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Smith: Strikers must step up

Burnley 2 hours ago
Read
Aug 17, 2014

Martinez must sort defensive issues

Chris Wood scored a late equaliser for Leicester as Everton's Premier League campaign got off to a stuttering start.

Aside from the obvious disappointment -- dropping two points at such a late stage on the opening day -- there was little in the way of surprises at the King Power stadium. In their 2-2 draw with Leicester on Saturday, Everton delivered the performance expected of them; it was a microcosm of last season as it was a veritable mix of good and bad.

With John Stones, a young central defender, employed at right-back, it is reasonable to expect a patchy defensive display. With Romelu Lukaku not seen in preseason, it is unsurprising to see a rusty, tired performance from a player lacking match fitness, though the full 90 minutes will help in terms of fitness.

In all honesty, that is how it panned out across the pitch. Everton underlined the things they do well while cementing existing concerns. The flowing football remains, so too does the inability to defend set pieces. The left-sided partnership of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar in full flow is still a fine sight, with the latter excelling here, but the team's nagging inability to close out matches abides.

- Report: Leicester 2-2 Everton
- Martinez: Barkley could miss months
- Jacobs: Foxes show resolve

Whether it is scoring the goals to kill the match or shutting down the game by starving the opposition of the ball, both aspects are very much a work in progress. Everton did neither well enough in the second half and must develop a ruthless streak in the final third of the pitch. Leicester scored twice despite carrying very little threat in open play.

In a rare break from the norm, with the visitors scoring 67 percent of their goals in the second half last term, two well-taken first-half goals had given the visitors the platform to end their opening day hoodoo. Aiden McGeady rifled in the opener, but much like his teammates, he was not as effective after halftime.

Steven Naismith coped admirably with replacing Ross Barkley, although the contrast between the two when employed in the No. 10 role is glaring. Naismith is more like a second forward, possessing the better finishing ability but lacking the ability in possession. Everton will miss Barkley's ability to ghost past players, open up space and drive forward on the ball.

Although not on the score sheet, it was the player to Naismith's left, Pienaar, who impressed most. At the heart of any well-constructed attacking move, it was not long before he and Baines resumed their almost telepathic understanding. Movement and appreciation of space are just two of the qualities the midfielder brings to this team.

As such, there was little surprise to see Leicester's late equaliser originate on that side, with Pienaar taken off and his replacement, Kevin Mirallas, buzzing around, trying too hard to impress, leaving Baines isolated. Rather than help a tiring group, the Pienaar substitution merely unsettled the balance of the side.

Likewise, set pieces are still troublesome. Nothing screams panic quite like the unsightly hack from Sylvain Distin that resulted in Leicester's first equaliser, and that was not the end of it. Roberto Martinez's men struggled to defend dead balls throughout the match, just as they did in his first season.

Already troubled by set pieces, Everton's defensive concerns multiplied thanks to Stones' presence at right-back. As promising a central defender he may be, a right-back he is not. Suspect positional play surfaced whenever Stones filled the role last season, and it materialised again for Chris Wood's late leveller.

The extra week of training will help ahead of next weekend's trip to Arsenal, while the second-half return of Seamus Coleman is another boost. As they inch toward full fitness, the remaining players and the manager must work on fine-tuning the same teething problems evident last season.

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