All discussion of last night’s shocking defeat in Kiev boils down to one issue; why did Roberto Martinez select Antolin Alcaraz to partner Phil Jagielka in central defence? We may never know the truth. However, if we look at his team selection in the round, there are some clues to his thinking.
Against Newcastle last Sunday – how long ago that seems – Darron Gibson and Leon Osman were widely praised. Gibson’s range of passing and Osman’s experience and unflustered ability to find space and link play were held by many to be the key to the win, offering hope for an uptick in form. Yet both were benched in Kiev for a finely balanced Europa League tie, though in all respects they would have been appropriate and sensible selections. Yet they were held back, rested, protected, we presume for the no less vital league game at Queens Park Rangers on Sunday.
We say no less vital, but actually, nothing is more important than Everton retaining their Premier League status, nothing. Even though early in the campaign much was made of the ‘importance of playing in Europe’ and ‘winning silverware’ the deterioration in the league position has caused the agenda within Goodison to be reset and it is now utterly dominated by avoiding the possibility of relegation. Remember, last season broadcasting revenue amounted to £88.5m and provided almost 75% of the club’s total turnover, a sum which under the new TV deal negotiated a few weeks ago, will rise by at least 50% from 2016. And that new stadium, which is the key to diversifying and growing revenues other than from broadcasting, relegation would certainly spell curtains for that as well as for Roberto Martinez too.
Martinez prioritized QPR over Dynamo Kiev; he made a choice to protect two of his most important assets and we suspect he deliberately held back John Stones as well. Such is the secrecy Roberto Martinez maintains behind that mask of positivity we cannot know for sure. John Stones apparently had been sick, hence his non-availability recently, but had he fully recovered and/or did he have other minor injury problems as well? Given the recent performances of the Jagielka/Stones partnership in the goalless derby draw at Goodison, the tough, backs-to-the-wall, one-nil win at Selhurst Park and the unlucky last minute defeat at Stamford Bridge we doubt very much that there is any question in the mind of Roberto Martinez as to which is his most reliable centre-back pairing.
Whatever the causes of the falling out with Sylvain Distin, once again well hidden behind that Martinez smile, it is that, as much as his pragmatic desire to prioritize the League, which contributed to Everton’s European exit; Distin would never have been so vulnerable in the air as was Alcaraz, never. One way or another a number of chickens finally came home to roost in Kiev.