After David Moyes accepted the prestigious role to be manager of Manchester United, succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson, Everton were left in search for a new manager. As Moyes was the third longest serving Premier League manager at the time, and for many football fans had become almost synonymous with Everton, the search for the new manager was not only strange, but also hugely important for Everton as they would want to have another long-serving manager in an attempt to continue the stability they had under Moyes. Several names were being thrown around in contention for the job – with the majority being younger managers. Managers such as Vitor Periera, Malky Mackay and even Alan Stubbs, who’s currently a coach at Everton.
In the end, the club settled with Wigan manager Roberto Martinez. It was a great move for both parties, Everton have a young, talented manager, whilst Martinez now has a stable top half, European challenging team, rather than a relegation threatened team. So, what are the signs of Martinez’s first three months in the job, and does it seem as though it’s a successful appointment?
Roberto Martinez: Background
Despite having a fourteen year playing career, Martinez didn’t have the most successful playing career, with only 17 top division appearances under his belt – one for Real Zaragoza and sixteen for Motherwell. He did, however, enjoy extended playing spells with clubs he later on went to manage. He spent six years playing for Wigan, winning the Football League Third Division and Football League Trophy in the process. Then, later he had a four year spell with Swansea, where he enjoyed two promotions as well as another Football League Trophy medal. His only other honour as a player was the Copa Del Rey for Real Zaragoza, which he won despite only making one cup appearance for the Spanish side. His final season as a player was spent with Chester City in League Two, where he made 31 appearances.
Despite having less honours, his managerial career so far has probably been more successful than his playing career. He guided Swansea to promotion, and then secured them as a Championship side. It wasn’t necessarily achievements that made his Swansea side stand out however, but instead how they played and their transfer policy. They played the football we’re now used to seeing from Swansea and Martinez sides, with great passing and movement, with pressing. Then, they had some gems in players like Jordi Gomez and Jason Scotland – who both went to Wigan with him.
In 2009 he made his move to the Premier League on controversial circumstances, as many thought of him as being a ‘Judas’ to Swansea. Being in charge of Wigan is what made him more recognised on a wider stage though, with Wigan becoming a favoured club for many neutrals. He did great work with them, as they became stronger each year, and showed some great form towards the end of each season to somehow pull themselves out of the relegation zone – until the final season of course. The football they played was great, with fluid attacking football as well as a good pressing game.
Their transfer policy was also one of the most efficient in the Premier League, with lots of young players being signed from Britain and going on to be sold for a profit – the likes of Victor Moses, James McCarthy and Charles N’Zogbia – as well as some more obscure signings from lesser known places – like Maynor Figueroa, Wilson Palacios and Roger Espinoza. He led the club to their first major honour in the FA Cup, but couldn’t save them from relegation, which was probably the deciding factor in accepting the Everton job – as he had turned other Premier League clubs down in the past to stay with Wigan.
Now in charge of Everton, he has a new challenge and although he will have to remain shrewd, he’ll have more resources than Wigan and will be able to attract a higher calibre of players than before. I think a big factor in why Everton opted for Martinz is his ability to succeed on a small budget, his transfer policy and history are both admirable and we’ve all been told on numerous occasions how Everton don’t have the resources to directly compete with the bigger teams, so that’s an important asset to have for the Everton job. Also, his expansive football may make a change from the rigid style of David Moyes.
Now Moyes has successfully secured Everton as a solid mid-table team, they should be able to play a bit more expressively and not be so cautious – obviously Martinez will be hoping his side is just as solid defensively, but will allow them to be a bit more expressive and fluid in attack. It’s as though Moyes has laid down the foundations, and now Martinez needs to take them to the next level, which to some could involve playing more aesthetically pleasing football.
A big part of Martinez’s style is the short, attractive passing, leading to possession football. Despite not being in charge long, Everton’s change of approach when it comes to possession is already noticeable. They average 56.3% possession this season, building on last season’s 52.9%, whilst also improving their pass accuracy by 4.7% to 84.1% – which is an even more commendable feat as they’ve played more passes per game this season. They’ve also gone from playing 369 short passes per game, to playing 439 short passes per game, a big improvement in such a small amount of time.
Martinez’s sides also seem to play a high-tempo brand of football, using possession as a form of attack, rather than defence, by being penetrative once in possession. Looking to attack the opposition, rather than stop them attacking. Ultimately, this is why Wigan’s counter-attacking was effective, and that is something that should continue at Everton, with players like Kevin Mirallas, Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley having the technical and physical capacities to launch successful counters.
A hugely effective, but hard to pull off, part of defending is pressing. Originally popularised in the ’70s with Rinus Michels and the Total Football ‘revolution’ it seems to having somewhat of a resurgence, with more clubs taking a pro-active pressing approach, trying to win the ball back as soon as possible after losing it.
We saw impressive pressing with Martinez at Wigan, and it seems to be carrying on at Everton. In the game against Chelsea, before taking the lead, the pressing was extremely effective, as they hardly allowed Chelsea any space in their own half, which led to several back passes that eventually recycled possession back to Everton.
You can see examples of this here:
In this image, Mirallas, Nikica Jelavic, Leon Osman (currently off-screen but is just behind Mata and will move forward and press) and Ross Barkley. Jelavic and Osman both cut off the forward passing option for Luiz, whilst Mirallas cut of the simple outball to the right back, and instead of Mikel being able to drop between the two centre-backs, that passing lane is cut off by Barkley. All this means Luiz can only go backwards, to Terry. This is what happens, but the pressing continues:
The Everton players continue pressing (Osman can now be seen) and the most impressive is Ross Barkley, who pressed like this until Everton made the breakthrough, constantly running beyond Jelavic and cutting off the passing lanes for the defenders. Here, he chases the ball after Luiz plays it backwards, meaning Terry can only go further backwards to Cech, as Mirallas, Jelavic and Osman cut off the other options. This led to Cech hitting it long, and Everton winning it back.
Against Manchester City, they started Romelu Lukaku ahead of Ross Barkley, which was probably better for the pressing as Lukaku presses along side Barkley, rather than Barkley running ahead of the forward and doing the majority of the pressing. An example of this can be seen here with Barkley and Lukaku along side:
After taking the lead against Chelsea, Everton operated more conservatively which could be seen as their pressing wasn’t so proactive, but instead they had a solid 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 shape, with Jelavic and Barkley acting like a ‘block’ – blocking the oppositions defence from their midfield. Two examples of this can be seen from the second half of the Chelsea game:
This is slightly reminiscent of the Everton side we would see under Moyes, and also makes me think Martinez will be able to do well with Everton and help them progress. At Wigan the attack was always praised but the defence constantly came under heavy criticism. Although some issues were fixed when they switched to their three/five at the back formation, they still regularly led the table for the most goals conceded and over the years had some huge beatings from the top sides. Whilst at Everton the defensive foundations have been laid, with the players being used to playing a rigid 4-4-1-1 shape and being solid in defence.
So, if you take that kind of defensive mentality their players have, and then add in the fluid attacking football, you’re practically finding a perfect medium between a rigid/solid defence, and a fluid and expressive attack. The 4-4-1-1 shape helps implement this kind of medium as it’s solid in defence with the two banks of four, whilst the one behind the striker is given a chance to roam and make himself free, so he’s ready to receive the ball out of defence and start the transition to attack. Which can be seen in the games as when Everton regain possession, a midfielder will drop between the centre-backs and Barkley will drop and receive the ball whilst the wingers and full-backs push forward – which brings us to the next point.
Defensive Distribution & Rotational Midfield
What’s becoming a common trend in football is the two centre-backs splitting and a midfield dropping between them to distribute the ball out of defence. It’s often related to teams playing aesthetic football, with a good example being Sergio Busquets of Barcelona dropping between the two centre-backs to play the ball out of defence to Xavi who can dictate the attacks, and then this allows the full-backs to push on. This can be seen in Leon Osman’s heat-map vs Chelsea, taken from Squawka:
As you can see, a lot of his ‘action’ came between the two centre-backs, as him and Barry both dropped deep in order to distribute the ball. Two more examples of this can be seen with Gareth Barry dropping between the centre-backs to receive the ball and allow the full-backs to push on.
Despite playing ahead of Barry and Osman, Barkley does also drop back quite frequently, leading to a rotational midfield, making it go from a ’2-1′ to a ’1-2′. This can actually be seen in the above picture on the left, as you can see Barkley drops towards the ball, whilst Osman moves forward into the space he then created. A better example can be seen here:
Barkley drops from Zone 14 (the typical place for a player playing just behind a striker) to Zone 11 (using this zoning system), leaving space in behind, that leads to Barry pushing further on, which in turn leads to Mirallas pushing inside, which will allow Leighton Baines to run down the line. This nearly all came around by Barkley dropping and making the midfield a ’1-2′, as it dragged Luiz out of position, allowing the space for Mirallas, bringing Ivanovic inside – giving Baines the time and space down the line.
With Everton placing a lot of importance on their full-backs, this is a hugely important part of their play, they need this kind of rotation and movement happening to allow the full-backs to have the space and time on the ball. Again, this conveniently brings me to my next point.
At Wigan, despite playing with three centre-backs, the full-backs weren’t that important to their play, as they were relatively conservative. However, at Everton they are hugely important. Last season Baines completed the most key passes in the league with 111, and 42% of their play went down his left side. This season hasn’t been much different so far, apart from both full-backs are now getting involved in the action, as they’re given more license to roam. Baines has yet again been their most creative player so far with 11 key passes, whilst Seamus Coleman is their second creative with 10 key passes.
Just how much they get forward and attack can be seen with this heat map from Squawka:
As you can see, they both forward frequently, especially Baines who has more ‘action’ in the opposition half than his own, apart from three spots. The full-backs seem to really help relieve players like Barkley and Mirallas of the burden of creativity. The main qualm I have with the 4-2-3-1 formation is that it’s easy to become very predictable as the player behind the striker is the main source of creativity, so you can end up going through them every attack, meaning if you cut him off from the play, you cut off the creativity of the entire team. However, with Mirallas coming inside and the full-backs pushing forward, even if they do cut off Barkley, as long as his movement/rotation is still on point there’s more than enough space for Baines and Coleman to push forward and still be creative – so that problem is eliminated.
So, was Roberto Martinez a good appointment? After only seven games in, it’s too early to make a definitive judgement, but the signs are definitely positive. With his credentials, it seemed like a good appointment, it was just a matter of whether he could transcend his style onto his new squad. The early signs seem to be saying he has done this successfully and he will do well with Everton. They’re adapting to his football, and although conceding a few more goals than they’d have liked to – which I’m sure will stop once they all get used to the new style, look at Southampton for example – they still have defensive solidity.
Overall, in my opinion, Martinez was a good appointment and Everton should go from strength to strength under him and he should be there for the long-term to continue the stability they had under Moyes.
Thanks for reading! I noticed all the screenshots are from the Chelsea game, which I didn’t want to do, but that was the first I re-watched looking for examples, and turns out they were also the best examples I found – so sorry about that!