What a strange old year 2014/15 was for the Everton back five. After being the foundation that David Moyes built his success on over his ten years at the helm the unit put paid to any worries about Roberto Martinez weakening them with an excellent 2013/14 where they were the rock that 5th place was built on.
Fast forward twelve months and so much has changed. Firstly Tim Howard. What happened Tim? After a pretty terrible first half of the season the American got injured and missed the best part of a month. His understudy Joel Robles came in and did a decent job - the stats supported his claims to be better than the de facto number one. Still, as soon as the bearded wonder was fit he was back, presumably destroying the confidence of the young(ish) Spaniard in the process. As if Martinez hadn't already done that by saying he was looking for a new first choice goalkeeper. Stats wise Robles beat Howard on the most important: saves per goal 2.33 vs 1.43; clean sheets per game 0.43 to 0.22; goals conceded 0.86 vs 1.37. For 2015/16 neither Howard or Robles looks the answer and therein might lie the reason Roberto has already been linked with a goalkeeper or two. Petr Cech anyone?
Fullback now and it was a season to forget for Seamus Coleman. Aside from the disruption through injury, his stats portray the general decline in his overall performance: less chances created, half as many goals scored, lower pass success rate, fewer shots, fewer tackles won; not a pretty picture. The Irishman's sub-par showings in 2014/15 were a symptom of the team's wider problems, and the number 23 wasn't helped by the paucity of quality in front of him at times - imagine being behind Aiden McGeady or Kevin Mirallas on an off day. Leighton Baines did better though, and as one of the senior members of the squad you would expect him to carry responsibility. Surprisingly he had more shots and created more chances (a mind boggling 70!) than in 2013/14, yet every other stat was poorer. The great thing about the English fullback is his consistency, you can depend on Baines when the chips are down. And he hardly ever gets injured, until his season was curtailed by surgery. Finally a note on other full backs, three youngsters got their chance this season, Luke Garbutt demonstrated he's ready for first team football and his signing of a new contract is an excellent boost for the club - the loan at Bournemouth will give him much more first team football; Ty Browning and Brendan Galloway made a few appearances late on and look like they're definitely ones for the future, reasonably assured both in possession and defensively.
In the centre of defence this season was a tale of four players. England internationals Phil Jagielka and John Stones came through with their reputations intact, and enhanced. While at the other end of the spectrum Sylvain Distin became the forgotten man and Antolin Alcaraz endured a second dreadful season. It's telling that both senior players are being released at the end of their contracts. Alcaraz brought nothing to the club in his two years and it was sad to see the rapid decline in the pace and mobility of Distin, a player who had managed to rage against the sands of time. Still 2015/16 will mean a first choice pairing of Stones and Jagielka, but not much in support of that. The England youngster continued his improvement, despite a serious injury, and the seasoned international Jagielka continued to be the glue holding the defence together.
This season made it pretty clear that for Everton to get anywhere near the form of the previous campaign, the defence will play a critical role. Rumor has it that Martinez is already investigating a shift to a back-three, with Juventus' Italian international Angelo Ogbonna, Crystal Palace defender and Liverpool season-ticket holder Scott Dann, and Senegalese utility man Kara Mbodj, currently plying his trade for Genk in Belgium.