A case for the Everton defence

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

AllsportColeman is one of several Everton defenders who have excelled this season.

Thanks to goals from the likes of Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini, and artistry from players such as Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar, the Everton midfield spent many unchallenged years as the strongest department in the squad but, this season, the defence is making its own compelling case.

While there is little doubt David Moyes laid the foundations for the group currently excelling under Roberto Martinez, it is worth recalling an 18-match stretch without a clean sheet from September to January last season.

This campaign -- the occasional blip notwithstanding -- the defence has tightened up considerably. League leaders Arsenal are the only side with a meaner backline, which is testament to the form shown by those in royal blue.

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The Gunners lead the way -- conceding only 18 times on their way to nine clean sheets -- but Everton are a close second: the Blues have conceded 19 and returned eight clean sheets thus far. In addition, having conceded just 10 in 10 games on the road, Martinez and Co. can point to the best away defence in the division.

Further examples of defensive quality become apparent when scouring individual endeavours. According to whoscored.com, not even the workaholic midfield duo of James McCarthy (3) and Gareth Barry (2.6) can improve upon the number of tackles per game posted by Bryan Oviedo (3.5).

Bryan oviedo goal Man Utd vs. Everton
AllsportOviedo scored the winner for Everton at Man United.

Seizing his overdue opportunity, Oviedo has expertly plugged the Leighton Baines-shaped void at left-back when required. While grabbing two goals and two assists, the Costa Rican has also impressed defensively, namely the aforementioned tackling output.

Perhaps, though, the most impressive part is this: Everton's impressive form has been maintained despite the steady accumulation of injuries and suspensions.

Martinez has found himself deprived of his preferred setup on more than one occasion. For example, Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin are currently out because of hamstring injuries, Tim Howard missed a match through suspension, and injury kept Baines sidelined for six games.

The seamless transition of those plugging the gaps is testament to the hunger and desire evident among this collection of players, especially with many thrust into the first team after a prolonged spell of inactivity. Antolin Alcaraz had spent months on the treatment table, while players such as Oviedo and John Stones waited patiently for their chance.

Much like Oviedo, any praise lavished on Alcaraz and Stones is well-deserved. There are few cooler centre-back pairings and a quality and calmness underpins much of their work. Taking to their task like ducks to water, this duo is ensuring the team copes without the recognised duo of Jagielka and Distin.

Furthermore, for all the plaudits bestowed on the last line of defence, the attacking exploits of said players have also attracted rave reviews. Martinez wants his players to be flexible, both in their style of play and positioning, and this was apparent during the recent trip to Stoke.

Making only his second appearance for the club in the daunting confines of the Britannia, Alcaraz (53) attempted more passes than any home player, which underlines the ability of the player whilst vindicating the style employed by Martinez.

Still, although excelling across the pitch, it is the impression created in the final third that best demonstrates the value of the defence at present. Defending is the primary focus, as ever -- as it should be -- but the full-backs continue to attack at will.

And nobody embodies this approach better than Seamus Coleman. The defensive improvements in his game are ongoing, yet they pale in comparison to the strides made in opposition territory. The former Sligo Rovers man is the highest scoring defender in the division with five goals.

Collectively, no defence has scored more goals -- 10 -- this season, and the back five also accounts for five assists, one of which belongs to Howard. Oviedo (2), Coleman (1), and Jagielka (1) are the others who have created a goal for a teammate.

Proving instrumental at both ends of the pitch, this is an Everton rearguard brimming with depth and quality. There is no longer a sense of dread when a key defender is unavailable, as the understudies have shown themselves to be capable deputies.

Combining a well-balanced mix of youth and experience, the defence is, arguably, the most impressive unit within Everton's current setup.

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