After a poor season for Everton, things can only get better next season, right?
Well, it seems that there’s a little bit of doom and gloom creeping in. The majority of the transfer speculation coming out of Everton at the moment seems to be players they might lose: Kevin Mirallas, James McCarthy, and of course John Stones. The positive rumours of a transfer into Goodison is the potential deal for Manchester United defender Jonny Evans.
The Stones bid is the one making the headlines today as Chelsea’s interest in the young England defender has angered Roberto Martinez. Forget the fact that Martinez is angry about the public nature of Chelsea’s bid and the fact that Mourinho has spoken to the press about it – which is probably bad form from Chelsea. But looking at Everton’s woes last season it’s easy to see why Martinez would be upset at the prospect of losing a quality defender from his side.
He’s under pressure, is Martinez. His job might not be on the line – at least, not imminently – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t feeling the pressure. Premier League management is tough at the best of times, but when your team plays like Everton did last term it’s even tougher.
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And that’s because of the defence. Martinez has lots of qualities as a manager and a tactician, but organising a defence doesn’t seem to be one of them right now. Last season, Everton shipped 50 Premier League goals. It’s harsh to compare stats sometimes, and especially so across seasons, but that’s ten more goals than Moyes’s side shipped in his final season at the helm. That season – 2012-13 – Martinez’s Wigan conceded 73 as they won the FA Cup but couldn’t stave off the drop.
It’s not fair on Martinez to compare him too much to Moyes, but some comparison is fair. Everton fans must surely love the difference in style of the attacking play, and how the Toffees are so sumptuous going forward when they’re on their day. Yet those same fans must dread seeing the other team in possession. To say that the Everton defence last season was ‘suspect’ is to grossly undersell the problem.
It wasn’t simply a case of organisation and talent – when individual errors started creeping in, it seemed to emphasise the whole problem. Every time Alcaraz or Jagielka slipped you felt like the comedy noises and laugh tracks weren’t far behind.
So to lose Stones would be a huge blow for Martinez. Even if you rate Jonny Evans, and you think he’s a capable replacement with Premier League experience, it’s still a huge blow.
Moyes brought Stones into the club in 2013 for £3m. So to sell him for a reported ten times that price is good business, but to entrust the replacement signing to Martinez is perhaps less so. After all, Martinez is a man who bought Antolin Alcaraz twice. That’s like buying the same truck stop sushi twice. It didn’t end well for Everton, surprisingly.
But at least Martinez knows what he has to do to make the team successful – sort out the defence. If he has to lose John Stones then so be it. The task will be the same, or at least similar. Because it doesn’t really look like it’s simply the players who are the problem. Over the years we’ve seen enough of Jagielka, Baines and Coleman to know that they’re competent Premier League players. Add John Stones alongside Jagielka and you have a pairing that could play most games both for Everton and – more fancifully – for England. And if it were to be Evans then that’s not an awful Premier League pairing on paper either.
Everton need to cut out the silly mistakes and get the defence tightened up. It can’t be totally down to the players, so the manager has to get it right. Let’s just hope that if Stones does go, Martinez won’t raid the same truck stop where he found Alcaraz.