A perfect and somewhat overused analogy to sum up Everton’s sophomore season under Roberto Martinez is ‘the difficult second album.’ How can you top what was accomplished the first time round when the opposition know what to expect? Fans who may have been expecting a season similar to Nirvana’s fantastic ‘Nevermind’ were instead given Coldplay’s more tepid ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head.’
You don’t have to be Gary Neville to analyze the change in fortunes between the last two Everton campaigns. From the lofty heights of fifth place at the end of the 13/14 season, the last venture has resulted in a disheartening 11th. A devastating -24 swing in terms of goal difference and winning an astonishing nine fewer games.
The obvious answer to pose for this dip in form is also an overused one…
Everton playing in the Europa League.
Tell that to Tottenham Hotspur who not only played the exact number of games in their European adventure but improved upon their domestic position 12 months prior. Sevilla last week retained the Europa League crown and yet still managed to finish 5th in La Liga. The hot theory amongst pundits concerning teams not wanting to participate in a European run resulting in inconsistent form is irritating and insulting to those who don’t reside in the top four year in year out.
Back to the Toffees – whose season’s only highlight ironically WAS their relatively strong European run which was eventually cut short at the last-16 stage with an ridiculously poor outing away to Dynamo Kiev. Despite Everton missing out on the quarter finals and beyond, the tournaments top scorer was a blue. Lukaku’s eight goals were enough to secure the crown which is proof of our dominance in the group stages which made the eventual exit all the more painful.
Winding our way back to Summer 2014 and things were in very good shape and the Blue half of Liverpool was enjoying the rare sight of a manager doing his deals early. In came the familiar faces of Lukaku and Gareth Barry who had already proved themselves on loan. One for the future, Muhamed Bešić was signed after his impressive showings at the World Cup with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
However by the end of the first month, it was clear where the problems lay. Defence. Everton equalled the worst defensive start over three games letting in 10 goals. Martinez began losing patience in Sylvain Distin, which ultimately led to him being frozen out the team. The English backbone of Baines and Jagielka weren’t firing on all cylinders and the fresh faced John Stones was showing raw talent albeit with occasional lapses in decision making under pressure. The defensive errors dropped slightly as the season progressed but the damage was done and this is where strength needs to be added for the upcoming 15/16 season.
Further up the field, things were much brighter. The aforementioned Lukaku finally unpacked his bags at a cost of £28 million and he was shortly followed by Samuel Eto’o on a free transfer. Fans had a reason to believe and with an energetic Mirallas and a resilient Steven Naismith, goals weren’t far away. Even Jagielka managed six in all competitions including a season defining equaliser against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby.
Meanwhile, the sensible and exciting passing style from Martinez’s first season turned into simply sensible. At times, Goodison Park was unusually vocally critical of this methodology especially as it failed to turn into Premier League points. The Goodison faithful witnessed 7 home runs over the course of the season compared to 13 the year prior and they made it clear vocally that they had noticed.
What was especially frustrating is that the squad could be considered one of the best in recent years however there were some underachievers including a certain future England captain. As well as Aiden McGeady, Ross Barkley never reached his potential at any point during the campaign. The pundits started making their feelings known and fans began to have a go when Ross made runs at the defence and lost possession.
In the latter half of the season, Everton found a certain level of form but the continued success in Europe always played on their minds. Understandably, finishing 11th isn’t all that attractive to the squad’s star talent and there isn’t a day that seems to go by without the words “sources suggest” followed by either Lukaku, Mirallas or James McCarthy’s name.
Graffiti had also begun cropping up on the side of Goodison asking for the sacking of Martinez but those grumbles are in the minority and I, like many others, believe that this season was a blip, a pretty big blip but one none the less.