Much has been said and written about the winds of change at Old Trafford. With Sir Alex leaving his post that he held for what can be termed as eternity when compared to today’s managerial change rates.
‘Changes at the club’ were bound to happen. And these ‘Sir Alex- Manchester United- David Moyes’ centric changes were the back-page headlines till the crazy transfer season started.
Same can be observed at the other end of the managerial transfer. David Moyes heading to Old Trafford meant that the third longest managerial reign in the Premier League came to an end.
After 11 seasons under the Scot, Everton were finally going to have a different manager at the helm. 11 years is a long period – a period in which players may come and go but the tactics, formation and the way the club plays football gets instilled among the fans and the club’s philosophy.
So when a character like Roberto Martinez, whose beliefs in his own ideas often defies conventional wisdom, took over the helm at Goodison Park with his brand of attacking football, it became inevitable that either the Everton way of playing or Roberto’s expansive football would have to mould to accommodate the other.
A large part of the success Wigan had over the course of four seasons under the Spanish manager were down to his attacking tactics and his preference to play with 3 defenders at the back and two full backs.
At a time when almost all other clubs in the league stuck with playing four defenders at the back, Martinez was quite happy to be the exception, in fact at times taking pride in being different.
Although eventually the club had to endure the pain of getting relegated, it wasn’t entirely a flaw of the three defenders at the back system. Martinez, time and again, switched to the normal 4-4-2 system due to the personnel or rather the lack of personnel at his disposal and due to circumstances.
Every manager going to a new club brings his own staff, ideas, formation, players. So it was a slight surprise when Martinez during his unveiling gave the following statement: ‘It is important the team don’t lose what they are good at, they are special at many aspects of their game and what we need to do is carry on improving.’ The key-word was ‘improvement’ and not any thing indicating a major shift of tactics.
And in the first couple of games, albeit friendlies under him, he seems to be continuing from where Moyes left – Everton’s tried and tested 4-4-1-1 formation. After the experimental selections in Austria in the first friendly, there was a more experienced look to the Everton side in the second one against Accrington, but the way football was played was still the same. There was not much evidence of the Roberto Martinez signatory tactics.
But then against Juventus, Martinez employed his favourite 3-4-3 which takes the shape of 5-3-2 while defending. And the change in tactics paid dividends. In the opening exchanges, they took the game to Juventus. As the game wore on it became evident that the new look Everton had enough to hold the physical Juventus approach to a 1-1 draw and eventually win the game 6-5 on penalties. The team looked comfortable playing the possession-oriented football which has always been Roberto’s preference.
Of course a lot of the transition was down to the players. Among all the clubs in the Premier League, Everton have the best players in terms of what they can offer, to play the Martinez way.
Starting with his love for attacking full backs, Baines (the best left back in the league) and Coleman (dynamically similar) are perhaps the most complete full-back pair in the league. And with Alcaraz now in the fold, Distin – Alcaraz- Jagielka with Heitinga as a cover signify the solidity required in the three-at-the-back formations.
Leon Osman and Darren Gibson can be the defensive central midfielders who can control the game with their timely tackling and passing abilities. The thought of pacy trickery of Mirallas/Pienaar and Deulofeu on either wing is something that has left fans well and truly excited.
Nikica Jelavic was good in patches last season and Anichebe is still not the finished product. The prospect of having an established striker in the form of Kone, who can be a very good target man, provides a very good ‘plan B’. Or maybe he will be Roberto’s ‘plan A’.
That leaves the enigma – Fellaini. Moyes’s 4-4-1-1 revolved around him. Almost everything played down the middle went through him. He was the lynch-pin of the side. And that is where the challenge lies for Martinez. The most important issue he will have to address is to how and where to deploy Fellaini.
Perhaps the easiest way around the issue would be to bench either one of Gibson and Osman. But both had performed well the last season. And both can offer a lot to the system Roberto likes to employ. In fact, they both would be an improved version of ‘McCarthy-McArthur’ who played the same role for Wigan under Martinez.
Perhaps the question will be taken out of his hands. With Fellaini strongly in the transfer rumours, maybe a move materializing taking the player out of the club may not be a bad move after all. If he stays, it would be interesting to see how Martinez solves the midfield puzzle.
With the new season a couple of weeks away, Martinez has all the necessary ammo at his disposal. It remains to be seen what weapon he eventually chooses.
Will shades of Moyes be still visible at the Goodison or will Martinez present a whole new landscape!