Everton have scored two goals in their five Premier League matches to date. A drubbing at the hands of Atalanta in the Europa League added to a tormenting start to the campaign for Ronald Koeman’s side.
The fixture list looked unkind from the very start. The performances have made the fixtures look even worse.
The money spent last summer naturally ramps up expectations, even of Jose Mourinho. The Manchester United manager said, “we are up against a team that has spent over £140 million during the course of the summer transfer window, so obviously we are playing against a team that wants to at least secure a top-four position this season.”
Is Koeman right to ask for patience?
Koeman called for realism after Mourinho’s comments, and the Dutchman is obviously well within his rights to demand patience. He reached par last season, and has revamped the squad drastically.
Though the trying opening fixtures have been cited by Koeman, he is well aware that the Toffees need to pick up points and do it fast, “That means now, for the coming weeks, we have four home games before the next international break. We need to win those.”
The difficulty for Koeman has been finding a balance between his natural pragmatism and having a means of winning matches. Too often they have been far too negative this season. Danny Murphy picked up on it after their defeat against Manchester United, and it is clear to all. Everton sit deep, concede ground, but do not have the mobility in the final third to counter-attack.
With Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson guarantees to start after their summer arrivals, Koeman is restricted. Pace is needed to bring the best out of that pair. Yannick Bolasie is injured, Kevin Mirallas out of favour and Sandro Ramirez has looked sluggish at times this season. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been used in numerous different roles already, but the youngster is a necessity for Everton as it stands.
Calvert-Lewin poses a threat to run beyond. Without that, the opposition are free to push higher and higher up the pitch, while Everton’s defence retreats into their own box. There is no means of counter-attacking quickly, and the Toffees are stuck. Leighton Baines is not suited to a wing-back role, and does not provide the overlapping threat he used to. Cuco Martina, Calvert-Lewin and Mason Holgate have all played on the right, but the wait for Seamus Coleman’s return continues.
The pitch gets compressed, and Koeman’s side are left passing it in unthreatening areas. It takes far too long to get into the opposition’s third. Rooney and Sigurdsson could yet flourish in the team together, but it will take an adaptation from Koeman in the final third.
Problems in attack?
Replacing Romelu Lukaku directly was never going to be possible. Everton should have found someone to provide a similar skillset, at least. Without it, the money they have spent on players who thrive in an attacking midfield role – Rooney, Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen – is as good as wasted.
It is not only their attack that causes concern. Jamie Carragher tore Everton’s defence apart after their drubbing at Old Trafford. Ashley Williams has made errors and been caught out of position several times already.
Michael Keane has found it difficult to adapt to a back three. Keane was the addition to reinforce an elderly defence. The midfield of Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye should provide plenty of protection, but Everton’s back three continue to find themselves pulled apart with concerning ease.
Koeman must either force his side up the pitch and encourage them to have more of the ball – as they did against Stoke on the opening day – or change shape. Their approach will naturally adapt against teams outside of the top six, but mobility in the final third will still be an issue.
The one wildcard option would involve a remarkable comeback. Oumar Niasse found the net for Everton in the Carabao Cup in midweek, and could be the man to ignite Everton’s attack. The former Lokomotiv Moscow man has the pace to run beyond opposition defences and has the close control to draw fouls to force his team up the pitch.
Assuming Niasse’s League Cup cameo is only a minor step to redemption, Calvert-Lewin has to be in the forward line for Everton’s upcoming fixtures. A switch to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 will see the struggling Williams replaced, and would give more options in the final third. Whatever the shape, Everton’s recruitment should be questioned to leave themselves with such a surplus of central players and limited flair.
Failure to win any of their next three and Everton’s desire to give Koeman time may wane. The Toffees’ hopes of breaking into the top six have already been significantly undermined by their negativity against teams they should be competing with this season.
Koeman must make changes, or meeting even the minimum of expectations will be out of reach.