Every season is a new beginning; a chance at success, of glory; an opportunity to right the wrongs of the previous year; a time for optimism and hope; freshness, invigoration and newness.
We know all of the relevant cliches and hyperboles which get thrown around by pundits in the media, and indeed by the clubs themselves, but this year feels a little too similar at Goodison, despite the new season quickly approaching.
Throughout last year, we conceded far too many sloppy goals – a large proportion of which came from opposition set pieces with players unable to stick with their man. One of the main gripes I hear from fans is that we concede too many, and we score too few from set plays – and this isn’t about to change. Martinez has always stated that he isn’t a fan of set pieces, and has said in the past that he spends little time preparing his sides for them on the training ground. He has also said: “I always believe that a goal from open play is a more satisfying goal.”
And… “A free-kick or dead ball situation is less in your control. But you are relying more on the bounce of the ball or people switching off or doing their duties.”
Basically, Martinez feels that it is luck that is being relied on when a team scores a goal from a set play, rather than seeing that these are a huge part of our game. Last season, more than one in five goals scored in the Premier League stemmed from a set piece, with teams such as Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United taking full advantage. These set pieces are not “next to worthless” in the modern game (as “The Numbers Game” may suggest), but a crucial aspect in the modern era, and one which Everton refuse to make the most of. This is an infuriating aspect for any blue, as we concede plenty from them, and score very few. It is something that we need to improve on drastically, and something which needs to change now.
Another aspect of the game where Everton are weak is breaking down a defence when they are set up to defend against us. On the counter attack is still where Everton look most dangerous going forward. It has been a strength of ours since Martinez came, and we have seen players like Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu, Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku benefit from these surges forward from defence, joined quickly by Baines and Coleman from full-back.
In these situations we can often outnumber and out-think rattled and unorganised defences. However, the majority of the game, we seem to play at walking pace. We hold onto it and focus on keeping the ball initially before starting our attacks. During this time, the opposition gets organised and gets bodies behind the ball. This is fine if Everton had a player who could open up the defence, or even some movement to try to disrupt the organisation of the opposition, but Everton have neither.
In Singapore, I watched the friendly game against Arsenal and admired the Gunners’ speed of thought, their clinical and precise passing and, most of all, the movement. Off the ball, runners charged in different directions, eager to either drag a player out of position, or to receive the ball behind the defence. When I see Everton, I see players static, and seemingly happy to wait for the ball. The only movement I see is to the ball, rather than looking for a run in behind. The story was the same against Villarreal, UNTIL the introduction of Wayne Rooney, whose bursts in behind the La Liga side’s defence started to see us look dangerous. It is something that Barkey, Mirallas and Deulofeu need to learn, and they have ideal footage to learn from, whenever they watch Arsenal.
These elements of the game need to change quickly, or we could very soon find ourselves in a similar position to that which we were in last year. Time will tell, but we need to change to improve.