Dear Roberto Martinez and Everton,
We need to talk.
I love you guys. Everybody here at Royal Blue Mersey loves you guys. But after the last three league matches, we need to have a serious talk.
I know this is usually a space dedicated to analyzing the tactical failures and successes of your team, and it isn't the case that there aren't tactical issues and solutions to discuss.
Sure, I could dedicate another 1,200 words to the role of Arouna Kone, whose heatmap (courtesy of EvertonFC.com) reflects that he was seemingly everywhere...
...yet he had the lowest WhoScored rating of any starting Everton outfield player, wasted two glorious scoring opportunities, and created repeated spacing issues in the midfield.
I could talk about how those Kone-related issues completely marginalized Ross Barkley, who once again was forced out of the space generally occupied by a No. 10, as his heatmap and passing maps indicate.
These figures reflect what you might expect from Gareth Barry or Tom Cleverley, not Everton's young attacking midfielder. This, of course, is a problem, but it isn't the problem.
I could discuss how, despite his success on corners, the Toffees continued to play in such a right-heavy fashion that Leighton Baines' rarely got the ball in attacking areas, as his passes received map (courtesy of FourFourTwo.com) shows.
Baines still managed to complete multiple perfect long balls into dangerous areas for Romelu Lukaku and Arouna Kone, but if his contribution is limited to long balls forward, he is being wasted. Baines, arguably the best crosser on the team (he completed 1.6 crosses per game last season according to WhoScored.com, a full cross per game better than any other regular starter), played only two open-play crosses in 90 minutes of action.
Again, this is a problem, but it isn't the problem.
The problem is that despite these problems, relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, the Toffees put themselves in positions to win against two clearly inferior teams and one comparable side, yet came away with only 3 points.
Against Crystal Palace, a side with comparable talent to Everton, the Toffees dominated the match from start to finish. Martinez's side has 62 percent possession and outpassed Palaced 437-248, yet managed to concede a set piece goal to briefly go behind in the match. Lukaku equalized just five minutes later, but Everton walked away with a point in a match where three were required based on the run of play.
Against Bournemouth, the Toffees completely switched off in the second half after a dominating opening 45 minutes. Martinez stood on while Everton slowly let the Cherries back into the match, conceded twice in the final ten minutes of regular time, took the lead with essentially no time on the clock, and finally was guilty of criminally switching off one last time, allowing Bournemouth to tie the match at three.
Against Norwich City, Everton should have been ahead by more than one at halftime. I refuse to be critical of Romelu Lukaku, a player in fine form, but for the entire team to only have one goal given the run of play in the opening 45 minutes was unacceptable. Yet, with a little bit of mental fortitude, the Toffees could have easily kept the first half momentum going, even after conceding a predictable set piece goal. Instead, they crumbled and never got their grip on the match back.
Roberto, you and the lads have a mentality problem, not a tactics problem.
You can talk about how beautiful your attacking football is until you are blue in the face Roberto, but at the end of the day, it isn't going to be enough on its own to win matches. Your attacking tactics have led Everton to 23 goals from open play this season, the best such total in the league. So don't get me wrong, that is worth celebrating.
But, to come out after the Norwich match and say that the second half performance was solid and that football is simply a cruel game is completely disingenuous. If this was a one-time occurrence, I think we would all be inclined to agree with you and consider this match an outlier.
Roberto, that just isn't the case though. Your team concedes weak goals and recently has lacked the killer instinct to put away matches that it should be winning easily.
Conceding weak goals has become a calling card for this side, but you and the lads have already proven that you do have a killer instinct buried in there somewhere. Against Sunderland last month, your side let a 2-0 lead turn into a 2-2 match early in the second half, but within 15 minutes the score was 5-2. Against Aston Villa, an early goal turned things into a 4-0 rout.
Of course, those two opponents may be the worst two teams in the Premier League, but there are no easy results in this league, and you've clearly proven you can dig deep when it is required.
The easy portion of the schedule is coming to a close, and your clear mental weaknesses in these areas have probably cost you a chance to finish top four. You've taken only 10 points from a possible 18 in the easiest stretch of the season and have Tottenham, Manchester City, and Chelsea next month.
Is top six still a possibility? Top eight? Top half? I don't know. I really don't know. Your most recent performance brought this thought out of me:
At season's open, I said #EFC weren't a top 10 team, because there was no reason to think they were any different than last year...— Adam Braun (@abraun_15) December 12, 2015
And coming into the holiday period, they've proven me exactly right. Still can't defend set pieces. Still can't put together 90 good minutes— Adam Braun (@abraun_15) December 12, 2015
Roberto, it is on you to find the missing mental toughness this team needs. There is obvious talent in this side, and you've got them attacking in an effective, exciting manner. But they need more, and they need it to start at you.