Another blown opportunity is in the books for Everton after their 1-1 draw at Norwich and Toffees fans are left shaking their heads. In a season where last year's champions are only one point above relegation and the team in first was 14th a season ago, anything is possible, but Everton have yet to take their chances. The quality and depth of the side is plainly evident, but thus far Everton have been unable to muster results equal to their talent level.
In such a state of affairs, its inevitable that questions are asked of the manager. Rightly so in this case. Roberto Martinez has trained his men to play some beautiful attacking football, but in the last few weeks they've shown little inclination to address their weaknesses.
Chief amongst those weaknesses is the inability to defend against set pieces. We seem to bring this up every week at RBM, but to put a point on it - Everton has now conceded on set pieces in each of the past three weeks. They are also currently dead last in aerial duels won per game.
The solution, according to both Martinez is a little "nastiness" (Tim Howard referred to what needed separately as "gumption"). While Everton could stand to get a lot more physical, that kind of endemic issue doesn't go away just by deciding to throw a few more elbows. It goes away with proper attention to details like positioning, understanding your mark and properly preparing for the types of dead ball plays your opponent likes to run.
And that seems to me to be the biggest issue with this edition of Everton as of late. There never seems to be a sense that the process should examined and tweaked, but rather that they just need to do things better. There is something to said for stability, but its easy to take a quick, sharp tumble into complacency if you aren't careful.
Roberto Martinez developed something of a reputation as a tactician during Everton's 2013/2014 campaign, but this season has seen little tactical surprise. Outside of the first nine minutes against Chelsea, Martinez hasn't really surprised this year, preferring to line up with his chosen XI. Lining up with the same starters every week undoubtedly can help chemistry, it also makes you fairly predictable.
Same goes for substitutions. Everton have their deepest squad in years. Tom Cleverley, Kevin Mirallas and even Steven Naismith would be first choice starters not so long ago, but now ride the bench thanks to the tremendous talent in front of them. Everton even felt comfortable letting Leighton Baines, the Premiership's career leader in assists from defensive backfield position, take his time recovering thanks to replacement Brendan Galloway's strong play.
And yet we rarely see an attempt to truly change the complexion of a game with a well timed substitution. Mostly we see a like for like purely due to fatigue on a player's part, or occasionally bringing in a more defensive player to protect a lead. The Bournemouth game is, to me, a prime example. Martinez made all three substitutions:
68' Cleverley for McCarthy
86' Lennon for Deulofeu
90+5' Gibson for Kone
Despite Everton's commanding first half performance, by the time that Tom Cleverley entered the game it was clear momentum had swung to Bournemouth. And yet it seems as though Martinez was content to let the situation play out., despite the Toffees lackadaisical form. It was a situation that called for energy and grit, and yet the pesky goblin we know and love as Steven Naismith remained on the bench. Or if we're truly determined to just weather the storm, bring in a more defensive minded player earlier.
A spot in the Champions League is ripe for the plucking. Everton haven't lost their chance yet, but until they make some changes, European football is unlikely.