While the red part of Merseyside has been the focus of much media scrutiny and speculation this season, it has been a testing period for both of the area’s top flight clubs.
While Liverpool have dominated much of the headlines, from the sale of Luis Suarez to club legend Steven Gerrard’s impending departure via their early exit from the Champions League, it has also been a challenging time for neighbours Everton and their manager Roberto Martinez.
It was a new era when Martinez was appointed manager at Goodison Park just under two years ago, with the former Wigan and Swansea boss taking over David Moyes, who had been at the helm for eleven steady and respectable years.
While Martinez was hugely respected as a coach, some doubted whether he was up to the task of maintaining and developing the level of consistency Everton had enjoyed under Moyes where they regularly finished in the top half of the Premier League. However, Martinez showed he was up to the task in his first season in charge, leading the Toffees to an impressive fifth-placed finish, guaranteeing them a place in this season’s Europa League in the process.
His successful first season on Merseyside also included some notable results, including victories over Chelsea, Arsenal and a first win at Old Trafford over Manchester United in 21 years.
However, it has been a small case of second season syndrome for Martinez and Everton in 2014/15, as the club have endured some stuttering form in their Premier League campaign so far. They have just six wins to their name and have already lost more games this campaign than they did in the whole of last season.
Saturday’s win at Selhurst Park over Crystal Palace, who inflicted a surprise defeat on Everton at Goodison Park back in September, earned the Toffees their first victory on the road since October, and the boost could not have come at a better time for Martinez. Everton face a much-improved Liverpool side in the Merseyside derby in their next league fixture and have trips to Stamford Bridge and the Emirates in the coming month, as well as both legs of their Europa League clash with BSC Young Boys.
But despite their recent downturn in fortunes, Martinez has deserved the patience and faith shown in him. He is no stranger to pressure and managing in difficult circumstances from his time at Wigan.
For three consecutive seasons the Latics battled against the odds to maintain their top flight status under the former Swansea manager’s guidance. Although they did finally succumb to relegation by a narrow margin in his final season at the DW Stadium, Martinez was still able to lead Wigan to an incredible FA Cup final victory over Manchester City in May 2013 – their first ever success in the competition.
He has also made some impressive judgements since arriving on Merseyside which can be seen through some of the players he has acquired, such as Gareth Barry and particularly former Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku, who originally joined Everton on loan in September 2013, played a huge part in Everton’s impressive season in 2013/14, scoring 15 Premier League goals and continuing the impressive form he had shown on loan at West Brom the season before. He made the move north permanent last summer, joining Everton for a club record fee of £28 million, filling the void of an out and out striker that the club had lacked at times in previous seasons.
Fans should also consider Moyes’ regime before reaching any rash conclusions on Martinez. In the Scot’s second full season in charge in 2003/04, the Toffees endured a difficult campaign, finishing just outside the relegation places in 17th place. However, the club showed faith in Moyes, who went on to lead them to outstanding 4th place finish the following season, beating Liverpool to the final Champions League spot.
It remains to be seen whether Martinez can have the longevity that Moyes enjoyed during his time at Goodison Park. But in the short-term, he should have the respect and understanding of the fans to ensure him more time to get the club back up the table. Maybe for Martinez, like his predecessor, it may just take patience.