After last season's fifth-placed finish, there was hope that Everton would make a splash in the knockout competitions this season. After all, Roberto Martinez had led his Wigan Athletic side to a glorious FA Cup triumph, surely he would be able to replicate some of that with a much more talented and stable Everton side that had played some magnificent football the previous year, evoking memories of the storied School of Science that had once graced Goodison Park.
Sadly, this was not to be.
Capital One Cup
The League Cup starts early on in the season and is usually a good indicator of what sides have had a decent offseason and have gelled well together as the year gets underway. Everton had just one win in their first eight games and fans were concerned that a pretty weak preseason schedule had left some rust spots in the teams makeup and it would be but a matter of time that they would break out of the funk and start sizzling again.
Everton were drawn away at Swansea City in the Round of 32. The Blues have been the Swans' bogey team for decades, having failed to ever beat Everton since they first played in 1930. The way the season had started for Everton, this had to be the year that streak ended, and surely enough, both sides delivered on their early form.
Martinez made seven changes to his starting squad, giving starts to Bryan Oviedo, Tony Hibbert, Luke Garbutt, Darron Gibson, Christian Atsu, Samuel Eto'o and Aiden McGeady. Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz were the centerhalves on the day, and without the steadying presence of Phil Jagielka in the back and Gareth Barry in front of them, Everton crumbled and Swansea romped to a 3-0 victory at the Liberty Stadium. It was a sign of things to come as the shambles in defence would haunt them time and again over the length of the season.
Everton drew another team in the knockout round of the FA Cup that simply hates playing the Blues. West Ham United were looking for their first win against Everton in fifteen attempts, a streak that reached back to 2007. The game was scheduled for 6th January after a hectic holiday season for Everton had ended in sheer ignominy. The Blues had lost six of eight fixtures dating back to the beginning of December, and were playing so poorly that they were better received at away grounds than at Goodison Park.
After a decent first half when Everton had spurned a few good chances, it was the visitors who capitalized in second half to take the lead. A defensive mixup led to a free header at a set-piece situation leading to an opposition goal. This could have been written for a significant chunk of the 67 goals Everton conceded this season in all competitions. It almost didn't matter who was playing in goal, who was lined up in the back four and who was ahead in midfield - Everton made the most mistakes that directly lead to opponents scoring than any other team in all five major European leagues, and it was not even close. However, a late leveler from Romelu Lukaku ensured that the Blues would live to fight another day in a replay.
In a cracking game at West Ham that had all the elements that make the FA Cup magical, the home side put Everton to the sword in the first half with a multitude of chances before finally taking the lead in the 51st minute. Minutes later Aiden McGeady was sent off for petulant tackle that earned him his second yellow of the game, and Everton looked dead and buried. With barely a quarter of the game to play, Kevin Mirallas came on and while goalie Joel Robles standing in for the injured Tim Howard made save after save, Mirallas scored from a spectacular free kick with eight minutes to go to send the game to extra time.
Mirallas's pace had blown the game open and the added half an hour was an end-to-end affair. The Belgian connection between Mirallas and Lukaku sent the Blues ahead in the 97th minute and it looked like the Toffees had completed a miraculous recovery. However Carlton Cole scrambled home a botched clearance with seven minutes to go and it was going to be penalties to decide this tie.
The shootout was no less dramatic. Both goalies had been warned by the referee for their attempts to distract the opponent's penalty takers, and with the score 8-8 from nine rounds of penalties taken, it was the goalies who squared off next. Robles stepped up and clattered his shot off the bar, and then was unable to keep out Adrian's kick as Everton went crashing out of the competition.
This Everton squad was not built for playing top level football on multiple fronts. For this Roberto Martinez will have to shoulder a lot of the blame for both his signings and his tactics. Multiple players brought on for added depth failed to provide the spark the side needed, and when injuries and fatigue did take their toll, the Spaniard failed to adjust his gameplan to suit the side's strengths and instead chose to play the same expansive football time and again when it was clear to even the most casual observer that the strategy was not working.
As mentioned multiple times in different season reviews, Martinez will need to rethink how he wants his starting eleven to line up next season, who he will be bringing in contend for said eleven and for reinforcements, and also improve his tactical flexibility and usage of substitutes.