Roberto Martinez should adapt, but shouldn't scrap, struggling Everton
One thing you can't accuse Roberto Martinez of is a lack of confidence or ambition. Stubbornness, perhaps. Being a little too nice for the rough old world of the Premier League, maybe. Having a suspect taste in tan loafers... well, that's down to your own sartorial tastes.
When he arrived at Everton, Martinez promised chairman Bill Kenwright that he would get his team into the Champions League, a not insignificant act of chutzpah from a man who had just been relegated with Wigan. And that's the thing about promises: if you don't keep them, then you end up looking pretty silly, at best.
This was the season, the campaign when the rest of the perennial contenders were in assorted forms of flux, to take advantage and camp out in one of those top four spots. Martinez can hardly complain about a lack of support either, with the club's record transfer fee nearly doubled with the acquisition of Romelu Lukaku on a permanent deal, presumably fairly chunky sums sunk into the wages of Samuel Eto'o and Gareth Barry, plus the recruitment of Muhamed Besic, all with no significant departures.
And yet it's all going rather wrong for Martinez and Everton, who are 12 points off those sought-after Champions League spots, 16 points worse off than at the same stage last season and closer to the bottom three than they would either like or have planned for. They've won just once in their last seven league games and that was at home to QPR, themselves yet to pick up a point on the road.
You could give several excuses for their shoddy form, the most obvious and readily grasped at being the distraction of the Europa League. Everton have won just once in the games immediately after their Thursday night excursions, but it would be a cop-out to pin all of their struggles on one extra game a week.
One of the reasons put forward for their slump is a staunch refusal from Martinez to alter his style of play. He has stuck to the pleasant passing approach even when it ostensibly appears to be the cause of a good few problems, notably what turned out to be Newcastle's winner on Sunday. In his no-nonsense manner after that defeat, Graeme Souness called for Everton and Martinez to adopt some of the tactics employed under David Moyes to stem the bleeding.
It's a common theme when things are going wrong and, as is often the case in football, is reflected in 'real' life as well. In times of national and economic crisis, there is a tendency for the public to drift to the right of the political spectrum, to think that discipline is required and a more belt and braces form of governance will solve the problem.
At its root, this is a "back to basics" approach, and it's a similar thing when it's all going south for a football club, the theory being that a team must ignore any sort of frippery and concentrate on the meat and potatoes of football. It's basically an extended version of throwing the centre-back up front and chucking the ball into the "mixer" when you're 1-0 down with three minutes to go; it can work, but it can also look like desperation.
Martinez, for his own part, doesn't seem to be folding. "As a team we need to stick with our principles, the doubts that people try to bring in makes you a stronger team," he said after losing at Newcastle. "We showed last season what we could do, we haven't lost that talent, if anything we've increased it."
He's right, to an extent. Martinez received plenty of plaudits for the way he built on Moyes's foundations and made Everton better last season, so it would seem hasty to chuck that in the bin after a disappointing first half of the campaign.
Which of course doesn't mean that there aren't problems that Martinez needs to address, such as Lukaku's form, a few injuries and an inconsistency in where and how to use Ross Barkley (and others, detailed here by Luke O'Farrell), but the most pressing is their defence.
Only QPR have conceded more goals in the Premier League this season, the combination of an ageing defence (Tim Howard, Sylvain Distin, Antolin Alcaraz, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines are all the wrong side of 30) and Martinez's age-old problem with organising a rearguard combining to give the Toffees one of the most "accommodating" backlines around.
One of the strangest things about this season has been giving Sam Allardyce credit for things, but here we go again. Martinez can perhaps take inspiration from the way Allardyce has turned things around at West Ham this season, for while plenty has been said and written about how he has completely changed the way his team play, in truth he has only adapted it.
Of course West Ham are nicer to watch this season, at least partly due to the recruitment of a specialist attacking coach in Teddy Sheringham, but they are still just as muscular and combative as they always were; they're also not afraid to revert to the old "route one" style when it suits. Martinez has clearly displayed that defence is not his particular forte so as Allardyce brought in someone to help out at the other end of the pitch, the Spaniard might also consider recruiting a specialist coach to marshall his men at the back.
Whatever Martinez is doing now clearly isn't working, both in attack and defence, but his career has told us so far that the former problem is one that he himself is well-equipped to solve himself; the latter, less so. It would be tempting, in this run of terrible form, for Martinez to abandon his principles to try tightening things up at Goodison Park, but that would be a step or two too far, particularly in the middle of the season. A more sensible course of action would simply be to modify them.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.