Saturday 21 January 2017

Martinez pointing blame in wrong direction

Published 18/01/2016 | 02:30

Roberto Martinez endured another frustrating finish against Chelsea. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.
Roberto Martinez endured another frustrating finish against Chelsea. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.

When it comes to managers moaning about the decisions of referees or assistants after their team has dropped points, it's a good rule of thumb to swap the word "defending" into the complaint and see if the root cause of the problem can't be found a little closer to home.

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Take Roberto Martinez and Everton, for example, who was correct to point out that John Terry was offside - albeit nowhere near the two yards he suggested - and see if the substitution of words* could be used to highlight Everton's problems.

"It was a fantastic game for the fans but the level of defending* was diabolical."

Or

"Maybe defenders* need a bit of help. But to have a player two yards off in the box is unacceptable. There's no explanation. It's a big, big error. It's not good enough."

Martinez is certainly justified in arguing that the officials should have spotted Terry in an offside position and the hope is that he is ranting at them in public while, privately, making enquiries among his players as to why this sort of thing keeps happening. Given the frequency of similar events, however, the suspicion is that that there are very few in-house questions being asked.

Similar

Last month it was a similar situation when Martinez rounded on Mark Clattenburg for a "terrible decision" in awarding a penalty against John Stones in the 4-3 defeat to Stoke when questions should have been asked about why Stones is going to ground in that moment or, more pertinently, why Everton lost having been 3-2 up with 10 minutes remaining.

The draw against Chelsea on Saturday was the second time this season that Everton have conceded a 98th-minute equaliser away from home in a 3-3 draw having taken the lead in injury-time and celebrated wildly.

Against Bournemouth, Martinez pointed the finger at the referee for playing beyond the originally announced amount of injury time although at least goalkeeper Tim Howard admitted that they had over-celebrated and "lacked a bit of composure and ... let ourselves down".

That's why Saturday's result, again, should have Martinez examining his own players first because, while Terry was offside, there was nothing remarkable about what Chelsea did to equalise. It was simply a hopeful punt launched near the box which Everton lost three consecutive aerial battles and allowed Terry to nip in behind them.

Rather than pin all the blame on a linesman's decision, it might be worth asking Phil Jagielka why he lost an aerial battle to Oscar for the final flick-on. For a good Premier League team, Everton have a nasty habit of conceding bad Sunday League goals.

To a great degree, Howard sums up the Martinez approach to defending which can be superb in one moment of a game followed by a baffling mistake moments later like a goalkeeping version of Kolo Toure.

Five minutes after his team went 2-0 up, Howard made a stunning save from Cesc Fabregas which few would have criticised him for not reaching as it looped over him towards the net.

Five minutes after that, Fabregas launched what was a reasonable pass towards Diego Costa which would have been dealt with comfortably had Howard's position not been three yards too deep. Instead, Howard's hesitancy meant Jagielka had to judge the flight of the ball, try to hold off Diego Costa at the same time as wondering what his goalkeeper was doing. In the end, the goalkeeper tackled his defender and Costa nipped in to score a goal which, every bit as much as the official not spotting Terry offside, was the reason for Everton not taking all three points.

At 42, Martinez still has plenty of time on his side but his pattern of being in charge of a team which is good to watch but one which throws away stupid points because of an inability to defend properly is something which will affect both the manager and the club's hopes of taking the next step.

In his six full seasons as a Premier League manager, Martinez's teams have conceded 79, 61, 62, 73, 39 and 50 goals yet Wigan somehow managed to survive the first of those seasons. When the concession tally went over 70 for a second time, they were not so lucky.

In a similar way to the early years of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Martinez's arrival added flair to the organisation which David Moyes had left at Everton and should have earned Champions League football, but for a late collapse.

The concern, however, is that the same failings keep cropping up and, having conceded 32 goals in 22 games so far this season, they look certain to go beyond the 50 they let in last season.

Trouble

In a similar way that Brendan Rodgers's mouth sometimes got him into trouble - describing Raheem Sterling as "the best young player in Europe" when the club weren't willing to pay him appropriately for example - Martinez has a habit of talking a little too much when things are going well. (Such is his level of positivity that one manager privately hoped that Martinez would speak at his funeral because "he could convince everyone there that I wasn't actually dead".)

Last month, Martinez asked for patience from supporters while emphasising the need to reach the Champions League in order to keep hold of their best players.

"We've got players at 21 and 22 like Stones, Barkley, Lukaku, Deulofeu, who, if you wanted to buy them with experience at 26, then you're talking about probably £250m expenditure," he added.

The aim was to illustrate how the club must take a long-term view but it begs the very obvious question that, if there are four players potentially worth £250m which doesn't even include James McCarthy or Seamus Coleman, why then are Everton 11th in the table, 10 points off both Champions League and relegation?

If the mooted takeover goes through, Martinez will need a decent answer to that question or, at least, a better run of results than the last 10 Premier League matches in which they have managed two wins, six draws and two defeats, albeit against some tough opposition.

It's a sequence in which they have played some excellent football and probably deserved to pick up more points but for some basic mistakes. The problem for Martinez is that the same thing has been said so often already in such a short managerial career and it shows few signs of changing.

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