Toffees becoming stuck at the back?
After finishing fifth last season, Everton have begun the 2014/15 Premier League term uncharacteristically shaky in defence.
Seasoned campaigners such as Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka are letting basic errors creep into their performances, which are seriously harming the Toffees’ hopes for Champions League football even at this early stage. They’re 8/1 to finish in the top four with Coral.
Although Distin has been an excellent addition since his 2009 move from Portsmouth, he, at 36, should be replaced with England newbie John Stones, 20, who is clearly the future of the Everton and Three Lions backline.
Frenchman Distin is still a worthwhile squad member, but is part of an ageing back four that needs to be rejuvenated.
Barnsley-born Stones has adapted to the pressures of Premier League football and has perfect mentors in both Distin and fellow England international Jagielka to continue his development and become a regular this season.
Partnering Stones should be Jagielka, although the latter has also had an indifferent start to the campaign. This may well be due to the lack of a few weeks rest and recovery because of his involvement in England’s disastrous World Cup in Brazil.
Jagielka had an excellent 2013/14 but had an injury-hit spell towards the end, which has affected his form for club and country since. The 32-year-old has looked sluggish and tired this season, which was clearly visible during the 2-2 draw with Arsenal last month.
The London side came back from 2-0 down to score twice in the last 10 minutes after some poor marking in the penalty area.
One player who should be looking anxiously over his shoulder is Paraguayan Antolin Alcaraz. Since his free transfer from Wigan last summer he has shown little skill. Indeed some Evertonians see his name on the team sheet and groan as he lacks pace and tactical awareness.
During last season’s Merseyside Derby at Anfield Alcaraz was almost redundant as Daniel Sturridge et al breezed past him on their way to a thumping 4-0 win.
Despite Everton keeping 15 league clean sheets last term, they have only managed one so far which was against a lacklustre West Bromwich Albion.
Clearly more recruits were necessary during the summer transfer window, as Dutch utility man John Heitinga was shipped off to Fulham in January and young prospect Shane Duffy sold to Blackburn on deadline day, leaving the Toffees under-resourced at the back.
However, experience is invaluable to defenders. Distin and Jagielka have been Everton’s main defensive pairing for many seasons which indicates a return to form is inevitable and the Toffees will go back to winning ways.
There is more encouragement in that Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman have continued last term’s fine form into this campaign. Both are solid in defence and wicked in attack, as was shown in the 4-1 Europa League victory over Wolfsburg last week.
Liverpool-born Baines netted one and made two, one of which was scored by Coleman that makes him good value at 11/2 to get a goal anytime on Saturday.
Manager Roberto Martinez should not be worried by Everton’s attacking fire power, they’re 7/2 to end the 15-year Anfield hoodoo, but his team’s defence will need to be back to their best if they are to achieve their target of Champions League football next season.