Stoppers becoming creators under new manager's masterplan
Roberto Martinez has praised his centre back partnership for keeping Everton's defence rock solid
The Everton boss knew he was inheriting two of the most reliable central defenders around in Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin when he took the Goodison reigns in the summer.
What has pleased him more, says the Catalan, is the way both have adapted to his new expansive approach of playing from the back – and seeing plenty more of the ball – without losing their stead-fast solidity.
“They have been incredible to adjusting to having so much of the ball,” says the Blues boss. “It’s about taking responsibility for different ways of playing and starting the play from the back.
“They have been the solid rocks of this squad for a long time and this season they’ve really embraced changing the way we start the play and been incredible ambassadors for this project.”
Martinez is still excited about his defensive options being boosted further by the eventual return of summer signing Antolin Alcaraz, who is still having to be patient as he bids to fully recover from a groin problem which has prevented him from making hid competitive debut for the Blues.
“It has been frustrating for all of us but him especially,” he says after revealing that the centre back faces a further month on the sidelines.
“He joined a new club, had a really good summer and pre-season then his groin started troubling him. He was trying to get match fitness and it got worse.
“Now he needs to build that frustration into something positive in the end. I think he’ll be a huge player for our squad and this frustration will help in the long-run. He can’t wait to impress the fans, and to help the team. It’s been a hard time for him.”
Martinez is at least hoping Darron Gibson and Kevin Mirallas will shake off injuries to be available for the game at Manchester City tomorrow.
Gibson’s knee and Mirallas’ ankle are the primary injury concerns for the Blues boss.
Mirallas twisted his ankle during the win over Newcastle on Monday, a game which Gibson missed because of a recurrence of his knee problem.
The Etihad Stadium clash could come too soon for Steven Pienaar, however.
“We hope that Darron is going to be fit,” Martinez says. “We have a bit of doubt with his knee from the previous knock that he had.
“Kevin Mirallas is still a concern and I would say he is 50-50 for the weekend. Obviously he was able to stay on the pitch but he has got a twisted ankle (against Newcastle).
Another player with a watching brief tomorrow lunchtime will be Gareth Barry, as the on-loan midfielder is unable to face his parent club under Premier League rules.
And the 32-year-old, who has enjoyed a sparkling start to his career at Goodison Park, admits it is rotten timing.
“It’s come at a really bad time for me,” says Barry. “In terms of fitness, you want to keep that run of games going because the fitter you get the easier the games become and the more you can get into your stride.
“It’s a tough one because the international break is straight after so it could be a three-week gap without a game which isn’t ideal. I’ll work hard to keep the levels up in between.”
As a Manchester City player, Barry twice suffered defeat against Everton at the Etihad Stadium. He also was involved in last season’s 1-1 draw between the sides at the start of December.
The Toffees have lost just one of their last eight matches against the Citizens – and the former Aston Villa man will be happy to provide any inside knowledge to help that sequence continue.
“The lads will know enough about the team [Manchester City] without my input but if anybody needs advice they can ask me,” he adds.
“They’ll be expecting a tough game because Manchester City have shown that at home they are a tough team to beat. The couple of performances they have put in [in the Premier League] have been brilliant, especially the Newcastle game. To beat Manchester United in the derby – they played some fantastic stuff.
“We are going to have to play a really top game to get a result at the Etihad but we are capable of doing it.
“They [Everton] have always been tough to beat when I was on the other end of it. If the manager [Martinez] sets the team up as hard to play against but try and create problems for them at the other end then I’m sure we are capable of getting a result there.
“The manager won’t be too defensive – he will go there and want the lads to play their normal game and create problems [for Manchester City].
“I’m looking forward to watching the game. It should be good.”