Everton spent big this summer transfer window – armed with the cash freed up by the departure of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United for a reported €84.7m, Ronald Koeman went all out to sign some of the most promising players on the market to reshape his squad.
The arrival of Jordan Pickford for a reported £18m initially with £12m in performance related bonuses was, at the time, a remarkable coup, especially considering the fact that he is a young English goalkeeper who had been about the one bright spark of Sunderland’s lacklustre season.
Micheal Keane, who was also targeted by Man Utd if reports are to be believed, also arrived shortly thereafter. Wayne Rooney completed his fairy-tale return to the blue half of Merseyside, Sandro Ramirez arrived from Malaga for £5.25m and Ajax captain Davy Klaassen and Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson topped off the £145m summer spree.
There was an air around English football that Everton were the dark horses for the top four spots, especially considering that they had the tactical brain of Koeman leading them.
Fast forward to October, and most Evertonians worldwide have been left increasingly frustrated at the lack of results. They currently sit two points above the drop zone, devoid of all inspiration and creativity.
They have failed to build from the 1-0 victory over Stoke at home and the 1-1 draw at the Etihad, with the 3 points against fellow strugglers Bournemouth the only other victory they have managed to scrap together.
When we look at their run out in European competitions, Everton sit bottom of what a Toffees fan would have thought a group they were favourites to emerge from as winners. A 3-0 loss to Atalanta was followed by two unimpressive draws. The situation is quite grim as things stand.
The problem facing Ronald Koeman right now is that he is being forced to adapt and manoeuvre a style of play that contrasts one he is accustomed to. During his time at Southampton, he would play Graziano Pelle as a target man, utilising his abilities both as a target man and as a man who could link up play for the wide men and the runners.
It proved to be fruitful, as walking into St. Mary’s with the task of filling Mauricio Pochettino’s shoes, he steered them towards their first European competition in over a decade. Also armed with the firepower of Sadio Mane, Koeman’s sides were famous for their free flowing attacking play, targeting and exploiting weaknesses in the opposition. Whilst at Everton, he fielded Lukaku in said role, with the dynamic full back pair of Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines providing the width.
Everton would look to get the ball to the towering Belgian, and then build on from there, a tactic which worked to good effect, especially towards the end of last season. Now, with no one to provide the same skill set as Lukaku and the unfortunate injury to Coleman, Everton have struggled, not only in finding their strongest XI, but also in the area of creativity.
Sigurdsson has been eased into Koeman’s plans, and has struggled to find consistency. Sandro, who showed great promise during his time at Malaga, also needs more time and more minutes to settle in the English top flight. The departure of Gerard Deulofeu this summer has gone under the radar, and going back to the point mentioned above about explosive wide men, Everton have failed to adequately replace him and frozen out Kevin Mirallas at the same time.
However, the biggest problem for Everton right now is not about Koeman’s first XI, his formation or the absence of quality wide men. It is the manner of their defeats. Last evening, Burnley came to Goodison Park and completely outperformed the home team. They found the gaps regularly and created chances, and were also quick to block Everton getting through on goal.
Manchester United were second best for large parts of the second half, but they still hammered Everton 4-0. Pep Guardiola got his tactics horribly wrong in the first half, and his City side dominated the latter 45. Tottenham were taken aback at the relative ease with which they were allowed to run out 0-3 winners. This shows the lack of inspiration for the Everton players. They seem to be lost as to what to do. They are getting to the final third, but lack the poise and the finesse to take that final step. This is what should concern Koeman the most, and I believe it is what would be concerning the board.
With Frank De Boer shown the door in the PL already this season, and the recent pink slip handed out to Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich, combined with the restless trend of discarding and hiring managers in the Premier League, one does indeed wonder if Koeman might be the next casualty to this managerial trend.
Written by Ayush Verma.