In May 2009, when the football world was in thrall to Barcelona and Spain – not without reason – I watched Pep Guardiola’s men pass the ball relentlessly for 92 minutes, before the beautiful Andres Iniesta scored the beautiful goal that sent them through to the final. It was their only shot on target.
I had long since given up on muttering “Shoot FFS!” under my breath at the TV screen and I switched it off convinced that Barcelona had got away with it, for all their dominance. I had seen enough goals go in off players’ backsides, deflected off defenders or fumbled by the keeper to know that the old line about not winning the lottery without buying a ticket applied in football.
Since then, football fashion has shifted a little from the Iberian Peninsula to Mitteleuropa (well, it’s a results business, doncha know), but the possession game played by technicians is still “foreign” in the Premier League, with all that connotes for the more vein-pumpingly passionate of English fans. I wrote of such parallels a month of so ago (<a href=”http://pickourteam.com/premierleague/news/19-10-2013/educating-gwladys-ross-barkley-and-andres-iniesta/852004″ target=”_blank”>here</a>) and I stand by my argument and stand by the Martinez Project, but two more goaless draws since then have made my stance somewhat harder to maintain.
Everton have now delivered four nil-nils from eleven Premier League matches. Let’s park the spurious argument that the team has gone backwards since the Moyes era – in terms of league position and in terms of accumulating four goaless draws in an entire league season last time out – as few Evertonians would have complained in August at such a start to the first post-Moyes campaign, the more nuanced question is, “What can Martinez do to unlock defences?”
The simple answer is to score the first goal – Everton have only scored a single goal in a match against Chelsea (1-0 win) and Manchester City (3-1 defeat). So once opponents have to chase the game, Everton can convert possession into goals. And Martinez – a modern manager if ever there was one in England – is merely exemplifying the modern game there.
But there’s that word possession again. And here’s the possession / attempts on goal stat attack on Everton’s 0-0s this season: vs West Brom 62%, 22; vs Cardiff 63%, 13; vs Tottenham Hotspurs 52%, 8; vs Crystal Palace 73%, 15. With the exception of the West Brom match, those stats speak of a team too willing to play the ball about in less threatening areas of the pitch, too shot shy, too wary of buying those lottery tickets.
Stats though eh? Another one shows that eight Everton players have already scored this season and that, of those clubs whom we might expect to finish above come May, only Southampton (and Liverpool) have more than our 14 goals at the time of writing.
There’s a fortnight to contemplate such matters before a match that the crowd will not allow to drift into keepball. Next up? Liverpool at Goodison.