Why Leon Osman Needs to Prove Himself for Everton vs. Real Madrid
Roberto Martinez has enjoyed a promising preseason thus far at Everton. His side have been winning while playing an attractive brand of football and have reached higher performance levels during every game.
Initially, Martinez used a 4-2-3-1 system, similar to formations deployed by David Moyes, but over the past few matches he's started to expand his repertoire and his favoured 3-4-3 approach has appeared.
In whichever formation Everton use this season, the style is clearly going to be substantially different, as will some of the personnel. Martinez has already thrown a few surprises out there, such as starting John Stones against Juventus, who excelled.
For one or two members of the Toffees' playing staff, perhaps those used to walking into the team during the previous regime, these next few games present a much needed opportunity to impress.
One player in that particular boat is Leon Osman, who could see his playing time dramatically reduced this season.
Osman started 36 Premier League games last year and was only behind Leighton Baines and Tim Howard in terms of minutes played. He generally partnered Darron Gibson in the central midfield berths of a 4-4-1-1 formation, or occasionally featured as the attacking midfielder behind the front man.
He enjoyed a strong start to the season, earning a surprise England call-up in the process, but his form began to wilt towards the end of a long year.
Under Martinez, he hasn't exactly dazzled during the early stages of preseason. He emerged from the bench against Juventus with the Toffees winning 1-0 and promptly gave the ball away for Kwadwo Asamoah to belt home an equaliser.
In the ensuing penalty shootout he was then the only Everton player to miss from the spot, which isn't the best way to go about impressing your new manager.
It seems his decline in form has carried over from May and this is an obvious reason why he needs to show improvements against Real Madrid.
However, aside from the simple matter of form, logistically there doesn't appear an obvious role for Osman, especially in Martinez's 3-4-3 system. If there is, it's a spot with a great deal of competition.
Everton's new manager clearly sees Marouane Fellaini as a defensive midfielder, and—if the Belgian remains at the club through this transfer window—that puts Osman's place in real jeopardy.
In a 3-4-3 approach, it would be the Belgian partnering Darron Gibson in midfield, instead of the England man. Osman would then either have to compete with Gibson or aim for one of the wide, attacking berths, ahead of the likes of Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu.
Quite simply, that's not going to happen. His spot is the one taken by the extra defender, and—in a full strength team—it seems a lineup with a back three won't be involving Osman on a regular basis.
If Martinez reverts back to the 4-2-3-1 formation, then there's slightly more hope for Osman, but again it would be in one of the attacking midfield roles which would be highly sought after.
Will Osman continue being first choice next season?
Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas are almost certainties to start in two of the three roles, leaving Osman to fend off the youthful talent of Deulofeu and Ross Barkley—who's another that could suffer in a 3-4-3 approach.
Barkley has looked rejuvenated and—whisper it quietly—finally seems ready to announce himself this season, while Deulofeu has a reputation as being one of the most exciting teenage prospects in Europe. Keeping either quiet won't be easy for Osman.
Whether he's dictating the tempo deep in midfield, or using his deft footwork to manufacture attacking openings, the England midfielder needs to make an impact during the remaining games of preseason. He needs to highlight his worth to the team and influence his side's play, starting against Real Madrid.
Should he continue on with the inconsistent form he finished last season with, and showed against Juventus, he may suddenly find himself on the fringes of selection as the Premier League season begins.
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