Have you ever stared into the mind of lunatic? I mean a proper maniac, not just the weird guy in your office who writes his name on other people’s yoghurts. A genuine vomit-on-a-goat mentalist? I have, and his name is Roberto Martinez.
At first, we never really knew that Roberto Martinez was madder than a submarine filled with yaks. He was charming and humble as he talked thoughtfully about his ideas for a more beautiful game. He was the kind of man you’d cheerfully lend a lawnmower too, not worried in the slightest that he might go peculiar and do a terrible poo in the grass box.
And yet, if you’re brave enough to take a glance at his extraordinarily strange Everton side, you can be left in no doubt that the man has lost his mind.
The 97th minute equaliser they conceded to Chelsea was just the latest episode in a season filled with sheer lunacy – a campaign that has been the football equivalent of chasing your paperboy down the street brandishing a live owl.
In fact, that was their second 3-3 draw in the last 10 league games – a sequence that has also seen them on the wrong end of 4-3 and 3-2 losses (against Stoke and Leicester respectively). It’s little wonder that the combined total of their goals for and against this season is the highest in the division.
And the closer you look, the more peculiar it all seems. The popular consensus seems to be, quite rightly, that their squad is ridiculously good. Up front Romelu Lukaku has scored 15 times this season, while Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu have a deeply impressive 15 assists between them. Add to that such top-ish-drawer talent as James McCarthy, Muhamed Besic, John Stones and Leighton Baines and, in a season where the big teams seem too polite to start anything resembling a title race, Everton could easily expect a top four finish.
Instead they sit in an almost unbelievably low 11th place, having failed to string together back-to-back league wins all season. And yet, jab a tentative finger into the fleshy belly of their stats and it’s hard to see what precisely has got wrong.
Yes, they are amongst the top five sides in the league for making defensive errors – but so are Arsenal. And, yes, they’ve created around 100 chances less than Manchester City – but in reality they’ve only scored four fewer goals. They are, indeed, the league’s second highest scorers and, at the same time, have conceded more goals than their struggling opponent this weekend, 17th placed Swansea.
Stat’s A Fact
Now, if you greedily munch down the wisdom of Jamie Redknapp and his sort you’ll probably have decided that this is entirely typical of a Roberto Martinez team – vigorous and imaginative up front, distracted and desperately vulnerable at the back. And old Jonny Statistic – predictably populist scoundrel that he is – does at least support that theory to a degree.
Up front, only Leicester have scored more goals from inside the penalty box than the Toffees – suggesting they have an attack capable of breaking down pretty much any defensive line put in front of them. At the same time, none of the 10 sides above Everton have conceded so many goals inside their own penalty box – telling us that their defence possesses all the composure of a wasp trapped in a chubby man’s scrotal cleft.
But perhaps the maddest thing of all is one of the less popular theories. What if Everton, rather than being entirely out of their tree, are instead just pretty boring. How mad would that be?
You see, for all the games that descend into a gurgling goal bukkake, Everton have drawn 11 times this season – more than anyone else in the league. And it’s this all-too-predictable inability to thrust three points into their pants and dash away that has left them lying so strangely low in the table.
Yes, this is the team that threw away a two-goal lead against Sunderland before eventually pimp-slapping them into a 6-2 defeat. And yes this is also the team that got lashed 3-0 by a Manchester United side that would struggle to score three times against a team made from fog. But for every such occurrence there is a respectable, but not entirely useful, draw against the likes of Spurs and Manchester City.
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Everton are a largely bi-polar outfit, capable of pragmatic draws, easy thrashings and thrilling ineptitude. And that at least is very much a Martinez trait, having guided the team to finishes of 5th and then 11th in his two seasons in charge. The worrying trend for Everton fans is that, year-on-year, he took them six places down the table and led them to nine fewer wins.
Swansea are, in many ways, just as baffling in their sudden underachievement as Everton. So what on earth can we expect when these two unsteady deviants slap their heavily greased genitals together this weekend? I’d recommend betting on no fewer than nine goals and, without doubt, someone pooing in a lawnmower.