In December 2013, a 1-0 win at Old Trafford was perhaps the crowning achievement of Roberto Martinez’s first season in charge at Everton. Like the performance at Arsenal that followed it, it was an expression of the swashbuckling Sin Miedo attitude that the Catalan had quickly instilled at Goodison Park; so much the better that it was against David Moyes, the man charged by many fans of holding the Blues’ ambitions in check for so long, that he wiped away a 21-year winless run on Manchester United’s turf and seemingly ushered in a new, upwardly mobile era at Everton.
Fast forward 29 months and another 1-0 result has condemned Everton to a league double of defeats to Louis van Gaal’s uninspiring outfit on the back of a performance gallingly lacking in direction, spirit or purpose. It’s the fourth game the Toffees have lost in five Premier League games now, their stirring FA Cup win over Chelsea jarringly at odds with the failures against West Bromwich Albion, West Ham, Arsenal and now United.
Where once this Everton team under Martinez was dynamic, exciting and fearless, today they looked lifeless, unimaginative and, once they’d fallen behind, seemingly resigned to their fate. Only Phil Jagielka seemed to carry the requisite desire to drag his team-mates out of their torpor and, on another day, he might have salvaged a paper-over-the-cracks equaliser. Like his restored central defensive partner, John Stones, he was perhaps the only outfield player in blue to emerge with any credit.
The game itself was a fairly lacklustre affair from start to finish, one that Everton started well enough, even if the final execution wasn’t there. Gerard Deulofeu, also recalled to the starting XI, carried the chief threat for the Blues down the right flank, bursting past Marcos Rojo on two or three occasions and taking the otherwise impressive Daley Blind to the cleaners on another as skipped inside before eventually over-running the ball in a promising position.
A brilliant steal by Tom Cleverley saw him get the ball quickly to Romelu Lukaku but the Belgian’s attempted back-heel to the on-rushing Aaron Lennon was telegraphed and easily cut out by Blind.
They were brief flashes in an otherwise flaccid display, though, one let down by the near-constant preoccupation with trying to get the ball up to Lukaku as quickly but haphazardly as possible. It was being pinged forward with annoying frequency but the big striker barely won an aerial duel all afternoon and when the ball did find him, he was too often an isolated island of frustration and sulking body language in the ocean of United’s own half.
The home side weren’t much better but they passed with more precision and almost had the first effort on target in the 17th minute when Anthony Martial wriggled away from the attentions of Jagielka and Stones and unleashed a shot that whistled inches past the far post.
The Frenchman almost got on the end of the most incisive passing interchange of the first 45 minutes shortly before the interval but was shut down by a terrific block tackle by Stones that ensured matters were goalless at half time.
A first-half policy of containment followed by a gradual increase in pressure in the second half has often been Martinez’s modus operandi away from home and that appeared to have been the strategy this time around. Everton began the second period on the front foot and were enjoying their best spell of possession before they shot themselves in the foot with poor defending nine minutes in at the other end.
Leighton Baines, still suffering on the whole from the lack of any discernible partnership down the Blues’ left flank, found Lukaku brilliantly with a pass through a massive hole in United’s defence but the striker’s turn and shot in front of goal was foiled by Blind’s leg and it deflected behind for a corner.
Three minutes later, a rare set-piece routine saw Baines fire corner to Cleverley on the edge of the penalty area but his effort was blocked. In the main, however, Everton lacked guile and any semblance of conviction, their performance summed up succinctly by a moment in the 53rd minute when a Joel Robles clearance squirmed through into space in front of United’s area but Lukaku and Deulofeu left it for each other and in the end it was scooped up by Blind.
A minute later, it was 1-0. Substitute Tim Fosu-Mensah crossed hard and low behind the visitors’ defence, Coleman, encapsulating that lack of conviction infecting the team, failed to react to the danger posed behind him by Martial and the Frenchman capitalised on his error by striking home off the goalkeeper.
Everton’s response was almost immediate but Jagielka could only watch as his header from a corner thumped off the crossbar. Later, the defender would see another dangerous effort off a set-piece foiled by an all-too-familiar reaction save by David De Gea but that was as close as Martinez’s dispirited side came to getting anything out of the game.
The tiring Deulofeu was replaced in the 62nd minute by Kevin Mirallas but it did little to alter the pattern of the game. Indeed, there didn’t appear to be much pattern or organisation to Everton at all by this stage. Ross Barkley and Cleverley appeared to be rotating between deeper-lying and more advanced roles but the latter spent almost all of his time with his back to goal, laying off harmless lateral passes. On one of the few occasions he managed to break free into space, he had to wait so long for reinforcements that never arrived that he was, predictably, dispossessed.
Lennon had been given license to roam behind Lukaku but while his pressing was typically energetic, he offered very little going forward. And with neither fullback really contributing much from an offensive standpoint, it really wasn’t surprising that Everton didn’t manage a shot on target until the 83rd minute.
After one of the most telling low centres into the six-yard box had just eluded Lukaku, Barkley was eventually hooked with three minutes of the regulation 90 to go in favour of Oumar Niasse but it was a desperate toss of the dice and the Senegal international’s brief cameo did little to dispel the notion that he is nowhere near ready for regular action in the Premier League.
Andre Marriner’s final whistle that called time on another disappointing afternoon confirmed the latest setback for Martinez’s increasingly doomed efforts to revive a second successive season of chronic under-achievement. The result, only the second league defeat on the road of the campaign, damaged an away record that has become an increasingly incongruous and misleading indicator of Everton’s form in 2015-16.
In the immediate aftermath of a loss that leaves his side marooned in the bottom half of the table and level on points with promoted Bournemouth (albeit with a game in hand… at Anfield!), Martinez appeared to flounder for answers, falling back on his well-worn refrain that “we’ve got to get better.” Sadly, the Blues’ momentum is going in the other direction and the defences for a manager seemingly unable to stem the tide are rapidly falling away.
Phrases like “lost the dressing room” are bandied about fairly freely these days but the depressing lack of desire or pain exhibited by Martinez’s charges should be deeply disturbing to Evertonians. It reveals a lack of buy-in and a dangerous shortage of faith in his methods and should call into serious question the Catalan’s continued tenure of the Goodison hotseat.
In that sense, the FA Cup has become a significant distraction — seemingly for the players as much as supporters. In the broader picture, however, on the basis of continued under-performance in the all-important Premier League, the margin by which he will fall short of even challenging the top four this term, and his paling record in contrast to his predecessor, Martinez’s position at Everton is surely and quickly becoming untenable.
Matchday UpdatesThe Toffees were finally back in action after yet another international break with a trip to Manchester United. Roberto Martinez named a strong starting line-up including Gerard Deulofeu making his first start since January against Swansea City. Ramiro Funes Mori and Mo Besic were the players dropped to the bench, with John Stones reinstated to the Everton defence. Cleverley appeared to be playing in covering mode for Gareth Barry who served the second and final game of his suspension.
With Fellaini of the bench, Man Utd kicked off after the unwelcome distraction of the South Stand being renamed after Sir Bobby, and it was cagey stuff from both sides until Lennon seemed to have released Lukaku but an utterly atrocious first touch saw the big man leave the ball behind him. McCarthy got whacked and needed some attention.
Rashford almost caught out the Everton defence with an audacious backheel and it earned the first corner of the game that the Blues repelled. After some head-tennis, Everton won a free-kick that Baines drove in well enough but the Blue shirts failed to make contact. Barkley fed Deulofeu rather than shooting and the young Spaniard darted infield past Rojo but ran into a cul-de-sac rather than making a telling pass.
Cleverley did brilliantly to regain possession and stride forward, feeding Lukaku who wanted to hold the ball up and hold off Blind, his backheel to Cleverley nowhere near clever enough and far too easily picked off.
At the other end, Martial got off a fierce shot that flew inches wide, thanks to an unseen deflection off Baines's arse. The Blues slowed the pace of the game down, intent on retaining possession but giving it up far too easily, although the hosts were hardly any better.
Another good run in by Deulofeu saw McCarthy fouled a little closer to the hosts' penalty area, but Baines could only clip the wall with it. He hooked the ensuing corner to Lukaku at the far post but his header bounced out. More poor ball-control saw lots of midfield turnovers.
A Man Utd corner was cleared. Stones did his bit to play out of defence and pick out Lennon but the attack broke down when the ball was fed to Lukaku and, in no time, it was another corner for Man Utd, followed by a lot of scrapy stuff around the edge of the Everton area before a goal-kick was awarded. Utd attacked again but Rashford was dispossessed. He then fired in at an angle on Robles.
Half-hour gone and a pretty even contest, with neither side paying particularly well, with so many switches of possession, Stones with a poor clearance to a Utd player... twice! He then was well positioned as a defender to clear a dangerous cross from Mata.
Utd were suddenly pressing much more effectively, Coleman had to be very smart to deny Rashford a shot with a fantastic block-tackle inside his own area. But with the ball, Everton were trying to pick out Lukaku with punted percentage balls that continually struggled to master.
A brilliant piece of play by the hosts looked to set up a gaol but fantastic defending in a superb scissors move by Stones and Baines together, Stones with a superbly timed defensive tackle in the penalty area, snuffed out the danger brilliantly. More neat Everton possession going forward... but taking far to long to get near the Utd goal.
Barkley tried to give Lukaku a ball to run onto but it was too far ahead of the big man, who had failed to anticipate it. At the other end, Martial tried to break through the Everton defence but handled the ball.
Not a classic, both teams neutralizing each other in the fist half before either side could get sight of the opposing goalkeeper... perhaps some Bobby Charlton-style rocketry from distance could break the deadlock in the second half.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah replaced Rojo before Everton resumed play, pumping the ball pointlessly toward Lukaku. Rashford tried and failed to beat Jagielka out wide. Lukaku held up a free-kick from Stones well and Everton kept the presson , Baines playing a great ball in to Lukaku, his shot blocked just wide of the post, and the corner coming to nought. Proabbly Everton's best spell yet.
Deulofeu was screaming for a foul from Blind, that was evenmtually called by Andre Marriner. Baines again on the set-piece, winning a corner off a defensive header. Baines into the danger area but half-cleared, Coleman's shot blocked by Rashford's arm.
A mix-up at the back for Utd should have seen Lukaku or Deulofeu go for the ball but neither bothered, and Man Utd waltzed up the other end, a clever piece of play and cross to Martial at the far post by the sub was turned in with ease.
Deulofeu tried a text-book cross that deflected to De Gea. Everton won a corner, brilliantly swung in by Deulofeu, and a fantastic bullet header from Jagielka almost broke the crossbar, as he stooped a fraction too low after smartly evading his man. The Bues couldn't clear their lines, though, and suffered some home pressure, Barkley, Stones and others all losing possession. Lingard missed a wicked cross from Mata and Stones cleaned up.
Robles did a nice Stones impression, playing the ball away from Lingard, but the Blues could not get out of their half, as Mirallas replaced Deulofeu... like for like, SOP from Martinez.
Barkley lost possession again under zero pressure but Stones eventually cleared yet another Man Utd attack, the blues still failing to build anything yet again, because every clearance was finding a red shirt, with no-one showing for the ball.
A nice ball from Barkley played to Lukakau's feet after a great knock-down from Mirallas hit the back of his heel. A ball played over the top to Lukaku for him to run onto in typical laboured fashion saw Darmian get in his way and win a free-kick, but at least Everton were no longer under continual pressure, Mirallas trying to shoot but blocked.
Nice play from Baines, Lukaku to Barkley saw the youngster get around the back but fire over a wayward cross rather than shooting in on goal. Lukaku was lazily offside for a good ball forward from Baines. Jagielka was required to halt the next Utd attack as the Red pressure resumed until the ball was lumped forward in the vague direction of Lukaku and out of play.
Baines crossed in lazily from the left, straight to De Gea, as Everton struggled to really threaten. More sideways and backward passing from Everton went nowhere with Barkley ambling around, possibly injured. With time running down, Everton didn't really look like changing the scoreline despite having played their part in another strictly limited display, with the manager incapable or uninterested in doing anything to change the game.
A slightly better move saw Coleman cross, Valencia in front of Lukaku fora corner that again Jagielka could have scored from but he powered his snapshot straight at De Gea. A free-kick played back to Cleverley blocked away, and suddenly Man Utd were storming, five on one, but McCarthy was across ferociously as the game finally came to life.
Everton broke but then stalled as Barkley dithered around but the ball got out to Coleman and a fantastic cross should have been converted by Lukaku, who was a step behind so it wasn't... then Lukaku burst through but could not shoot and Cleverley could do little nore behind him.
Three minutes for the 50-60% man Niasse to show what he could do in place of Barkley. Niasse broke forward but his pass was consummate laziness, straight to a red shirt and Man Utd pressed again. Lingard was carded for a cynical trip on Stones.
Everton made one final push, Niasse trying to force his way past Smalling and failing miserably. Everton had played their part in a poor game, perhaps a little better than the last outing against Arsenal, but a poor result, their second loss away from home, 10th loss of the season.
Scorers: Martial (54')
Manchester United: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling [Y], Blind (81' Valencia), Rojo (46' Fosu-Mensah), Schneiderlin, Carrick (58' Herrera), Lingard [y:82'], Mata, Martial, Rashford.
Subs not Used: Romero,Young, Fellaini, Memphis.
Everton: Robles, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Baines, McCarthy, Cleverley, Deulofeu (62' Mirallas), Lennon, Barkley, (88' Niasse), Lukaku.
Subs not Used: Howard, Funes Mori, Besic, Oviedo, Kone.
Referee: Andre Marriner
From my seat: Man Utd (A)
A trip down the East Lancs to Old Trafford always has us wondering if this is the game where we show we can match them and come away with a win. We hope we have left our knives behind and gone with the correct armoury to contest a gun fight. The pre- game chat centred on the Lukaku interviews in Belgium and rather than berate the lad for disrespecting our club most thought he was probably ill advised to do it when he did but quite understandable considering the progress of the club since he joined on loan.
It was a good debate and before I knew it we had lost not only Lukaku but Stones, Barkley and Deulofeu as well as the fans assembled were in no doubt our present manager would only continue the backward trend. Although this view is gaining momentum today the Blue Army was not letting it show as it sung and chanted and had a good rehearsal of Wembley songs as support for the players was on show.
We had a big fanfare to laud Sir Bobby Charlton who had a stand named in his honour. His achievements in 60 years of being involved with the club were read out and warmly received.
We won the toss and changed ends and Man Utd kicked off. After just 10 mins I asked my mate if he had any idea who was playing where? We had eleven on the field and only the keeper and our two centre-backs looked have a position. Players were popping up all over the place in what was either a masterful tactical ploy or no one knew exactly what to do except run about a lot and at pace. Man Utd were looking no better and the game settled into a series of attacks from both teams that bothered defences very little.
Early on Barkley got on the ball and moved forward but instead of shooting he spread the ball wide to Deulofeu who came inside at pace beating two men but then ran into a further four and that chance was gone. Then Barkley disappeared from the game for a while. Stones was faring better than most as he seems to have had a few lessons in defending that carries minimum risk. In one piece of play he beat his man with a neat turn and strode out of defence with the ball, looked up, and delivered a peach of a pass but alas to a Red shirt. United then came close when the speedy Martial cut in from the right and his shot just missed the far post. 20 minutes gone and although the game was dull you could at least say it was even.
We gained a free kick in a good position for a Baines who swung it in but hit a defender and we got a corner. Baines took to the back post where Lukaku was lurking, he headed it back across goal, beat everyone so goal kick to Utd who went down the other end and gained a corner. The ball came into the box and from the melee Stones strode out and fed a fine ball to Lennon now popping up on the left and he fed Lukaku, his first touch was not of the required standard and he lost the ball and Utd had another spell at attacking our goal but with Jags and Stones solid we sort of scrambled the ball clear but with no one up it kept coming back into our box until thankfully one of their players headed hopelessly wide. For the last ten minutes of the half Utd were well on top but we kept them out with some great blocks from Jags and one superb sliding tackle from Stones and consequent clearance kept us level until the whistle.
Half-time: 0-0. It was quite an even half but our team looked as though it had been put together for a testimonial game. Some decent individual stuff but where oh where was the teamwork.
Second half and Man Utd made a sub we were as we started and we started as we had finished the first half so I wasn’t filled with too much hope yet the start of this half was when I thought we played our best stuff of the match. A little bit of joined up stuff crept in after we had realised that booting the ball directly at the lonesome unsupported Lukaku was only ever going to surrender possession. Baines linked with Jags and sent a grass cutter into the feet of Lukaku in the box, in one movement he turned and shot but alas the ball was diverted for a corner by the desperate lunge of his marker. Close that was.
Then after the corner was cleared Coleman at last found a decent pass and fed Deulofeu and he was off like a rat up a drainpipe only to be wrestled down By Blind who got no more than a telling off. It was a good squeal from Geri though. From the free kick Baines got a corner which he took and got another one that he swung in well that was poorly dealt with but Coleman following up hit a hard shot but it never had a chance of getting through all the bodies in the box. We did have a loud handball shout though as the ball seemed to hit a defenders arm, the Ref who was Mr Marriner, contemptuously waved the protestations away.
The game meandered on and became quite open as both teams had good reason to get a result albeit for differing reasons. The Utd manager made tweaks to his teams approach by the introduction of subs yet our man was unmoving on that front. This paid off for them after the 50min mark when the move of the day saw a long diagonal ball of some 60 yards found a Utd man who controlled it first time with aplomb fed it inside to a player who back heeled it into the path of his team mate who crossed across goal and at the far post Coleman seemed to completely miss the ball leaving Martial the simple task of hitting off the sprawling Robles and into the net. Somehow we just knew that it was going to be yet another loss for us. This thought was compounded just minutes later when Deulofeu put in a great corner that our captain showed grit and fight in losing his man and firing in a superb header that beat the keeper all ends up but not the crossbar. Wouldn’t you just know it?
I wondered about a sub for us as we reached the hour mark as we may as well go two up top or even three and go for it as we looked toothless as it was. At that moment Mirallas was sent on but alas it was like for like as Deulofeu went off.
Barkley was just flitting in and out of the game and each time I noticed him he always seemed to be about 5yds either side of the halfway line and rarely running at their back line. Surely he should be up behind Rom as the Belgian was on starvation rations and we are 1-0 down plus the fact Utd were looking no better than us.
Mirallas was bringing a bit of help with some sharp play but it was always breaking down in their box through a myriad of reasons that most could be traced back to poor first control of the ball. One of these Mirallas inspired moves at last saw Barkley surge to the left of the penalty area but his well hit cross merely cleared everyone and went for a throw in on the opposite flank.
The game petered out with both sides having spells of attacking and both sides were guilty of failing to even look like capitalising on some reasonable approach work. To be fair you could highlight nearly moments like if Lukaku had been more aware of a Coleman cross, If Jags could have got more power and height from a corner kick, if Lukaku and Cleverly could have got shots off after bursting through but it was all IF. We were though trying to stage a grandstand finish with play fashioned by the players on the park.
I would have liked to see the manager show some understanding of our position and try something, anything that just might have aided the player’s mind-set and confidence but he just seemed to stand there and let them get on with it without his help. We sometimes laugh at the antics of certain managers but at least the players know they care as much as them. Do you know I think he made it worse when he sent on Niasse for Barkley at the death only for our £13.5 million pound man merely impersonate a footballer. That may be a bit harsh but it was how I was feeling when I jotted it down.The whistle went and yet again we come off the ground feeling low after yet another loss.
MotM: Jagielka or Stones for me
Overall it was an unspectacular game that I am sure I was not alone in thinking that with a bit more of a joined up team effort we could have got the points with a bit to spare. We have the players to do it as we have witnessed it on a few occasions but never with a consistency that should get the rewards. Game after game we wonder which Everton will turn up. Game after game we seem semi prepared for a loss. And we all end up where we started Game after game we ask what the manager is doing about it.
The manager has stated we can shop at Harrods now but the real question for the board is. -. Whichever players he gets can he make a joined up team out of them as so far you have to say this is not happening with what he has now.
It is easy for us fans to say he must go but with the words coming out of Goodison it seems he is here for a while yet but surely the decline over three seasons cannot be just brushed under the carpet especially when some of his players now seem to have itchy feet. Three seasons seems a reasonable length of time to see progress or not and at least convene a board meeting to look into our prospects by leaving things as they are or indeed looking for a clear out and head hunt someone who can meet the ambition of our new board and take advantage of player investment.
With the chance of a cup final in the offing it is sad to be talking like this but cup win or not if we stay as we are then any players we get that show real progression will be cherry picked so that they can fulfil their ambitions and we will forever be playing catch up from a middle of the table position being billed as the best nursery in the Premier League.
Still maybe a miracle is on the horizon and we will be FA Cup holders and back in Europe with a joined up consistent team. Here’s hoping.
UP THE BLUES
After what has felt like an interminable international break, one dominated from the Everton perspective by Romelu Lukaku and the very public expression of his Champions League ambitions, the Toffees are back in action with a trip to Manchester United tomorrow.
It's a fixture that has, historically in the Premier League era, been a routinely painful one but, with Everton boasting their strongest squad in a generation and United struggling post-Ferguson to match the feats of their long-serving manager, this should have been a game between two sides battling for a place in the top four.
Instead, the Blues are floundering once more in the wrong half of the table and the Red Devils, despite looking entirely unconvincing for most of the campaign, are still in the hunt for Champions League qualification and can move back onto the shoulders of neighbours Manchester City with a win this weekend. For Roberto Martinez, with 10th place six points away, a victory would be huge if he is to avoid a second successive bottom-half finish.
That Old Trafford history coupled with Everton's record against the teams above them this season means that Evertonians won't be travelling along the M62 with unbridled confidence. Chelsea's ascent into the top half of the Premier League has inflated by one the number of teams that Martinez's side have beaten this season but, like their general under-performance this season, the Blues' record against the division's top teams has been pretty dismal so far.
Just four wins against the teams above them paints its own picture for Everton; any improvement on that score over the final nine games would be too little, too late but it would at least provide some consolation for the manager as he seeks to relieve some of the pressure on his shoulders and prepare for the FA Cup semi-final — possibly against Louis van Gaal's men — in three weeks' time.
Martinez's shift in rhetoric following the horror show against Arsenal last time out where he hinted that players could be playing for their futures over the rest of the campaign suggests that he could make changes for this one. Poor defensive showings in the three home defeats to West Brom, West Ham and the Gunners make centre half an obvious starting point and given the Catalan has been trying to shoe-horn John Stones back into the defence since he recovered from injury, it would not be surprising to see him start. Whether that's in a back three or at the expense of one of Phil Jagielka or Ramiro Funes Mori remains to be seen but you'd imagine it wouldn't be the skipper who makes way.
In midfield, Gareth Barry is suspended but Muhamed Besic's personal struggles in the last game may give Martinez pause over selecting the Bosnian from the start even though he has since had the opportunity to work that personal nadir out of his system with two full games for his country. Tom Cleverley would be a natural alternative but that would leave a hole in left midfield, one that the manager prefers to fill with a more defensively-minded player against the presumed better teams.
Kevin Mirallas is fit again but may have irrevocably blotted his copy book with his sending off against West Ham, Oumar Niasse doesn't look ready to start, and Martinez hasn't shown much appetite for playing Gerard Deulofeu on the opposite flank — or two wingers, for that matter. Bryan Oviedo, the hero of this fixture two seasons ago, could be an option pushed forward into midfield from left back, however. Steven Pienaar played in the recent behind-closed-doors friendly against Östersund but his fitness status isn't clear while Leon Osman is another option.
Whomever Martinez selects, his team will face a stern challenge against a United team that, their Europa League failings aside, have been showing signs of finding some rhythm on their own turf in recent weeks following mounting criticism over their mind-numbing football. Since losing at home to Southampton in January, they've have won all three of their League games and prevailed in the Manchester derby last time out to keep their hopes of sneaking into the top four alive.
Again, with the all-important cup semi-final in mind and the question marks over Martinez's ability to take this team forward, this is fixture is about more than just playing for pride and the boost in Premier League merit payments that can be clawed back with every place higher Everton this season.
With eyes on the future, every performance will likely be scrutinized between now and May so both players and manager have plenty to prove and much still to play for, even in what has become a fruitless league campaign.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Predicted line-up: Robles, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Baines, McCarthy, Cleverley, Oviedo, Lennon, Barkley, Lukaku