Everton go into this evenings Capital One Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester City as underdogs.
The Toffees have some top youngsters who have been performing superbly at times this season.
However, somehow Everton are in 11th position, when they really should be higher in the Premier League table.
A number of disappointing draws and defeats in the last few months have seen the Toffees lag behind in the race for top four.
Fantastic going forward, awful in defence
Everton’s problem has been the sheer numbers of goals they have concede in recent months. They have been fantastic going forward, with Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku producing scintillating football for much of the season.
Some would claim that the attacking philosophy of boss Roberto Martinez is the reason why the Toffees are playing such good football, which is probably correct. The claim that the philosophy means that teams will be vulnerable at the back may be slightly overused.
It is individual mistakes that have cost Everton this season. The Toffees play out from the back, but sometimes they over play and give the ball away. This is down to Martinez.
In John Stones they have the perfect defender to play out from the back. At times though he takes unnecessary risks and it has cost the Toffees this season. Nobody would want to take the cavalier out of Stones game, but he needs to know when to dribble or go forward.
Martinez is unlikely to tell Stones to stop taking risks and do the sensible thing sometimes. In reality though, the way the Toffees are playing is suicide football. Martinez’s teams at Wigan were ultimately flawed and were relegated to the Championship, despite winning the FA Cup.
There is no fear of the drop at Everton, but the defensive players are letting the team down at the moment. That comes with a slight note that the likes of Stones and Brendan Galloway are very young players, while centre-back Ramiro Funes Mori is relatively new to the English game, so is still acclimatising to the pace of the Premier League.
Two players could change the soft centre
The return to the Everton bench of Phil Jagielka on Sunday against Spurs is a major boost for the Toffees. The England international had been in decent form before picking up an injury that has seen him sidelined for the last few months.
His influence in that back four cannot be over-estimated. He is a leader, a personality and a captain. The 33-year-olds personality has been heavily missed in that Everton defence. He formed a very solid partnership with Stones in the second half of last season.
The other player that could have an effect on the Toffees defensive play is Bosnian international Muhamed Besic. He has just recovered from injury, but in his short cameos has shown that he could have the bite needed in front of the Toffees backline to help that defensive record.
Besic is at times a loose cannon and also gets overheated. The 23-year-old has been frustrated in his Everton career, as he has not had much of a chance to prove himself. However, his combative display against Tottenham lifted his teammates and the fans.
Everton have been too nice this season and easy to play against. Every successful team needs a player with a nasty streak, and Besic if he can stay fit, has the ability to be that player who can make opposition teams believe that they are in a game.
Republic of Ireland midfielder James McCarthy usually does that job. However in his absence for me Besic has to start tonight’s game against Manchester City. The Toffees cannot be as nice against the Citizens, as they have the sheer attacking quality to punish the Toffees.
The Toffees are underdogs
Everton are underdogs in tonight’s semi-final against City and are odds of 11/5 to win the first leg. The Toffees have the attacking talent cause City problems if Roberto Martinez picks the right team.
City are suspect at the back, especially without captain Vincent Kompany. Romelu Lukaku has been on fire this season and if he is given the service he will find the target.
For the Toffees attack to be effective however they need the defensive side of their play to be right and unfortunately there are no signs that Roberto Martinez can effect a change in that department and it could ultimately be his downfall at Everton.
Can Everton defeat Manchester City in tonight’s Capital One Cup clash?