Everton need bold Martinez to return
Dropping two points in the closing minutes at Leicester and losing Ross Barkley on the eve of the new season means the opening of the 2014-15 campaign has been difficult for Everton, with Arsenal up next.
Returning to the comforting surroundings of fortress Goodison for the forthcoming visits of Arsenal and Chelsea, Everton must rediscover the form that yielded six points from six in the corresponding fixtures last season, starting with the Gunners on Saturday.
This brings back memories of that complete performance in the 3-0 mauling handed out to Arsene Wenger's men, though the absence of Barkley is especially unfortunate given the opposition.
The young midfielder excelled in the previous meeting, drifting between the Arsenal midfield and their under-protected back four. The absence of visiting skipper Mikel Arteta, who has done only a passable impression of a holding midfielder since swapping Liverpool for London, compounds the Barkley injury. The youngster would have relished this one.
Adapting to life without Barkley, Roberto Martinez opted for Steven Naismith at Leicester, with the Scot rewarding his manager's faith with a fine finish in the 2-2 draw. However, as good as Naismith is at finishing instinctively in the penalty area, the former Rangers player lacks many of the traits expected of a No. 10 in this setup.
Fresh from his World Cup outings, returning to first-team action with a late cameo at Leicester, Kevin Mirallas seems better equipped to fill the Barkley void. Although this may seem harsh on Naismith, the choice of Mirallas can help get the necessary service to Romelu Lukaku. Dribbling, the ability to take on opposing players and play through balls are not among Naismith's strengths, but they are areas in which Mirallas can excel.
Free from the greater defensive responsibility required on the flanks, Mirallas delivered his best football of last term when briefly employed in this position behind the lone striker. His most accomplished performance to date came amid the Anfield capitulation. While those around him crumbled, the Belgian battled on and impressed with his work both on and off the ball.
Often on the periphery of matches on the right or left of midfield, handing centre stage to Mirallas may be the incentive needed to get the best from an exciting but inconsistent player. After all, even though largely on the edge of things, Mirallas still managed the most assists last season (eight), and only Lukaku (15) outscored him. Reuniting the two international teammates as a new-look No. 9 and 10 partnership could be just the spark to kick-start the Toffees this season.
As well as deciding how best to replace Barkley, Martinez must also settle on the approach best suited to defeating Arsenal. Famed for his effective use of substitutions in his debut season, often turning a difficult situation around with a well-timed intervention, Martinez has to return to that after a blip at Leicester.
Too late and too cautious, especially the introduction of Seamus Coleman, the changes hampered rather than helped. It was more like David Moyes than Martinez. Notwithstanding the obvious lack of strikers, there was a strong bench ready to be utilised, but there appeared to be an unfamiliar reluctance to alter the side. This left a tiring side to trundle onward. Everton need the bold manager of last season back to his ambitious, adventurous best.
Key decisions also exist in terms of system, as the Blues boss altered his usual setup last time around, switching to a more expansive system, using Lukaku as a right-wing battering ram. An injury to Steven Pienaar will have helped the choice at the time, but with the midfielder fully fit and back to his best at Leicester, Martinez faces some difficult choices -- in terms of both team and personnel -- as he aims to secure a much-needed three points.