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50-50 Challenge: Merseyside derby

Liverpool vs. Everton Sep 25, 2014
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Apr 17, 2014

Martinez and Everton have an off-day against Palace


If there was a specific guideline for supporting Everton, it would be: always expect the unexpected. This midweek fixture against Crystal Palace seemed a formality at first glance with the Blues on home turf, boasting seven successive league wins and nine consecutive home victories. However, from the omission of James McCarthy, with the midfielder unable to start due to injury, to the overly bold team selection and the disappointing performance that followed, the 3-2 defeat ensured a night to forget for the home side. It has been quite some time since Everton played in such disjointed fashion across the pitch. Shorn of McCarthy, the midfield destroyer who mops up opposing attacks at will, the Blues remained susceptible to counterattacks throughout. One of the permanent fixtures in the side since his summer arrival from Wigan, McCarthy's absence was telling, more so in a first half in which the visitors carried the greater threat in spite of comparatively meagre possession. Filling the McCarthy void was Ross Barkley. Though the midfield prospect has many strings to his bow, defensive aspects do not sit atop the list. As such, this left Gareth Barry facing an uphill struggle in the middle of the park. It was one that he lost, comfortably. Already shorn of McCarthy, the attacking trio employed behind Romelu Lukaku raised further eyebrows, especially the simultaneous use of Aiden McGeady and Gerard Deulofeu on either flank. Everton rarely employ two out-and-out wingers -- the only other occasion was Swansea at home. The Toffees were on the right end of a 3-2 score on that day, but those alarm bells rang loud and clear. Sadly, the warnings went unheeded. When using a winger on each side of the midfield, the full-backs are instantly placed under greater pressure. Despite McGeady being one of the brighter attacking players, both he and Deulofeu remain prone to slack defending and lapses in concentration. This left Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman outmatched in wide areas -- the opening Palace goal was a result of this exact weakness. Yannick Bolasie skipped beyond Baines while eventual goal scorer Jason Puncheon lost Coleman in the build-up. If the first goal stifled the hosts' fairly confident start, then the second Palace goal was an all-too-familiar tale. Set pieces, namely the defending of them, continues to cause concern -- improvement is a must on this front. John Stones -- in spite of being one of the better performers on the night -- lost Scott Dann in the customary penalty-box scramble that accompanies a set piece. This error and his costly slip for the Palace third will provide a learning curve for the raw but talented young defender. Either side of Cameron Jerome's strike, Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas offered brief hope of the unlikely draw that would see a return to fourth place, but there were few valid claims for the hosts deserving anything from this one. Roberto Martinez has got far more right than wrong this season, having already masterminded the club's best Premier League points tally in his debut campaign, yet this was a rare misfire regarding team selection for the Everton boss. Martinez will be well aware of the discipline and organisation instilled by Tony Pulis, and it was imperative that he selected his side accordingly. The team brimmed with attacking intent but it fell short on the kind of qualities prevalent in the visiting team. Whereas Palace defended and attacked as a unit, content to filter 10 players behind the ball while looking for the ideal countering opportunity, Everton had too many individuals in a team void of cohesion. Nonetheless, though the result ensures the Champions League fate is back in the hands of Arsenal, all is not lost in the quest to join Europe's elite. There is still much to play for in the closing matches, although a marked improvement on this flat offering is required.