By Mike Deverell
That might seem like the knee jerkiest of knee jerk reactions. Two draws and one defeat, seven goals scored, including matches against two of last season’s top four, is certainly not disastrous.
But for Everton fans it’s the pattern and wider trend that’s starting to look worrying.
It started in a disjointed pre-season. The World Cup certainly didn’t help with different players returning at different times, although of course that’s the same for other clubs in last season’s top six.
England players Baines and Jagielka came back later than the rest of the squad. Our Belgian players Mirallas and Lukaku didn’t even play once in pre-season. This of course makes it hard to get a team pattern in place.
Naismith played the entire pre-season as the number nine, with no other senior striker at the club at the time other than the injured Kone. In the league games so far, the decidedly rusty looking Lukaku has played up top with Naismith behind, giving a different shape to the team. Lukaku’s first touch, dodgy at the best of times last season, has not improved.
Pre season also saw a pattern established which has followed through into league matches, especially against Chelsea. Lackadaisical, careless defending.
In pre-season, John Stones gave away the ball twice in successive games leading directly to goals. In the league so far, it is club captain Phil Jagielka who has been the main culprit.
Jagielka has struggled for form and fitness since Christmas. A couple of months out injured gave Stones his chance, and Jagielka only returned a two games before the end of the campaign.
Everton fans will recall that a less than fully fit Jagielka is often several notches below the captain at full fitness. Witness the amateur display at Anfield last season for a start. Jagielka often takes a few matches to get back to full sharpness after a period out, but the poor form has lasted longer this time, through the World Cup and beyond.
In some ways more worrying than his carelessness in recent matches has been an apparent loss of pace. Jagielka was always quicker than he looked, but now he seems to be a yard behind. With Distin also looking every bit of his 36 years old in the season so far, don’t be surprised to see one or other dropped for Stones next match.
Fitness in general is a concern, and has contributed to our off form defence being exposed. Leads against Leicester and Arsenal in particular were thrown away, with the team visibly tiring in the last 15 minutes or so.
Fitness may have had nothing to do with conceding twice in the first three minutes against Chelsea, but Gareth Barry appeared goosed after 65 minutes which contributed to the second half madness. Even the machine that is James McCarthy, who can normally run all day, has looked tired in the last 10 minutes of matches this season. The defensive screen that they normally provide has been lacking.
Perhaps Naismith effectively playing as a second striker this year as opposed than Barkley or Osman as advanced midfielders, means they have had to push up more exposing the back four. Either way, the balance between defence and attack is wrong right now, and needs addressing.
It’s too early to be too worried and Martinez will no doubt turn it round, but he needs to get to work now.
Perhaps there’s also an element of luck deserting us. Martinez made match-winning substitutions regularly last year. This year’s subs or tactical tweaks have worked against us, summed up by Mo Besic’s first touch in the Premier League presenting a goal to Chelsea.
Last season Everton conceded only 39 in 38 matches. In the first three matches this year we’ve conceded 10, more than a quarter of the amount conceded in the whole of last campaign. Something needs addressing urgently.