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Kevin Mirallas Deserves More Playing Time

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In light of his own track record, Arouna Koné's indifferent form, and current fixture congestion, the time is now for Martinez to give the Belgian winger a chance.

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When Everton's team was released prior to the Capital One Cup victory against Manchester City, the first thing I noticed was the omission of Kevin Mirallas. Having not played since his 6-shot performance on December 26 against Newcastle, it seemed likely that he would be picked alongside Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, and Gerard Deulofeu in Everton's front four. Instead, he was left on the bench again in favor of an out-of-position Tom Cleverley and confined to 23 minutes in the second half.

Martinez may have had tactical reasons for preferring Cleverley on this occasion. Perhaps he felt that Mirallas would not provide enough work rate and defensive cover, something that would surely be necessary against a Man City side that has produced more shots than any other team in the Premier League this season.

That may be the case, but the fact that Mirallas has played only 332 minutes in the Premier League season (roughly a third of what Arouna Koné has logged) suggests a larger issue at play. The simplest explanation is that Martinez does not consider him good enough to be in the first team at the moment.

My equally simple question in response is: why?

Statistically, his record speaks for itself. In two of his first three seasons at Everton, Mirallas was top 4 in the team in key passes per 90. In two of those seasons he also led the team in shots per 90 (minimum 1400 minutes played). This season he leads the team in shots per 90, albeit with a limited sample size. He's also had a half-decent goal scoring record when he's played (0.44 goals per 90 last season). In other words, he's been productive. Sometimes very productive.

For the more visually-oriented, the following chart plots shots per 90 on the x-axis and key passes per 90 on the y-axis. Each bubble refers to a player season, and the size of the bubble corresponds to that player's output in goals plus assists. Minimum playing time is 25% of available league minutes, data is from Opta/WhoScored. I've highlighted Mirallas's seasons in yellow.

There are a few cool nuggets here to pick apart (Rom and Geri are on fire this season), but regarding Kev the long story short is that the man has consistently been one of Everton's best attackers when he's been on the field. Unfortunately, he can't seem to actually get on the field that often--54%, 68%, 42%, and 44% of league minutes in each of his Everton seasons, to be precise. A bit of regression of the above numbers would be expected if his playing time drastically jumped, but it is worth noting that his best statistical season (2013-14) was also his busiest.

Also worth noting is that during that wonderful season Martinez used Mirallas mostly on the right. It's possible that Roberto, or Mirallas himself, sees the player as more of a right winger, and is therefore reluctant to use him on the left for tactical reasons. It's true that the Belgian favors his right foot and has a tendency to drift inside, but none of that would explain why Koné has received so much playing time, as the same could be said about the Ivorian. It may also be the case that Martinez is uncomfortable with Mirallas's defensive instincts, but again that would beg the question as to whyhe feels Koné is an improvement.

A final possible explanation is that Mirallas lacks some intangible that the manager desires. This is the realm where my analysis ends, but the words "attitude problem" have been thrown around from time to time, and the famous West Brom penalty debacle will not soon be forgotten by some. I'm not sure how much I buy this--I think he mostly comes off well in interviews, and for what it's worth the manager claims he's been "impressive" in training and is a "big part of the team". But only those around the team will know the realities of that dynamic.

In any case, Mirallas is deserving of a run of games with at least as long of a leash as Koné has had in recent times. With five matches in the next three weeks, hopefully he will get his chance.