One of the big surprises of the season so far is how quickly Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin have adapted to the methods of Roberto Martinez, with both players arguably enjoying their strongest seasons for some time.
There was always likely to be some teething problems and we saw evidence of this in the opening weeks of the season, with Distin in particular looking uncomfortable in possession, especially when placed under intense pressure by the opposition attackers. However both central defenders have adapted superbly and against some of the better attacking teams in the league, Distin and Jagielka have remained defensively solid and have become the starting point for many of Everton’s attacks.
No team in the Premier League have kept more clean sheets than Everton this season, with the Distin and Jagielka partnership playing a crucial role in stopping the opposition scoring on eight occasions so far this season. Aside from Arsenal, Everton have also conceded less goals, 14 from 15 games, than any other team in the Premier League.
But it is not just the Blue’s resilience that has been impressive. Both central defenders have adapted their games superbly to deal with the significant change in tactical approach. Every time Tim Howard is in possession, the centre backs pull wide, making sure they are available to receive the ball and start the Everton attack from the back. If the Everton midfield have the ball, one or both of the central defenders drops deeper to offer an alternative option for the more forward thinking players. This ensures Everton retain possession, but it also forces the opposition to work incredibly hard to win the ball back.
During the season to date, Distin and Jagielka have both significantly increased their passing accuracy. The table below shows that both players have seen a rise of between 7% and 8% in their accuracy. This is even more impressive when you consider that the total number of passes per games has increased significantly, as shown in the recent game with Arsenal.
Comparing directly the two corresponding fixtures at the Emirates, during the 2012/13 season under the direction of David Moyes and the recent 2013/14 match under Martinez, you can appreciate the level of adaptation the Everton central defenders have made.
During last season’s fixture, Distin attempted just 25 passes compared to 61 in last Sunday’s match. A percentage increase of 144%!!! What makes this even more impressive is that Distin successfully completed 90% of those 61 attempted passes. No more so is this change of tactical approach demonstrated by the number of long balls attempted by the defence. Phil Jagielka, famed for his long diagonal balls, attempted 11 long passes in last season’s fixture, compared to just the 7 this time around.
Roberto Martinez has been delighted with the performance of the duo and in particularly how hard Distin has worked to become more comfortable on the ball. Martinez spoke to EvertonTV to make public with his admiration for Distin after the weekend’s game with Arsenal.
“Sylvain has been an incredible performer this season. I wouldn’t say he has just carried on where he left off last season, he has stepped up and has gone to a different level.
“He has always been paramount in our defensive duties but now he is very important in our style of play and the distribution that he brings to the team.
“Sylvain looks after himself – he is always the last man out at Finch Farm and he could play for a long, long time,
“I’m proud to have a player like Sylvain Distin representing Everton because he has got incredible standards.”