Martinez's latest gamble is his biggest yet

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

AllsportRoberto Martinez's Everton are aiming for a top four finish in the Premier League.

Mixing brown brogues with a keen interest in the history of the club, Roberto Martinez has successfully combined style and substance since taking the reins on Merseyside. Gone is the cautious realism and the underdog status; the new regime has replaced those traits with adventure and ambition.

Quizzes for the players prior to away games and pictures of former glories adorning the walls of Finch Farm are just two examples of how the new manager views history as a platform for the future.

Less than six months into his Goodison tenure, the impact of Martinez is evident both on and off the pitch. History, preparation and planning form the nucleus of the off-pitch methods, while tactical flexibility and bravery underpin the work carried out during matches.

The latter is, arguably, the most obvious difference between the old and the new around L4. Whereas many came to view his predecessor, David Moyes, as a reactive manager, Martinez is the polar opposite: he is decisive and abrupt in his decision-making.

And there are numerous examples to reinforce this view, with Martinez not afraid to make bold decisions, even if one or two leave fans scratching their heads. One of the more prominent and successful alterations arrived in the first Merseyside derby of the season.

Trailing 2-1 to their local rivals, disaster struck when injury forced Leighton Baines to withdraw. The absence of Bryan Oviedo from the substitutes' bench only increased the level of concern, yet the man patrolling the dugout remained unmoved.

Knowing his team needed goals and a way back into the match, Martinez went for the jugular. Enter Gerard Deulofeu, who ran Liverpool ragged and vindicated the adventure of his boss, with Gareth Barry moving to left back and Ross Barkley dropping into central midfield.

Another notable instance is the faith placed in young defender John Stones. As injuries continue to take their toll, robbing Everton of key defenders, Stones has received his chance despite the existence of experienced alternatives, such as Tony Hibbert and John Heitinga.

There is also the occasional switch to a three-man defence during matches, or the resting of Ross Barkley after he scored the winner at Swansea. Such moves leave Martinez open to quizzical looks, as the win over Norwich hinted at the dangers accompanying a formation change in the latter stages, but it is refreshing to see daring present in the thought process.

However, the latest brazen idea easily overshadows those gone before. Finalising the loan signing of Lacina Traore, Martinez stated that the Ivorian will be the last of the January additions.

The belief is that this loan and the transfer of Aiden McGeady creates a squad primed to push on in the coming months, yet the departure of Nikica Jelavic and the news of Traore nursing a hamstring injury ensures, for the immediate future at least, a forward line overly reliant on a jaded Romelu Lukaku.

Should these acquisitions prove to be the last of this window, with Martinez prepared to bide his time and reinvest in the summer months, then this is a gamble of extreme proportions. Admittedly, there are signs of the other injuries easing, with several edging towards fitness, but Everton will enter a testing run of fixtures with the same concerns over depth.

This is, obviously, a deliberate choice draped in the studious approach of Martinez, although the worry is that this is one bold move too far. There is undoubted risk attached to sticking the transfer eggs in the summer basket, as it could make or break the current European push, and supporters will hope it is not Martinez who ends the season wiping egg off his face.


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