Wednesday 21 February 2018

Meulensteen tries to find silver lining as dark clouds gather

Everton 4 Fulham 1

Everton manager Roberto Martinez
Everton manager Roberto Martinez

Chris Bascombe

Roberto Martinez recently offered an insight into a pet hate of Premier League managers. "The last thing you want is the opposition telling you how well you have played when you've just lost," the Everton manager said.

His Fulham counterpart, Rene Meulensteen, knew the feeling on Saturday evening but given his side's perilous position, he will embrace all the goodwill available.

Fulham may improve under the tutorship of the Dutchman, but you are in danger of setting the pace in the world barrel-scraping championship when using a 4-1 defeat as evidence of any sort of revival.

The glowing testimonies from both managers on Fulham's behalf were prompted by a vastly improved 25 minutes at the start of the second half, notable for several curiosities.

Scott Parker and Giorgos Karagounis stopped looking like they had been shoved into midfield direct from the veterans side, and Dimitar Berbatov momentarily considered closing down defenders. Everton succumbed to a prolonged spell of pressure when Berbatov's penalty cancelled out Leon Osman's early strike. Tim Howard had already prevented Parker and Steve Sidwell equalising at the start of the second half.

Meulensteen's vision for Fulham was evident during this spell, with the 'pressing game' now the compulsory blueprint for every newly appointed coach put into effect as Everton defenders panicked when closed down, although whether the likes of Parker have the physical capacity to retain the high energy levels required is debatable.

The final quarter, when Everton picked off Fulham with a slight switch in gear, would suggest not. Everton kicked on, scored another three and gave the deceptive impression that it had been a hammering.

"We just take it on the chin," Meulensteen said.

"There are loads of positives to draw. It was really positive that we gave them a game, especially in the second half."

Seamus Coleman, Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas ensured Everton did what top-four teams tend to do, responding to the first hint of trouble and winning without exploring the heights they scaled at Old Trafford or the Emirates Stadium recently.

Martinez's press conferences are also taking on a rotation policy where he is invited to eulogise about a different player each week.

He believes Osman ought still to be in Roy Hodgson's thoughts for England.

"There are two types of players -- and that is being very brutal," he said.

"There are thinkers and the players who don't think. Leon is a bright, bright footballer. He takes concepts and ideas in. He understands the reasons behind them. He makes the team think. You look at his fast feet in tight spaces.

"The first goal is an example of that, understanding where the space is. He finds it, then he is very quick and alert to get into a position. The execution of the goal is terrific."

The win took Everton to within four points of leaders Arsenal. So positive is Martinez that even if he was in the abyss, he would convince you it was only a matter of time before he found a ladder.

A fanciful top-four claim at the start of the season is rapidly becoming a compulsory demand, with some arguing Everton will compete for the title.

However, as a hamstring pull for Gerard Deulofeu demonstrated in the second half, they are a couple of absentees from looking vulnerable.

Martinez also said recently he would rather lose than win ugly. There was little evidence of discontent after this imperfect victory. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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