The Premier League season has already thrown up a number of incredibly interesting results and situations that have shaped the future of the campaign to come. Indeed, Manchester City have seemed in the unstoppable mood by winning nine of their 1o games, Liverpool are once again languishing well off top spot, and Crystal Palace are in crisis despite the players at their disposal.
One thing that has surprised most is the struggles of big spending Everton. Ronald Koeman lost his job following the Toffees’ 5-2 defeat at the hands of Arsenal and they are yet to install a full-time manager.
Everton are languishing well off the top of the table, and it seems like an eternity ago that they were touted as the team to break up the top six. But what has gone wrong for Everton? Well, the best place to start is with the manager.
What went wrong for Ronald Koeman?
Ronald Koeman seemed to be leading Everton towards a top-six finish following a very strong campaign last time around. 61 points from 38 games had allowed the Toffees to finish in seventh place. While they were eight points behind Manchester United, they were 15 points clear of Southampton in eighth, meaning they were definitely considered to be the weakest of the best, rather than the strongest of the rest.
62 goals scored was a superb tally, and Romelu Lukaku was outstanding as the focal point of their attack, scoring 25 times in the season. However, this is where Everton have come unstuck this term.
Lukaku departed in a massive money move to Manchester United and Everton did not replace him. Bringing in the Wayne Rooney of six years ago would have done the trick, but last season he was a bench player at best, as he only managed to score five goals last season.
Other than Lukaku, Everton’s highest scorer was Ross Barkley, and he too only scored five times, and the fact that Seamus Coleman, a defender, was third top scorer shows their problems:
Once Everton had lost their top scorer, their main objective should have been to bring in another world-class finisher. While some might claim that the Toffees are not as attractive as the six teams above them, it would not be difficult for a prospective player to see that they were, until the current season, going in the right direction with a good manager and squad.
However, they have failed to add any kind of world-class forward, and they are hurting for it. Across the rest of the pitch, Koeman was praised for his signings, bringing in the young talents of Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Davy Klassen, along with the experienced heads of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Rooney himself.
However, Sigurdsson and Keane have struggled for form, while Klassen has been in and out of the side. The only player that has been able to continue any semblance of his form from last season is Pickford, but his defence has left him massively exposed and he has been unable to save his team.
Do the team just need time?
It is one of the oldest cliches in football, but did Koeman and his side just need time to gel?
Koeman’s team played some very attractive football last season as their slick passing allowed chances to be created both by crosses and through the middle, with Lukaku adept at taking either. This season though, their lack of a recognised striker means that the goalscoring burden has fallen on the midfield, with the players unable to cope.
Rooney’s own play style is hurting the side too. His first touch is not as good as it once was, while he is not a particularly skilful, quick or strong player. In the past, Rooney was able to burst past opponents or muscle them off the ball and utilise his clinical finishing, which he still possesses, to score. However, this season he has not been able to get into these positions often enough as he has been isolated by his team’s inability to keep the ball, and his own lack of relevant skills to be able to play as a lone striker.
This means that Koeman was still searching for their own identity in the absence of Lukaku. Therefore, it was always going to be a very difficult opening few games for Everton, but the manager needed patience from the fans and those above him, something he did not get.
Did Koeman make the wrong decisions?
First of all, the manager made the wrong decision not to bring in a new striker that could score 20+ goals. There were rumours that bids for Diego Costa and Olivier Giroud were made, but these came to nothing and left Everton incredibly vulnerable.
As far as his squad is concerned, he made a poor decision regarding Oumar Niasse. The striker was cast aside by Koeman, but he chose to stay and fight and has marked his return with a number of goals.
Indeed, this season he has been in very good form. While he has one less goal than Rooney, his minutes per goal is far better than his, as Niasse scores a goal every 47 minutes in comparison to Rooney’s 168.
Considering Niasse was regarded as surplus to requirements, it is incredible that the player came back and outscored those that were apparently trusted to do the job in the first place.
Is Everton’s defence to blame?
Considering a new goalkeeper and defender were brought in over the summer, there has been quite a lot of change at the back for Everton. The purchase of Pickford and Keane, two of the outstanding young performers from last year, was regarded as a very positive one, but it has failed to spark the Toffees.
Keane has not looked at his assured best this year as he has misplaced passes, misjudged situations and cost his side points this year. Pickford too has struggled. While he has made a number of fine saves, he has been left exposed and, even for a goalkeeper of his ability, has been unable to save Everton.
Perhaps the most worrying dip in form has come from Ashley Williams though. The former Swansea man was exceptional in his first season as he provided a solid and dependable figure at the heart of the defence. However, he, like Keane, has been unable to hit the levels he was at last year.
With their arch-rivals Liverpool so poor at the back, it puts Everton’s struggles into perspective. The two have not been able to depend on their defence this season, but Liverpool have an exceptional forward line that can compensate for this, whereas the Toffees have struggled going forward.
Their full-backs are a problem too. While both Coleman and Leighton Baines are fine defenders, they are not as quick as the standard wing-backs. Indeed, when in a one-on-one situation, they can be relied upon to make a challenge when an attacker is looking to go past them with quick feet, but when they are chasing a quick winger they are often left in the dust.
Problems in midfield
Gareth Barry’s departure has been more problematic than first thought for the Toffees. This season, the likes of Tom Davies, Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye have been used in the middle, and all have struggled.
Davies seems far more comfortable in a classic central-midfield position, while the other two have not looked like defensive-midfielders, instead, they have been exceptionally poor at shielding the defence.
Their shape in midfield is non-existent as the players all too often go chasing the ball too high up the pitch which leaves a cavernous gap in front of the defence for the opposition to exploit. When on the ball too they are lax and they too often concede possession.
For a side that have a problem at the back this season, it seems amazing that the midfield would feel the need to push up so high and give their backline even more problems.
What should Everton do going forward?
Ultimately, a massive improvement is needed across the park. Too often are they second best in both attack and defence and this has left the Toffees in the precarious situation they find themselves in.
At the back, Williams must rediscover his form from last season, while the return of Coleman is vital as he is such an important player for them. With regard to the pace of the full-backs, nothing can be done. If a manager was offered a defender with modest pace but a good defensive brain, or a lightning quick player that can’t defend, they would pick the former.
Further forward, Everton will have to make do with their striker situation and look to bring a player in during the January transfer window. While this is not ideal, nothing can be done until then.
The next two months are going to be incredibly long and toilsome for the Toffees, with their hopes of gaining a Champions League berth already in tatters. This season then, it is all about survival.