Despite spending over £100m in the summer, Everton have not hit the ground running this season.
They have so far only picked up two wins in the league, with three defeats and a draw, whilst also only having managed to score four goals in the entirety of this season.
For so long Everton have been considered ‘the best of the rest’, and many believed that after their summer shopping spree this could be the year which they make a real push for the top six.
The majority of the money at their disposal came from the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United for £90m. In hindsight, it may be easy to say that after selling their best player it would be inevitable that they struggle. However, Southampton have proved time and time again that players can be replaced without an overall effect on the team and as the transfer went through relatively early in the window (10th July) Koeman had more than enough warning to make arrangements to fill Lukaku’s place in the team.
However, rather than directly replacing the striker Koeman instead chose to spend £68m + an undisclosed on fee on what is effectively three number 10s: Sigurdsson, Klaassen and Rooney. The only real out and out forward who was signed is Sandro Ramirez who, despite scoring 16 La Liga goals last season, has so far not given much evidence to convince us that he will be getting anywhere near Lukaku’s stats. He has looked marginalised for the Toffees so far, and has not even been able to hold down a regular place in the team.
As a manger Koeman has consistently relied on a single striker in his teams to carry the weight of goals: Lukaku obviously, John Guidetti at Feyernoord and Rafael van der Vaart at Ajax to name a few. This makes it even more puzzling that a proven striker was not more of a priority in the summer. There was a potential bid for Diego Costa in the dying days of the transfer window and yes, good strikers may be hard to come by these days, but this still does not excuse the fact that Koeman has not addressed a key area in his team, despite having had the time and the money at his disposal to do so.
This saga has also posed interesting questions on Koeman’s man management skills. Oumar Niasse was Everton’s unlikely hero in their recent game against Bournemouth, netting a brace to secure the victory for Koeman’s team.
Just over a year ago Koeman had previously said ‘if he likes to play football then he needs to leave Everton’. After a suitable buyer could not be found Niasse ended up staying (albeit with a half a season loan to Hull) and trained with the under 23s. He does not even have a locker at the club and had to leave Goodison in his tracksuit after the match against Bournemouth as he was not given a club suit.
Managers are allowed to not want certain players in their team, but if Koeman had shown a slight bit of humility and admitted that Niasse could have been a decent option from the start of the season; when they were already short on forwards rather than just when he had literally no other options, perhaps they may have fared better.
What could be the final nail in Koeman’s self-made coffin is his tactical approach so far this season. Everton have constantly set up with men behind the ball, which right from the start indicates a conservative, stodgy style of play. It could be that Koeman is setting them up to play on the counter-attack, which is all very well and good but Everton just does not have the pace to beat teams on the counter. Take their city neighbours Liverpool for example.
Their defence is shaky at best but they know that with the pace of Mane, Firmino, Salah and Coutinho they can destroy teams on the counter. Everton’s attacking players just cannot do this in the same way.
Koeman will need to adjust his tactics to fit his starting line up if they want any sort of consistency. He undeniably has a wealth of midfield talent at his disposal with Sigurdsson and Rooney but he needs to start utilising it better if they want to start competing for Champions League spots alongside trophies and titles with the truly top teams in the Premier League.
Written by Dom Clarke.