Everton 2014-2015 – Three games; seven goals for, ten goals against; two points

(Oh) dear

(Oh) dear

Well I was worried, I really was. Scroll back a few posts, and you can see.

Let’s do the mitigation first. Arsenal and Chelsea are two Champions League teams with plenty to prove and, in Chelsea’s case, the hottest striker of the season.

But that’s it. Both were home games; neither followed Europa League matches; both included passages of play in which Everton did not just outplay their illustrious opponents, they dominated them. And yet, two points. Two points.

What’s happening?

Sylvain Distin, as fine a servant to the club as Everton have known, suddenly looks nearly 37 years old. He is half a yard off the pace, despite his still excellent positioning, which means that attackers can square him up and go past him on either side – he knows it and so do they. He is also a step or two too far from Phil Jagielka, which is the gap that class forwards need for the killer run and class midfielders for the killer ball. Jagielka, at 32 and with plenty of miles on the clock, might be half a pace short too, certainly deep in the second half.

It’s not all their fault of course. Just in front and just behind the central defenders, two more thirty-somethings, Gareth Barry and Tim Howard, are yet to bring their A games. Barry is being pulled around the field more than he appears comfortable with, while Tim Howard, after the exultant peak vs Belgium in Brazil, finds the ball going past him rather than hitting him (though it’s almost too much to think of those ten conceded goals and the saves).

Not good, not good at all, but is there something even worse lurking deep in Everton’s defensive dysfunctionality? James McCarthy was my player of the year last season, a whirlygig of tackling, blocking and screening, the base on which attacks were built. Is he covering the ground he covered last season? Is he seeing danger quickly enough to snuff it out? Is he fulfilling that enormous brief handed to him almost exactly one year ago?

Three games in is too soon to leap to conclusions, but Roberto Martinez is very close to Something Must Be Done territory. He might start by asking Distin to take a seat on the bench and asking John Stones to build a regular partnership with the captain. He might also seek to play Muhamed Besic as a 30 minutes substitute for Barry to give McCarthy less running in the last quarter of matches. And, in two days, buy or loan a centre-half from somewhere.

It’s not the time to press the panic button, but can Martinez afford another defeat and still expect to finish ahead of a very strong Tottenham squad? And if he doesn’t, surely that will mean a step back – despite the feelgood factor that suffused the club just a few weeks ago?

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