Premier League

Everton are still missing a vital piece of the puzzle?

In a game that was billed as one that could be the match of the weekend between two strong sides, Tottenham Hotspur displayed just how powerful they are by dismantling Everton 3-0 at Goodison Park. A Harry Kane double and Christian Eriksen’s strike completed the rout which leaves Ronald Koeman’s Everton side with just four points from a possible 12.

While Tottenham were the dominant side in the face-off, Everton were equally as bad. Koeman’s team just edged possession and actually had 12 shots in comparison to Spurs’ 15. However, the London side managed to get six on target, whereas Everton did not register a shot on target throughout the game.

It continues a worrying trend of poor displays which have seen them drop points against the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and now Tottenham. Of course, it would be fanciful to say Everton should be winning all three of these games, with the Toffees playing the top three from last season in their opening four games.

Following the loss to Tottenham, Koeman told Sky Sports:

“I hope we take some lessons out of this afternoon. After the lucky first goal we lost domination and we lost control of the game. How we started after half-time was really bad. The second half is something to learn from because there were several situations when I think we were too nice, too weak. You need to be more aggressive”.

Koeman’s analysis of his side while harsh, was very honest. Everton seemed deflated once Kane’s cross come shot found its way past Jordan Pickford for Tottenham’s first goal. Usually so comfortable in possession, the Toffees found their passes missing the intended target, touches being too heavy and shots flying well wide of the target.

Traditionally, Everton are one of the top seven biggest sides in the league and they have been proving this over the last few seasons. The gap between themselves and sixth place has been closing, while the owners have finally sanctioned the much-needed spending to take Everton from a good team with aspirations to do better but that lack the tools, to a side that have a genuine chance of breaking into the top six.

However, as Koeman claimed, they looked weak at times. The more traditional four at the back, while supposedly solid, failed to give Jordan Pickford much protection on the day.

Of course, the first goal was a bit of a freak goal as Harry Kane’s cross found its way into the top corner. However, for Christian Eriksen’s goal there were mistakes across the park. Dele Alli ghosted away from Ashley Williams on the left flank and put in a dangerous cross. Initially, the only person the ball should have been met by in the box was right-back Cuco Martina, but his air-kick allowed Ben Davies to strike at goal which was saved by Pickford before Eriksen lashed home.

This goal alone displayed one of two things. Either the defence is still finding its feet playing together as Koeman has not been afraid to rotate his players, or their lack of big game players in the back-line is hurting them. Martina, who is deputising for Seamus Coleman, is a rather unknown quantity at the back as he is yet to establish himself as outstanding or otherwise. This does convey the fact that he is largely inexperienced at this level, with big games against the likes of Tottenham bringing a pressure he will not have felt in before.

For both Michael Keane and Ashley Williams, the defending should have been far better. Keane earned his move to Goodison Park following an outstanding season with Burnley, while Williams did the same with Swansea the year before. Both are experienced in the Premier League and were not playing out of position, making their inability to get tighter to Eriksen in the box worrying.

Indeed, Kane’s second goal was a fine finish, but he was able to sneak between two defenders, something that should never be allowed to happen. One of the two centre-halves should have tracked Tottenham’s most dangerous player as he made his way into the box. These defensive frailties will cost them in the bigger games, as it already has. If Everton have serious aspirations of taking a Champions League place and playing against the best teams, then they must first find a way to defend soundly against the top teams in the Premier League, who are still some way behind their European counterparts.

Everton to utilise their defensive-midfield

In midfield too Everton were poor as Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye were consistently bypassed in the middle. Tottenham’s attacking strength is very well known so the Toffees were not going to have an easy time defending. However, their lack of control in midfield made it almost impossible for them to dictate the tempo of the game and give their defenders respite from the pressure.

Koeman must find a way to utilise his defensive-midfield to actually defend then. Having two players sitting deeper is renowned for its ability to add stability to the midfield with the two acting as an anchor. However, when the pair are unable to actually influence the game as Schneiderlin and Gueye did, choosing two deeper players becomes pointless.

Perhaps the loss of Gareth Barry has hit Everton harder than people thought it would. The veteran was losing his influence in recent years, but he is very adept at breaking play up and keeping the ball. Much like Michael Carrick, he is a very underappreciated player that was more than happy to play a sideways pass in order to maintain possession and keep the ball moving. While Schneiderlin and Geuye may be younger and more energetic than Barry, they were wasteful on the ball and often conceded possession in their own-half.

Indeed, Eric Dier displayed exactly how crucial an influential central-midfielder is. He was a rock defensively as he broke up so much of the play, tackling well and placing himself in the right position at the right time. Going forward, Dier put in a number of dangerous passes including one lofted ball that allowed Kane to find Alli. His tactical awareness both defensively and offensively put Everton’s duo to shame and conveyed the fact that one very good defensive-midfielder is better than two that aren’t doing the job correctly.

Offensive problems?

Offensively too Everton were poor. Not a single shot on target in 90 minutes is worrying, while this sort of failure at home is a huge problem. Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez found things very difficult on the day. Tottenham, with Toby Alderweireld, Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen sitting behind Eric Dier displayed how a team should defend as they shut out Everton for 90 minutes.

Koeman has brought in 13 players and broken Everton’s transfer record twice, but he was unable to bring in 20+ goals a season forward to replace Romelu Lukaku this summer. The Belgian departed for Manchester United leaving a massive hole in Everton’s front line, and one which has not been filled.

Gone are the days where Rooney can score the bulk of his team’s goals, while Sandro is not a proven Premier League forward. Ultimately, Koeman is relying on everyone chipping in with goals to ease the pressure, something that is far easier said than done.

There was no fluency on the day for the Toffees as the four attacking players seemed confused about their roles. The idea that the three men behind the striker should interchange is a good one as it drags defenders into positions they should not be in, freeing up space on the pitch that can be exposed by the other two. However, this rarely happened for Everton. Indeed, the most creative player of them all in Sigurdsson was anonymous throughout.

Everton still need a defensive-midfielder and a big name striker?

Koeman still has a long way to go before he can realistically challenge those above him. His ideas and philosophy are correct, but he still does not have the personnel to implement them. Defensively, once Coleman returns they will look very strong once again, with the right-back a fixture of the side for years.

In midfield, Koeman must find a way to utilise Schneiderlin and Geuye more effectively as the two were very poor on the day. Perhaps another player is needed to partner one or the other, but one thing is for sure, their defensive-midfield must be far better at shielding their back-four if they are to give those in front of them something to build upon.

Finally, up front they must bring in a clinical striker, it is as simple as that. Every single one of the top six have an outstanding striker apart from Liverpool who have a plethora of clinical midfielders and wingers that can shoulder the burden. If Everton can bring in a forward like this, it will take them that much closer to catching those above them.

Ultimately, this season won’t be the one in which Everton defy the odds to break into the top six. Indeed, they may actually go back slightly after losing Lukaku. However, it is a learning curve that they must adhere to. With Europa League duties to deal with, their squad still is not quite big enough to mount serious campaigns on both fronts, but come next summer do not be surprised to see Everton hitting the headlines with news they have signed a defensive-midfielder and a big name striker.

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