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The most important signing Everton manager Roberto Martinez needs to make this summer

Martinez

Blunted, possession-based football is a problem that has hampered Everton throughout almost the entirety of the 2014/15 season.

Any side in the division that doesn’t have the offensive incision required to control the game away from home has adopted a similar tactic when visiting Goodison Park this season: sit deep, cordon off spaces and let the Toffees play themselves into trouble.

It’s easy to see why, for the vast majority of teams have taken something positive away for their efforts. The issue again manifested into some tangible in emphatic style in Everton’s recent 2-0 defeat against Sunderland.

Despite having an overwhelming share of possession, more corners and more shots, the Black Cats seized a vital victory thanks to two deflected goals, leaving many pundits scratching their heads in disbelief.

For Evertonians, it’s a similar tale, though. And what puts this result—and the manner of the result—into sharper context is the opposition. After all, this was a Sunderland team that have been haemorrhaging goals as of late, but the Toffees made them look like masters of Catenaccio.

It was a loss that many of a blue persuasion shrugged off because of Everton’s plight. After the daring football of last season almost propelled Roberto Martinez’s men into the Champions League, this campaign has been a sobering one for the previously enchanted Blues. As you might expect, quips from the club about a charge for a top 10 finish haven’t stirred much emotion amongst the fanbase.

But to say Sunderland simply wanted this more is ignoring the obviously stylistic flaws within this team, the most pertinent of which is a painful dearth of ingenuity.

Make no mistake, the Toffees are blessed with two of the most exciting young attackers around in Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, while players like Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon offer a raw, direct threat from wide positions. But against sides who bunker in like Sunderland, while they may not be the most defensively savvy, the traits of those players are often not enough to prize open a stringent defense.

It’s why, for all the injury problems the Toffees have suffered this season, Steven Pienaar has arguably been the most costly absentee. Granted, the 33-year-old is not a long-term option and his perennial fitness woes could see him leave Goodison Park this summer, but his intricate, polished attributes have been dearly missed.

Pienaar has been a big miss for Everton this season.

Pienaar has been a big miss for Everton this season.

The statistics show why. Leighton Baines is Everton’s most prolific player in terms of assists with nine this season and that’s a damning inditement on the club’s midfield options. Indeed, according to WhoScored.com, Barkley has two, from 1850 minutes of football, while Mirallas has set up just one goal up in 1331 minutes on the pitch.

In fairness, the aforementioned quartet of players all need the pitch to open up in front of them to be at their most effective in games, while someone like Pienaar—who has two assists in just 316 minutes of Premier League football—thrives in tight spaces.

He’s not got the pace of Mirallas or Lennon, nor the running power of Barkley, but the intelligence he operates with has given Everton a vital edge to their attacking forays down the years. In addition, his tight control draws opposition players and creates space for those mentioned whose games are enriched because of it.

It’s no surprise that when the South African recently returned to the side against Swansea City, Everton played arguably their best segment of football in 2015. Martinez has tried to replicate this kind of dimension by playing Leon Osman on the left flank and while he’s an astute footballer, he doesn’t have the offensive instincts to compare with someone like Pienaar.

While problems with the goalkeeper, at the back, team rotation and up front have all coalesced to blemish this season for Everton, it’s this variety which has been the biggest debilitating factor. So it’s imperative Martinez looks to address the issue this summer by drafting in at least one player in the Pienaar mould; an attacker with all the attributes of a classic no. 10, but is comfortable operating through the middle or on the flanks.

While the influence of one player of that ilk wouldn’t be a short-term fix to the myriad issues that have gripped this team, it would make a marked difference. It would certainly give refreshed impetus to the dominance in possession this group of players so often enjoy and make it much more difficult for sides like Sunderland to pinch a point or three from Merseyside.

Martinez has insisted that Everton must be “creative” in the summer window (via the Liverpool Echo). The Catalan was referring to the financial juggling the Blues will have to do in this summer, but in terms of the personnel that’s going to come in, that’s one quality the manager much go in search of as he bids to replenish his squad for next season.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Brad

    May 12, 2015 at 7:34 am

    Ross Barkley has been a major disappointment for me this season. I thought he was going to have pretty good year.

  2. Nosferatu

    May 11, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    I’d love to see Everton bring in a creative, offensive-minded midfielder (or simply to see Gibson blessed with good health for a full year!), but it’s hard to imagine Barry getting sat for someone like that.

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