Wednesday 13 December 2017

Restoring morale the priority for Martinez after rout

Everton manager Roberto Martinez
Everton manager Roberto Martinez

Chris Bascombe

When Leighton Baines committed his future to Everton and set his sights on the Champions League, he knew the first serious test of such ambition would be immediate.

As Luis Suarez scurried away to put Liverpool four up at a rapturous Anfield, the England left-back must already have realised that proposition is even tougher than when he put pen to paper.

The Roberto Martinez era at Goodison Park has been relentlessly positive, and even in the face of an Anfield onslaught this registered as the first – in reality the only – sober evening of his fledgling reign.

That it should come against Liverpool is as galling as it gets but perhaps reality was always going to dawn at some point in what has still been an exceptional debut season on Merseyside for the Spanish coach. It was only Everton's third league defeat of the season. There are no consolations when you lose a derby, though.

If Liverpool's build-up to the fixture was full of anguish – the fear the squad is not fully equipped for the long haul in the top-four pursuit still lingers – Evertonians harboured similar doubts.

Their injury list was as debilitating as their opponents heading into the fixture and exacerbated by the loss of Romelu Lukaku.

How they will need Lacina Traore to be an instant success when he gains match fitness. If Liverpool's John W Henry was being urged to locate his chequebook before the game, Everton's Bill Kenwright will be hearing the same message this morning.

Sylvain Distin's absence was felt most, Antolin Alcarez unable to cope with the pace and trickery of Suarez and Daniel Sturridge and how Seamus Coleman would have relished the opportunity to take on Aly Cissokho.

UNRECOGNISABLE

On derby day, only the result matters, but Everton confirmed what we already know under Martinez. They are unrecognisable from the team David Moyes brought here.

That argument has been used to beat up Martinez's predecessor, but the risky attacking strategy was evident as, even when four down, the Everton full-backs were prepared to get caught upfield and leave acres free at the back. There was an increasing element of naivety in the strategy, but that is Martinez's way. It has yielded success until now.

Some might see it as a case of being careful what you wish for. For years, the visiting fans have been calling for a more audacious approach to this fixture.

How they will have craved a stifling defence and midfield here ahead of the Anfield derby last May, the Everton manager was in sober mood when assessing the position of Merseyside football.

"At the moment the strength of the Manchester clubs is overpowering. We're going to find it difficult to keep up," he said, citing the gulf in attendances and corporate strength. The irony will not be lost that it was Moyes who made the observation. The current Manchester United manager is still chasing those above in the opposite direction down the M62.

The win sees Liverpool move within six points of the top of the table, three points clear in fourth of Tottenham who face Manchester City tonight, and staying in that top four remains the Reds' first priority as they seek a return to the Champions League.

"That's our target and it's been our target since pre-season,'' said captain Steven Gerrard.

"We've got two world class forwards and against anyone we've got a chance."

Regardless of the one-sided outcome of this fixture, the consolation for both teams is the circumstances differ from those in recent years.

Victory was consequential only for an extra £500,000 for finishing fifth or sixth last season. There is a potential £30m at stake if Liverpool or Everton finish fourth.

This result confirms Liverpool as the most likely to reach the promised land in the near future. For Martinez, the most pressing engagement is to restore morale.

Meanwhile, Sturridge somehow managed to sound disappointed with his efforts after his two-goal salvo. Sturridge was visibly upset as he came off but insisted he was frustrated only with himself and not manager Rodgers for taking him off.

"I apologise for my reaction," he said. "I was disappointed by missing the penalty and felt I'd let myself down as well as the fans. The hat-trick would have been the icing on the cake and it's unfortunate." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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