The loss of a first-eleven centre-back is bad enough, never mind your captain! Phil Jagielka has been a strong presence in Everton’s back four this season, pulling out many a flawless performance. His inclusion in recent England squads being testament to this. So you would think losing him to injury would cause all kinds of disruption, right?

Well, I did too. As we looked to the bench to find his replacement, we were faced with three choices:

  1. The new signing from Wigan, fresh off the back of his own injury, Antolin Alcaraz;
  2. An old favourite, out of favour, Johnny Heitinga;
  3. And finally, the fresh face, who joined as a right back, John Stones.

The spotlight falls on the first option, Number 32: the 6ft-2in Paraguayan, Antolin Alcaraz, steps into the hole in the defence. With many unsure what to expect, he had his chance to impress... and boy, has he! He slotted effortlessly into the team using his previous experience with Martinez’s pass-from-the-back tactics and confidence in the air. I for one have been very impressed with his admittedly small number of appearances so far. I was at first sceptical but now feel confident in him when under pressure.

So then, story over, replacement found? Until Distin is suddenly out with injury... Now what? With two first team centre backs in the physio room and one centre back left to turn to in Johnny Heitinga, it’s left to John Stones to take the wheel. He did join as a right back but, between the 19-year-old’s tackling ability and physical stature, and the fact that we have Seamus Coleman, he seems to be making a transition to centre-back.

Now he could be forgiven for being a little shaky with his young age and lack of experience at Premier League level, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he joined our now growing list of imperious defenders. He has thanked Jagielka for being his teacher, but has also said he wants to give the manager Martinez a tough call to make between them for the starting eleven. That’s what I like to see: players willing to fight for their places and showing desire to be the best they can be.

Special mention also to Bryan Oviedo, more than effectively replacing the injured Leighton Baines and emphatically showing why he should have a first-team place. A winner against Manchester United away? Instant hero. I personally feel we would have little to worry about, were we to sell Leighton, if Oviedo can keep his current form... but that’s a whole different story.

But enough of all that: even with four Everton players named in the back 5 Premier League Team of the Year for 2013 , we all know as we were told at the start of the season Roberto Martinez’s teams can’t defend... Everlone Athletic, us.

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Trevor Lynes
1 Posted 06/01/2014 at 14:52:54
Don't even mention Baines leaving, he is integral to our defence and for the first time in years we have a squad of defenders who can seamlessly rotate without loss of ability. This is very important if we manage European qualification with all the extra fixtures it brings.

We badly need a Mata style playmaker in midfield to supply ammunition for our strikers and also a top quality front man to replace Lukaku when he go's back to Chelsea.

If we get those two together with McGeady then I will feel confident of success. Stones and Alcaraz have only had a game or two so far and I must reserve judgement until they have played together for longer. We seem to be in good shape so far but we still have a lot of games to play!!

Michael Coffey
2 Posted 06/01/2014 at 15:24:16
You've got to love John Stones. Interviewed in getting the MOtM award on the OS, re his Juventus pre season penalty:

Interviewer - "you've got to stop teaching Jelavic how to take penalties !"

JS "if I'd been teaching him, it would've gone in"

Danny Parker
3 Posted 06/01/2014 at 15:19:45
Our defence is looking really solid and has good depth add too the fact we have two outstanding holding midfielders sat in front in James McCarthy and Gareth Barry who have the perfect blend of youth and experience were building a platform for our attack too express itself safe in the knowledge there's a solid base behind it.

Stones and Alcaraz look assured on the ball good first touch and comfortable bringing it out from back this I feel is the type of centre-half our manager prefers. Special mention too Tim Howard who after finally having some competition in goal has really up'd his game this season.

Jon Ferguson
4 Posted 06/01/2014 at 15:32:47
I agree with all the above, with the exception that the emergence of Oveido should not be seen as an opportunity to sell Baines. Next Season we should be in Europe and then we need a bigger squad with more top quality players. Hopefully this will be the beginning of us having more strength in depth.

P.S. Michael 350 - love that quote.

Mike Gaynes
5 Posted 06/01/2014 at 15:41:14
Michael, that's a fantastic quip, thanks for sharing that! The lad certainly doesn't lack for confidence, does he?
Mike Gaynes
6 Posted 06/01/2014 at 15:43:36
Trevor (529), do you rate McGeady? I've never seen him play, but the Ireland supporters here seem to have, to put it nicely, a mixed view of him.
David Sawyer
7 Posted 06/01/2014 at 15:47:25
I was fortunate enough to present young John with his Mom prize on Saturday. In the few minutes I had in his company he came across as a humble good lad and seemed a credit to the football club. I am not sure what he must have thought of my family though as my Dad had overdid it and missed his handshake while my Uncle (who has overdone it for 30 years) couldn't shake his hand as it was riddled with Gout!
Phil Friedman
8 Posted 06/01/2014 at 16:44:39
Agree with Trevor, except I think a defensive mid is also a pressing need. Mac and especially Barry can't be expected to do the job game after game. For instance, Stevenage in the Cup Saturday, and then the derby Tuesday what does RM do then? Where's the cover? You may say Barkley, but he's not at his best playing so deep. And I don't think that's McGeady's (if we get him) natural position either.
James Stewart
9 Posted 06/01/2014 at 16:55:32
We do have some excellent defenders. It was always known Stones would be a CB though even before he came to us. Looks a real prospect and a player much more suited to the RM system than Distin or Jagielka even though the latter has improved recently with his passing.

We definitely need to keep Baines. Its a squad game now and we need to increase ours not the opposite

Brian Harrison
10 Posted 06/01/2014 at 16:54:15
I thought Stones was terrific on Saturday he looked so assured in possession, he reminded me a lot of Hansen when he played for Liverpool. I was also impressed with Alcaraz his touch for a big man was brilliant. I am sure if we were without Jagielka,Distin and Baines some months back we might have feared the worst.

I also think that Oviedo is getting better and better with each game, I am not sure that we can keep him and Baines happy. Would be great if we could but now Oviedo has had a run of games and played well then I cant see him settling for a place on the bench. So come the summer a tough choice for RM me thinks. I didnt think I would ever say this because I really really rate Leighton but given their respective ages if a huge bid came in for Leighton then I would let him go.

David Chait
12 Posted 06/01/2014 at 18:32:39
I hear the idea of two quality players in each position and not selling Baines.. But for me we are not a rich club and could do with cashing in Baines now.

It would be a Wenger type sale, where the player is almost at the top of his value but in fact will diminish greatly in value from hereon. His sale and the Fella excess would find a serious striker.

We can only do this because of the incredible talent shown by Oviedo which has astounded me. Never thought we would be in a position to let Baines go... Saying that I don't see offers coming in. Man Utd fans would crack surely.

Oh and thank goodness Alcaraz is showing this form as I prey he moves above Distin in the pecking order... I still get the shivers with him around.

Kevin Day
13 Posted 06/01/2014 at 19:10:28
One thing not mentioned here is how vocal Stones is. I was fortunate enough to be by the corner flag in the family enclosure on Saturday, and in the first half, when he was playing down our end, you could clearly hear him shouting/ talking to those around him. For only his second start, he's making that position his own.

Future captain, I'm certain of that.

Peter Bell
14 Posted 06/01/2014 at 20:42:02
Agree, that Stones and Alcaraz look impressive so far, who both look like they have the ability to play the ball from the back, nevertheless, would like to see how they cope with a more aggressive type of forward who gets amongst them in a battle. Think Jags and Distin would be more up for the fight so to speak
Martin Handley
15 Posted 06/01/2014 at 20:36:09
Kevin I get the feeling that young Jimmy Mac will be our captain before long , he covers every blade of glass and is extremely vocal. Also he too is a very down to earth, modest lad who only has the teams best interests at heart and that type of attitude thankfully seems to be catching.
Patrick Murphy
16 Posted 06/01/2014 at 20:57:30
The perfect scenario is that all of the team members think and act like captains as that is the best way to gain success. At the moment many of the players are acting in that manner and that can only be good for the club and the team.
David Hallwood
17 Posted 06/01/2014 at 21:57:59
David Chait (#605) there was a newspaper article posted on here that suggested that Distin becomes a British citizen and team him up with Jags for the World Cup. I think the writer of the article has got a point because IMHO there isn't a better pair of CBs in the EPL, obviously a case can be made for better CBs out there, but no team has 2 CBs that dovetail like Distin & Jags.

That makes the Alcaraz/Stones partnership all the more remarkable because we haven't really missed them (but it would be interesting to see if they would cope with ratboy or Negredo). But for the first time we have got quality in depth at the back, and given that we had the best defensive record in the last calendar year, who says we can't have a shot at the title.

Julian Wait
18 Posted 07/01/2014 at 00:36:25
Firstly, I think we will see Distin become a rotation player, first CB pair choice will be Jags/Alcaraz, with Distin or Stones introduced when either of Jags/Alcaraz is out, or if we need a third CB (perhaps if McCarthy or Barry are out) ...

Secondly, having a third CB as an option would obviate the need for Osman to play CM (DM) ever again, which is always a problem (I have no problem with Osman in the front three, especially to try and pick open a Stoke or West Ham ...).

i.e. Who would you rather see in the "center 4" when there's a player out in CM?

a) 3 of Stones/Jags/Alcaraz/Distin+ 1 of Barry/McCarthy
b) 2 of Stones/Jags/Alcaraz/Distin+ 1 Osman + 1 of Barry/McCarthy ?

It's a) every time for me ...

Finally, even though he's in great shape, if Distin has to play slightly less often I think it will lengthen his career. He will appreciate that and we will also benefit (as will the younger players).

It's all good :-)

David Ellis
19 Posted 07/01/2014 at 02:07:08
Oviedo will need to feel he can get more games otherwise he will be unsettled. I'd like to keep Baines until the end of the season (and after the World Cup), but would accept a decent offer thereafter. However I think that boat may have sailed and he will now stay with us - not a bad outcome either. But will be hard to keep both Oviedo and Baines happy.
David Chait
20 Posted 07/01/2014 at 04:35:44
David 686, I know I'm in the vast minority on my opinion of Distin... And to be fair he has improved. But for his first couple years he avoided his right foot so much it was costing goals. Trying to clear with his left when his right would have been easier ... Then the pass back that shall not be named .

Rahman Talib
21 Posted 07/01/2014 at 07:16:56
I think Bryan Oviedo plays better in the left wingback role than Baines.

There I've said it

Simon Atkins
22 Posted 07/01/2014 at 10:30:28
I was nervous about both of them but how wrong can you be?

Both of them ooze class which is clear every time they have possession, They are never in a hurry, look totally comfortable and hoofball is not even an option.

Long may it continue!

Ian Burns
23 Posted 07/01/2014 at 16:02:57
Good article Rob - well done. Intelligent thread this one. However, it has got me thinking again and although it is obvious to all we need a decent striker for reasons posted on many occasions, I still feel a good DM is of paramount importance.

The thought of Aiden McGeady coming in fills me with despair - a rare feeling these days at EFC but I have said it before on this site, he could dribble the ball up his own arse and lose it.

Jimmy Sørheim
24 Posted 07/01/2014 at 16:52:43
I think we should all wait with the praise of Alcaraz and Stones until they have played more Premiership games.

Qpr was an all too easy job for me as they put up no fight at all.
It would be foolish to think that will be the case against Norwich.

I actually think we are in a downward spiral form wise in the league.

We should really have beaten Sunderland, and the Stoke game was not a great one either.

I fear a pattern has emerged so far this season, as we tend to do less well against teams that we should beat on paper.

Lukaku has to step it up or he will drag us down the table.
We need more goals in the league and I would try playing Jelavic in the game at Norwich.
Give them 45 minutes each.

Nick Entwistle
25 Posted 07/01/2014 at 19:39:56
No one has mentioned Duffy, and he has a good future at the club too. He was imperious in the few matches he played and will come back ready and willing from his Yeovil jaunt.
Timothy Sebastian
26 Posted 08/01/2014 at 03:32:56
The difference between Martinez and Moyes is that the latter would have gone for Heitinga before Stones. And even if Heitinga had an awful game, Moyes would have stuck with him until Jags or Distin returned. Martinez, on the other hand, trusts youth and places his confidence in them. And this confidence is repaid many times over by excellent performances on the pitch.
Dennis Ng
27 Posted 08/01/2014 at 04:11:26
Jimmy, I have a pal from Norwich, and we always joke how they are our bogeyman. But I trust our draw earlier this season as points dropped. Our team is gaining confidence by the minute. We should do well, but of course, no point is guaranteed. I do think you over worry though. If any team is guaranteed any points, all your big spenders would be ahead of us by now. Our form is fine! If anything is a trend, perhaps smaller teams treat us as a big team and defend us to the end? Jelavic should get 45 minutes at least!

Nick/Tim, absolutely right. What's the point of having a good academy if you're not going to use them? I look forward to seeing them play and become the future of our team!

Phil Walling
28 Posted 08/01/2014 at 19:54:45
Nothing worried me more about the appointment of Roberto than his failure to DEFEND Wigan's Premier status. By general consent, he had at least half-a-dozen very decent players in last season's team but his defence even when Alcaraz was available was pathetic for nearly all of the season.

Add to that his predilection for 'fannying about ' at the back and I considered him a disaster in waiting. But I was wrong. Although we had to put up with some stutters in the early matches and Howard still is on a learning curve I had failed to recognise and appreciate how skilled were the men at his disposal at Everton.

Indeed, so much more talented are they than the bunch Martinez had at Wigan that they have been able to absorb their manager's instructions without losing one iota of their previous effectiveness. Added to which the discovery that Alcaraz is a gem, Stones a star in the making and Oviedo far more than the scuffer Moyes considered him to be, it has seen us none the worse for the temporary loss of the defensive giants that are Jags and Distin.

Ask me to name the star of our ever-changing but so dependable back four and I'll give you Seamus Coleman. He positively glories in the freedom now afforded to him. Just don't tell that fella down the road, though!

Robert Jones
29 Posted 10/01/2014 at 17:24:05
Jimmy, you're far too afraid of a quite limited Norwich side. Three weeks ago, the fans were calling for Hughton's head, now you're crapping yourself on every thread. I do think we'll win, and I don't think we're on a downward spiral the only thing that this last month has shown us is maybe how important Deulofeu is.

We're well stocked in defence, Gibson coming back will be valuable for the central midfield the two positions we need to really consider are a long-term central striker (which is sadly dependent on finishing in the CL or Bill pulling his finger out) and buying a 'luxury' player like Deulofeu. I've got faith in Martinez that he knows what he's doing if Barkley can add a bit more creativity and a few assists, he'd be perfect.

But I don't see ANY reason to panic. We're a footballing side, teams and managers are worried about us WHICH IS GREAT. I'd rather we were feared and teams park the bus rather than pat us on the head like an obedient dog and roll over and die.

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