anywhere on the pitch. He simply isn't a creative enough player to consistently break down teams that are willing to sit 10 or 11 men behind the ball while playing as the fulcrum of the side. His lovely pass to Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring, but he failed to have any significant effect after that play, either from the center or the left.
Against Swansea, an experimental trio of Darron Gibson, Muhammed Besic, and Bryan Oviedo failed to hold down the center of the pitch. While Martinez's desire to rest both James McCarthy and Gareth Barry was understandable, this choice of midfield was never going to be able to give the Toffees any traction against a more than respectable Swansea side.
There were equally bewildering choices outside of the midfield as well.
I am not (yet) in the camp that is convinced that Sylvain Distin is officially on his way out as a productive player in important matches, but he has definitely lost a step in terms of speed, understandably for a player of his age and size.
The choice then, to put him next to Antolin Alcaraz in the center of defense in any competitive match is completely mystifying. This was the right match to try to get Alcaraz into the rotation, but to pair him with a player who has also struggled with mobility and confidence doomed them both to failure.
Up top, Martinez chose to utilize both Samuel Eto'o and Romelu Lukaku at different times during the match, which was equally confounding. Both players played 90 minutes against Palace Sunday, and both will need their playing time monitored as the season continues. To use both in a match that seemed destined for failure then, is confusing at best.
I am not one to criticize without offering alternatives though, so I'll quickly explain what I would have done with the squad today, and then ask what you would have done, as well as other thoughts about some of the confusing choices we've seen over the last two matches.
With the squad clearly not at a point where they were ready to attack this match full-on, I would have opted to use the match almost exclusively as a chance to get certain players some first-team experience. As such, I would have lined up like this...
A few notes:
- I would have played Kone as long as he was comfortable playing, then let Eto'o close it out.
- I was critical of Osman playing in a similar position earlier, but I think having the wingers playing more in the midfield gives him more passing options and takes some of the play-making onus from him.
- Tyias Browning is a player that we need to have a better chance of assessing in these sorts of situations, because clearly Antolin Alcaraz is not working out particularly well.
What do you think? Should I stick to blogging and never manage a real team? What do you think these results mean for the club going forward? Have your say below.