I subscribe to a particular theory regarding football managers that I would like to share with you, as I think it plainly relates to the current struggles of Everton and Roberto Martinez.
I am a firm believer that, in most situations, the best managers the ones that you notice the least on a week-to-week basis. Of course, this is not to say that managers should not have a significant impact on their teams; of course, the world's most renowned managers are famous for the specific ways in which they instruct their teams to play.
But, once a style of play has been established, if the team has reasonable talent and the style of play is appropriate, the manager shouldn't have to continually make tweaks to his team. Particularly at this stage of the season, a talented, well-managed team should look like it simply takes the field, knows what to do, and executes effectively.
Now, there have been reasonable discussions about exactly how much talent this Everton team has, but I don't think anyone can argue that there isn't a lot of skill in the lineup Martinez sent out against Watford on Saturday.
There is perhaps an argument to be made that Ramiro Funes Mori should be starting ahead of John Stones in the center of defense, but outside of that, this seems indisputably like Everton's best (or at least most talented) lineup.
Sliding Lennon to the left wing allows the talented Gerard Deulofeu back into the lineup while keeping Ross Barkley in the middle. James McCarthy and Gareth Barry, who certainly bring the best out in each other, linked back up again after Barry's return from suspension.
Yet, this is the first time this season that we have seen this lineup, the main point of which is Lennon's appearance on the left wing. Somehow, Steven Naismith, Arouna Kone, Tom Cleverley, and Ross Barkley, all central players by trade, were equipped to play on the left in the mind of Martinez before this weekend, but not Lennon, a natural winger.
And thus, we have found ourselves largely discussing Martinez's decisions, not Everton's play, over the course of the last month or more. Martinez has simply tried to over-complicate things far too frequently this season, depriving his players of the chance to simply take the pitch and play their game.
In fairness to Martinez, the inclusion of Cleverley on the left was effective for a time, and I credited Martinez for making that move at the time. But the team has clearly been struggling for the last month or more, and this necessary change came far too late for the team to salvage something of its Premier League season.
So, it took Martinez months to put his players in a position where they could simply play and he could fade into the background behind, but at least he did it this weekend, right?
Deploying the proper lineup is only half the battle. The proper players have to be sent out with the proper instructions as well, and in this category Martinez surely failed against Watford.
Part of the problem with Everton's use of Deulofeu early in the season was the team's over-reliance on him to be the only real creative force in the team. In most instances, this occurred primarily because either Arouna Kone or Steven Naismith were occupying the left midfield position, meaning no creative impetus existed on the wing opposite Deulofeu.
So, Martinez would have Ross Barkley drift into the left channel from his natural position in the center, often isolating Deulofeu, reducing the effectiveness of Barkley, and completely marginalizing the player on Everton's left wing.
Surely though, with the always dangerous Aaron Lennon on the left now, there would be no need for such a convoluted setup. Right?
You and I both know the answer to that question.
Below are the passes received maps (courtesy of FourFourTwo.com) from the Watford match for first Deulofeu, then Lennon. Keep in mind that Deulofeu only played 78 minutes.
Alright, maybe that was an overreaction. Maybe, just maybe, Deulofeu was the player of choice in the majority of the attacking buildups because he was exceedingly effective, so there was no reason to go away from him?
A look at his crosses and take-ons from the match should clear that up.
Predictably enough, Watford was prepared to limit Deulofeu's space and ability to create chances down the right, but Everton failed to ever adjust the plan.
Obviously, Lennon did not have a lot of chances to create given how infrequently he saw the ball, while Barkley was forced wide toward the left, as his heatmap (courtesy of EvertonFC.com) indicates.
At the end of the day, the poor management of this match, while frustrating, will make absolutely no difference at the end of the season. The Toffees will likely finish the season in the bottom half of the table, but safely above relegation, and this result won't affect that status.
But it continues to paint the picture of a manager in Roberto Martinez who is desperately tinkering with his side in an effort to turn things around, but in the process perhaps missing the simplest solutions. To me, that seems to indicate that Martinez knows his grip on the team, and his job security as a result, is slipping.
With reports linking Everton to a potential new manager, Marcelo Bielsa, it certainly seems possible that Martinez's latest tactical misstep could be among the final in a series which costs him his job.