In the aftermath of Everton‘s defeat to Manchester United over the weekend, which sees the Toffees hovering perilously above the Premier League relegation zone, Roberto Martinez had the following to say about Radamel Falcao’s winning goal:
“We’re disappointed with the second goal. I thought the referee made a major, major error. Steven Pienaar was on the ground, we made it clear to the referee to stop the game and he allowed it to play on and it was very, very disappointing.
“Steven receives a knock and he goes to ground, the ball is in front of him and the referee is well aware of it. He is talking with fourth official.
“It is a clear-cut decision. The law says if the player is on the ground and the ball is not in a dangerous position you need to stop the game.
“Man United attacks and the ball ends up in our net and I don’t think that is fair. I think that action was a big mistake from the referee.”
Watching the particular incident again renders the Everton manager’s claim somewhat dubious. Pienaar goes to ground near the Manchester United penalty area as soon as the Red Devils launch a long ball forward which leads to Falcao’s goal just 25 seconds later. Even if he had not gone down, it is highly unlikely that Pienaar would have backtracked from such an advanced position in order to help out with the defence, given the speed of the move that leads to the goal. One could also argue that the ball was in fact in a dangerous position throughout the move and that halting the game would have conversely been unfair on United.
Martinez has every right to feel aggrieved at the defeat, especially when Leighton Baines’ missed penalty at the end of the first half could have seen his side leave Old Trafford with at least a point. However, crying foul over Falcao’s legitimate goal smacks of sour grapes on the Everton boss’s behalf, and is perhaps the first sign that the pressure is starting to get to the usually cool-headed Spaniard.
Replicating last season’s fifth-placed finish – during which Everton amassed a club record points total – was always going to be a tall order for Martinez given that the Toffees’ rivals have all strengthened considerably. Manchester United are no longer the laughing stock of the league and Tottenham Hotspur look stronger, and crucially, more stable, than last year.
Consequently, a top-seven finish coupled with decent runs in both domestic and European cup competitions would surely have constituted a successful second season for Martinez in the eyes of the majority of Everton fans.
However, Everton’s alarming start to the season means that even these relatively modest aspirations may be somewhat optimistic. With 13 goals in seven games, they are the joint-third top scorers in the league, yet the 16 goals they have conceded is the most of any team. Martinez spent the bulk of his transfer budget on securing the services of Romelu Lukaku on a permanent basis, and although the marquee signing of the Belgian striker signals the club’s lofty ambitions, the failure to sufficiently strengthen the defence was, in retrospect, a glaring oversight.
Sylvain Distin has come under criticism for a number of errors and at 36 years of age is on his last legs, and while Martinez may have viewed John Stones as a successor to Distin at centre-back this season, the England youngster’s injury at Old Trafford leaves Everton’s defensive options stretched worryingly thin.
A lengthy and gruelling Europa League campaign may also test the limits of Martinez’ squad. Success in the competition should always be desirable for the teams competing, yet it has proved to be notoriously hard for clubs to accommodate a productive league campaign with participation in European football’s second-tier cup competition. Luckily for the Toffees, they do not have to travel far for the remaining away games in their group, and these ties against Lille and Wolfsburg should not induce any travel fatigue, yet long journeys to the far reaches of Eastern Europe remain a possibility if they are to progress in the competiton, which could easily take its toll on the players and ultimately impact the team’s domestic performances.
After the giddy, record-breaking heights of his debut season, the honeymoon period is very much over for Roberto Martinez at Goodison Park, to be replaced by the harsh realities of managing a top-seven side with European aspirations. If he is able to shore up his defence and find a viable balance between domestic and continental commitments, Martinez can ensure that Everton will be celebrating another successful season in May, and the Spaniard undeniably has the talent and footballing knowledge to do so. However, in the increasingly ruthless world of modern football where instant success is paramount, what he does not have is time. A crucial sophomore season awaits.
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