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A case for the defence: Attackers Mane and Pelle to deepen Martinez malaise

13 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
A case for the defence: Attackers Mane and Pelle to deepen Martinez malaise

Conceding goals has always been the Everton manager's weakness - his team are likely to struggle again during Saturday's visit to Southampton

These are uncomfortable times for Everton manager Roberto Martinez.

The acclaim the Spaniard received during his first season in charge – when he added attacking flair to the defensive resolve established by predecessor David Moyes to finish fifth in the Premier League – is dissipating.

His team excel in neither of those areas now.

The Toffees were laboured and sterile in possession last season – scoring only 48 times compared to 61 in 2013/14 – and received the ire of the Goodison Park supporters on several occasions as a result.

And while they scored twice late on in their season opener against newly-promoted Watford last weekend, the match ended 2-2 after their defensive frailties ruined their chances of claiming all three points.

This was hardly surprising considering Everton conceded 50 times last season compared to 39 the season before.

But identifying a problem is infinitely easier than actually solving it.

The stellar defensive unit that Martinez was fortunate to inherit from Moyes – Tim Howard, Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines – is no longer available to him.

Coleman remains one of the league’s best right-backs, but the rest have either left the club or are now not quite top class. (Leighton Baines, absent with an ankle injury in April, has suffered a setback and faces another three months out.)

To make matters worse, Martinez could conceivably lose John Stones – another Moyes signing, incidentally – before the transfer window closes at the beginning of next month.

Keeping out goals has always been Martinez’s weakness, though – his FA Cup-winning Wigan side were relegated after conceding 73 – and he is yet to prove at any point during his top-flight management career that he is capable of correcting the issue.

The Saturday lunchtime visit to Southampton, who started their season with a 2-2 draw at Newcastle, could exacerbate the problem further.

Saints boss Ronald Koeman is currently receiving the praise Martinez enjoyed two seasons ago and it is easy to see why.

During his maiden Premier League campaign which yielded a seventh-place finish, the South Coast club lost only four games at home and none to a side outside of the top eight.

They have already won convincingly at St Mary’s this season – beating Koeman’s former club Vitesse 3-0 in the Europa League – while their last league outing there was the 6-1 drubbing of Aston Villa in May.

Sadio Mane opened the scoring that day en route to hitting the Premier League’s fastest-ever hat-trick. The Senegalese forward is 6/1 to break the deadlock and 14/1 to notch twice or more against Everton on Saturday.

Italian striker Graziano Pelle, meanwhile, has scored in his last three matches at St Mary’s and is 6/5 to do so at any point during the match.

What made Koeman’s success last year even more impressive is that, unlike Martinez, who inherited a strong and settled Everton squad, he was able to quickly build a team that had lost several key players such as Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Dejan Lovren.

The Dutchman will have to do something similar again following the inevitable sales of Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne, plus the prolonged absence of goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who is unlikely to feature at all this season due to a broken kneecap.

The prospect of Europa League football will not make his job easier – as Saturday’s opposition manager discovered last year – but that is something to consider once the group stages get under way.

Koeman’s exciting attack is likely to exploit a vulnerable Everton defence and inflict further pressure on Martinez.

Southampton v Everton betting