Everton have fallen well short of the standard they set last season so far this term.. They finished in 5th place with a record Premier League points tally of 72 points and achieved some memorable performances and results on the way.
Most notably the double victory over Manchester United and the 1-1 draw away to Arsenal. However, this season has been a stark contrast, they find themselves in 11th place on 21 points, 13 points and 6 places below that of this time last year.
Pre-season problems to blame?
Everton's pre-season was a very last minute affair, with matches being announced sometimes only 10-14 days before they were taking place. It seemed as though there was a lack of long term planning for pre-season fixtures.
Moreover, Everton's performances in these games (although we should not dwell on pre-season games too much) was less than spectacular. There was a constant pattern of poor displays and the team looking worryingly off the pace with the season just days away, a clear lack of fitness which Everton took into their Premier League campaign.
Transfers under scrutiny
Looking back on the 2013/14 squad, the transfers it could be argued did not improve the squad and the team looks near enough the same as that of last season.
Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry were signed on permanent deals, which is of course a positive for the club, but did not improve the squad. Christian Atsu was signed on-loan from Chelsea, perhaps as a replacement for the outgoing loanee Gerard Deulofeu but he has failed to produce anything similar to what Deulofeu did last season. There is even talk of a return to Chelsea he has been that bad. The one improvement we can see is the signing of Muhamed Besic, who has endeared himself to the Everton faithful.
However, that's only one improved addition to the squad. Everyone of Everton's other meant to be rivals this season made vast improvements and even the likes of West Ham and Swansea made significant improvements to their squad and they see themselves situated above Everton in the table.
Europa League to blame?
A difference to last season is the involvement of the Europa League, which presents an array of positives and negatives depending on how you feel about the competition. One thing that is true is more games will be played, therefore higher demands on your squad.
Everton have picked up just 7 points out of a possible 18 after Europa League fixtures and one of these results (3-1 win at home to QPR) was played on a Monday night and involved 11 changes from the team that had played Kuban Krasnodar on the Thursday night. This Everton team looks as though it is struggling with the added demands of Europa League football.
Roberto Martinez still the main man?
For some Evertonian's the Roberto Martinez love affair has ended abruptly. Most will agree that some comments made against him by Everton fans after the defeat to Southampton were an extremely knee-jerk reaction and he is still the right man to take the club forward.
However, he is not faultless and his tactics must come into question. The lack of any substitutions in the Southampton game was astounding, especially when it was clear at least by half-time that his tactics were not working. Furthermore, throughout the season there seems to be a lack of any Plan B. Sometimes if trailing, it is perfectly okay to change the formation and/or go slightly longer with your passing but this is something we have not seen at all.
Finally, there is a clear lack of balance in the squad on occasions and this has led to defeats. Too many so-called "Number 10's" and a lack of width is the problem. Against Southampton Samuel Eto'o, Steven Naismith and Ross Barkley all played but Barkley and Naismith shipped out wide which as we have seen in previous losses does not work, but yet Martinez persists with this ploy.
Defence the most pressing concern
The defence or should it be the lack of one has been a real problem this season. An average of 1.6 goals per games has been conceded by this normal rock solid defence. 32-year-old Phil Jagielka and 37-year-old Sylvain Distin have both been stalwarts in the Everton defence for the past 5 years, however certainly in Distin's case, age is showing and when John Stones returns from injury he will be straight back into the side. The full backs normally vital to Everton's play have also been off the pace in recent months with neither Baines nor Coleman up to their usual high standards. Perhaps it is time for 21-year-old left back Luke Garbutt to have a shot in the first team at the expense of Baines.