Does Kevin Mirallas fit into The Martinez Project?
Last season, in an often pragmatic team, Mirallas’ runs, willingness to shoot on sight and feisty attitude was welcomed, especially as his physical fragility made his presence on the pitch something of a treat. Like many of today’s wide men, he seldom dribbled his way to the touchline and crossed the ball to a centre-forward, preferring to cut inside and shoot, always carrying a threat. His injections of pace and direct style got the crowd of their feet and his first season was seen as a success.
The cruise to three points against Stoke City marked the Belgian’s first benching after 12 consecutive starts under the new manager and might just show Roberto’s best hand for the future. The Martinez Project calls for possession, patience and pace – but not just any old pace, the change of pace that comes from the killer pass or the dropped shoulder. It’s the antithesis of traditional “up and at ’em” football – it’s as Spanish as The Project’s name suggests and is proving (almost) as successful.
While Sylvain Distin’s discomfort on the ball can be accommodated in his position, Kevin Mirallas’ running, shooting on sight and maverick play may not be quite so easily integrated as his fellow players’ understanding of the Project’s system improves.
If that’s the case against Everton’s second favourite Belgian, the case for his replacement builds and builds. Gerard Deulofeu is as slick and classy a footballer as his pedigree suggests, a head-up ball player with pace and a trick or two. His first start has coincided with Everton’s biggest win of the season, a goal and an assist or two for the Barcelona loanee and remarkable stats showing that Everton created 22 goal attempts of which 12 were on target having enjoyed 55% possession. That’s The Martinez Project desired outcomes right there in the numbers – which matter to coaches these days
Of course, Everton’s other midfield wunderkind, Ross Barkley, was also benched for this game, so the answer to the question on so many Evertonians’ lips – “Can we play Deulofeu and Barkley in the same XI?” – is not answered, but the solution is coming into sight. If both can work hard without the ball, if both can retain the awareness to sit if the other goes and if three of Gareth Barry, James McCarthy, Stephen Pienaar and Leon Osman can use their experience alongside and behind them to babysit the a little, the teenage tearaways can tear up the best defences with their skills and guile.
But whither Kevin Mirallas? Maybe his best role is as an impact substitute held in reserve for the many times that the youngsters will have off-days or need a break. That’ll be the moment to introduce his long-range running and direct style. The Project doesn’t need Kevin Mirallas when its tiki-taka is bossing the game – it needs Kevin Mirallas when it’s tiki-taka is stalled.