Euro grind no longer an excuse – so what is?
When Everton have stumbled over supposedly inferior domestic opponents previously this season, their at times embattled manager Roberto Martinez could at least point the finger squarely at the Europa League.
The contrast was often so vast between the quality of his team’s performances on the continent and in the Premier League that there had to be a link. The predictable link.
Yet Martinez was initially reluctant to blame a competition his side had reached on merit after his sophomore feat of a fifth place. True to form he garnished any reference to it with lashings of positivity.
But in the end, as his side’s league travails worsened, he subtly changed tact.
That miserable March night in Stoke was enough to make most Blues reach for the bottle, the Catalan reached for a well-worn alternative.
“It has been a really tough two weeks, we’ve had five games and today we showed that lack of cutting edge,” he said.
“In terms of the focus of trying every time to get back into the game, I felt that as a team we were a little tired.
“It showed how many games we had played in a little period of time. We’re all very disappointed from that point of view.”
Since then things improved. They had to.
But after two consecutive defeats, he can no longer mask his side’s deficiencies.
Too many of the issues prevalent while they were operating on two fronts remained a problem against Aston Villa and Sunderland.
His players had seven days between each game to recuperate and re-focus.
Behind closed doors Martinez must really be ruthless in finding solutions for next term.
Was Lennon’s Goodison swan-song enough?
The natives of the Old Lady won’t see Aaron Lennon again in the remaining weeks of this campaign. The terms of his loan prevent him from playing against parent club Tottenham on May 24.
So, was his Goodison farewell enough to convince them he’s worth signing permanently?
The winger may yet do something spectacular at West Ham next weekend, but he went out with a fizzle rather than a bang on what he has called home-turf since January.
Lennon has many good qualities, and his performances have left a positive impression.
But with reports suggesting Tottenham, who are notoriously hard to do business with, want £9m – has he been worth it?
For a 28-year-old who only has 12 months left on his Spurs contract anyway, it’s highly debatable.
Against Sunderland he worked hard as ever, but the end product just wasn’t there.
He would be a useful addition to the Blues squad, but not for such a sizeable chunk of their summer transfer kitty.
Another proud statistic toppled
There already wasn’t much on the ‘pros’ list for those debating whether or not to pretend the 2014/15 campaign never happened.
Phil Jagielka’s Anfield screamer, the Europe group stages, that win over Manchester United; they offered some comfort. Being the only Premier League side unbeaten at home since the turn of the year was something too.
Enter Dick Advocaat’s trundling Sunderland, witness two infuriating defections, and goodbye unbeaten record.
Let’s just expunge the whole thing from the records and start again eh?
When Lukaku doesn’t fire – neither do Everton
The form of Everton’s record signing and that of the team in general have had a telling symbiosis this term.
When the big Belgian is firing on all cylinders, so are the Blues. When he isn’t, often they’ve dipped below par too.
Regardless of how sizeable his price-tag was, it’s unwise to rely on just one player so much. Even for Everton, who can’t afford to throw that sort of money around with wild abandon like Chelsea or Manchester United.
They started the campaign with Samuel Eto’o as a viable and experienced alternative. He had the ability to win games on his own.
But not replacing him when he swanned off to Italy in January was a mistake. Martinez gambled on a Arouna Kone revival but that never materialised. Who knows if it ever will?
Kone didn’t get on against Sunderland, even when Lukaku was clearly going through one of his blunt afternoons.
It remains very clear. Everton need a quality striking addition this summer.
What happened to rationing Gareth Barry?
By his own admission, Gareth Barry was supposed to be deployed judiciously this season.
His ageing legs were to be rationed in order to ensure his experience and undoubted craft could flourish.
However injuries in midfield, particularly to James McCarthy and Darron Gibson, left Martinez reluctant.
Still, after a poor first half of the campaign Barry was quietly influential as the Blues got back on their feet and away from relegation in recent months, culminating with a superb display against Manchester United.
But at Villa last weekend he looked leggy. Against Sunderland seven days later, he just looked unnecessary.
Even with McCarthy allowed to get forward more often, it’s still debatable whether Everton required two essentially holding midfielders on the pitch.
Had McCarthy been tasked with sweeping on his own in a 4-1-4-1, it would have given Martinez the chance to use Kevin Mirallas or even Aiden McGeady from the off-set.
As his side huffed and puffed to unpick the stoic Black Cats, some added attacking nous may have made the difference.
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