Early season optimism has given way to mid-season pessimism at Goodison Park. The promise of a successful, high-profile manager coming in combined with a new scouting team and – crucially – real squad investment has given way to the harsh realities as autumn gave way to winter of an underperforming group of ageing players putting in some truly inept displays. Restlessness with the squad, the tactics and even the manager has set in, but what’s caused these problems?
Arguably the biggest issue we’re facing here is the management changes we went through this summer, or at least the timing of them. Everton, under the influence of Farhad Moshiri, decided to move to a new management structure including a Director of Football. It was also clear Moshiri wanted to get his man in for the role, rather than any other easily available candidate. This led to a certain delay while negotiations with Koeman (and his club Southampton) were completed.
Koeman’s appointment was ultimately announced on 14 June, with players away on holiday or at the Euros and with no coaching team in place for him to work with (who mostly left with the previous manager). Furthermore, Director of Football Steve Walsh wasn’t recruited from Leicester until 21 July, meaning we didn’t have Moshiri’s desired structure in place until just three weeks before the start of the season.
The new management team also rightly wanted to look at the squad they had at their disposal to sort out the wheat from the chaff and to look at the options available to them before diving into the transfer market. This meant that during pre-season we saw Deulofeu playing as a striker, Tom Davies at right back and only 45 minutes of action for Oumar Niasse. Personally, I think this was the right thing to do – particularly as we have a number of interesting young players to consider.
A downside of this approach has been a quiet transfer window, with only four senior players joining despite us being linked with a multitude of global superstars. Hopefully however this also means we’ve avoided too much panic buying, with only a last-minute attempt to sign then-Newcastle wastrel Moussa Sissoko (which we thankfully missed out on) in the ‘dodged a bullet there’ pile. This has left us with essentially the same squad that we finished last season with.
So what do we have to work with? Well, even after disposing of 30-somethings Howard, Hibbert, Osman and Pienaar, we’re left with a squad including Baines, Jagielka and Barry (plus new signings Stekelenburg and Williams and the rarely-spotted Koné) – all of whom are uncomfortably north of their 30th birthdays. Good experience, no doubt, but are they suitable for the type of football our new manager wants to play?
Ronald Koeman, being from that country, is from the Dutch school of football – and specifically, is Cruyffian in his background – having worked with the master tactician during his playing career at both Ajax and Barcelona. Some of the most common words we have heard coming from his mouth since his appointment have been words like "aggression" and "e;pressing"e;. He wants to play with a high defensive line and win the ball back close to the opposition’s goal – in theory making it quicker to get to goalscoring positions. Music to the ears of many Evertonians used to Roberto Martínez’s more passive style of possession, but something that presents something of a tactical and physical problem for Koeman.
His preferred style requires lots of stamina, work rate and tactical discipline. The fading legs of our defenders and yes, even the evergreen Gareth Barry, have dictated that this may not be possible. Is it a coincidence that our fiercest display of midfield pressing was against Arsenal, with Barry rested and with McCarthy, Gueye and Barkley scrapping in the middle, other hard workers like Lennon and Valencia further forward?
From my view, the following week’s derby went away from us as soon as McCarthy went off injured and his aggressive energy was lost. Barry is a fine player, no question, but he is not the solution for a midfield of this type as he simply doesn’t have the legs to cover the ground – at pace – as Koeman would like him to. This leaves gaps which are not being filled by other members of the team who just aren’t capable (or don’t want) to put in the required effort.
Continuing the theme of our new manager’s preferred style and our present squad’s suitability for it, the Dutch school requires multi-faceted players who are comfortable in a number of situations, both in and out of possession. This includes defenders comfortable on the ball (think Frank de Boer), midfielders who can both create and destroy (Wesley Sneijder, Clarence Seedorf) and wingers who score goals (Marc Overmars, Arjen Robben). Simply put, we don’t have enough of these types of player.
Whatever their other qualities, the likes of Tom Cleverley and James McCarthy – key members of the squad as they still are – do not offer enough defensively (particularly Cleverley is not suited to pressing and tough tackling, averaging half the number of defensive actions this season as Gueye) or creatively (McCarthy has 5 goals in 121 Everton games and Cleverley 2 in 41). This means that defensively, too much responsibility is falling on the petite but sturdy shoulders of Idrissa Gueye and hence our ageing rear-guard is being exposed, and creatively our passing is often slow and risk-free.
Further forwards, all the creative impetus has to come from Ross Barkley, who is already struggling under the weight of being Everton’s latest Great White Hope. With so much attacking responsibility, and so little movement around him, is it any wonder that Barkley is sometimes ponderous and takes an extra touch? He’s also spent the last three years looking to retain possession and wait for a gap to open rather than force the issue as his new manager requires. The crowd then gets on his back and you can see the anguish etched on the poor lad’s face as he struggles to make the desired impact.
Up front, there has been much discussion on the work-rate (or lack thereof) or Romelu Lukaku, but he’s only part of the problem. Plenty of great sides can afford a number nine who stays more in a fixed position, and many Blues would want to see the Belgian simply stick the ball in the back of the net. It’s therefore out wide that more work is needed, more goals are needed, and again where problems lie with current personnel. Deulofeu and Lennon have scored only 17 Everton goals in 128 appearances, and even Mirallas has notched only 7 times in his last 47 games after a more prolific opening to his Goodison career. With the exception of Lennon, none of those three could particularly be accused of working very hard when not in possession either.
So why aren’t Everton at least trying to recreate the Dutch style? Why do we only occasionally press? How come things went so well at Southampton for Koeman so quickly? Regarding the team’s style, I think Koeman is hedging his bets. He’s realised the squad isn’t suited to what he wants to achieve and, aware of the fact that playing in too open a manner leaves our defence exposed and increases the risk of being thrashed (like the final days of the Martínez era) has decided to keep things tight and play ‘percentage’ football until such time that he can re-shape the squad more in his own model.
As for why the Saints did so well so quickly under his stewardship, I think there are two major factors at play. Firstly the core of the Southampton team he took over in 2014 had just experienced 18 months of aggressive, pressing football under Mauricio Pochettino, to which he added players experienced in the Dutch/Barcelona way like Tadić, Clasie, Romeu and van Dijk. Secondly Southampton have one of the youngest squads in the Premier League – averaging just 25.2 years old in their 3-1 over Bournemouth last week. Appropriately enough, our oldest team this season (29.8 years) was in the 1-0 defeat to the Saints last month. This age difference is telling in the modern Premier League.
So what’s the solution? Well, it’s not rocket science in my eyes. Patience. Koeman and his team need a year or two to rebuild this squad to make it more youthful, energetic, aggressive and capable of playing at a high tempo. However, I genuinely believe that only Coleman, Gueye, Barkley and Lukaku of our current first XI are likely to be featuring heavily in the manager’s mid to long-term plans. The likes of Baines, Barry and Williams are fine players but will need to be phased out over the next two years to make way for fresh blood. This means that we Evertonians probably need to write this season off as a ‘learning curve’ where things probably won’t end up much better than either of the last two seasons and wait for the rebuilding to commence.
I hope that Koeman is now discovering that 4-3-3 is probably his best way forwards. This will allow him to withdraw Barkley into a deeper position where he can still create, but will have the game in front of him (giving him more options). Gueye and another (possibly Tom Davies) will work alongside him to regain and retain the ball and release it quickly to incisive wide attacking players (Memphis Depay?) who will get closer to Lukaku more readily while allowing the full-backs to charge forwards to great effect.
Reader Comments (25)
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1 Posted 24/12/2016 at 02:33:26
Given the total dysfunction at the club at almost every level I don't think any coach would have had us higher in the table at this point than Koeman. Barkley I notice for the first time is beginning to throw his weight around and is not skipping out of physical contact anymore, his fear has gone which will bode well for for him and the future.
If we can get Schneiderlin in, that alone would make a huge difference. It will take time but this club is well run now we just need a team.
2 Posted 24/12/2016 at 06:49:50
Koeman should not waste his funds here. It is in the attacking areas he should be looking to strengthen but I suggest that this should be done with a long term strategy and a 'sell and buy' policy. Sell non-performers like Cleverley, Mirallas, Gibson, Besic. Buy players like Schneiderlin, a playmaker (in the mold of Sigurdsson, Payet, Rooney), and a striker.
My dream team (at the moment):
Coleman Holgate Williams Galloway
Deulofeu Gueye Schneiderlin Barkley
Subs: Robles, Baines, Davies, Depay, New Striker, Lennon
3 Posted 24/12/2016 at 08:46:04
From your facts, we can see that Koeman had a much better starting point at Southampton. His time at Southampton shows that his style works and works well.
Asking him to replicate his time at Southampton with us was going to be a huge ask in the short term. Older squad, a less fit squad, a less confident and motivated squad. This means that Everton fans have to use this as our starting point with how we judge Koeman's time to date.
You can see from the last two games that he has started to change and improve the mindset of the players. There is more commitment, aggression and motivation from the players.
True, we faded in and out of both games, but there was a very obvious improvement. We have to give some credit to Koeman for the improvement and we need to view it as signs that his style, the one we recruited him for, is starting to take shape.
However, the biggest issue is still the squad, be it aged-related, attitude-related or talent-related. This will only be rectified through transfer windows. It means waiting for transfer windows to come around. It means giving Koeman the time to wait for transfer windows, buying the right players and then time again once the window shuts to continue to implement his style.
We are being linked with Schneiderlin and Depay. Quality players. Players that will suit Koeman's style and will improve our squad in the way that it needs to be. Why don't we allow Koeman the window to get in these types of players and the time to bed them in before we start to judge?
4 Posted 24/12/2016 at 09:26:27
5 Posted 24/12/2016 at 09:36:10
However, with the likes of Barkley, Lukaku and Deulofeu all being quite immature (if not inexperienced), maybe Koeman feels now is not the right time to blood more youngsters.
6 Posted 24/12/2016 at 12:55:56
Now that you have educated me, I feel more optimistic that Koeman just might be the right man for the job. Unless something really drastic happens, I can see Moshiri standing by his man. Time will tell either way
7 Posted 24/12/2016 at 14:32:09
Brings out the fundamental facts as to why the Koeman effect has not been as significant as at Southampton.
The squad does need an overhaul, we've known this since the end of the Moyes era, and patience is required. Give Koeman at least another year (2 more windows and bedding in) to start judging it. There are some signs of improvement but still much work to do which is why we are witnessing this quite awful hoofball stuff lately. It's the pragmatic approach with a limited squad that can't match Koeman's game plan.
Totally agree with the call to introduce a few youngsters. Davies absolutely plus Holgate needs more game time. How will we know if they'll make it if we don't offer a chance? Not saying we should suddenly draft half the academy in but gentle integration is required.
We also need to ship out those that will not feature in the future. Those players need to give their positions on the bench up and be told it's over. It's tough but we need to do it and not keep giving out almost jobs for life.
8 Posted 24/12/2016 at 15:17:05
9 Posted 24/12/2016 at 15:20:50
One of the biggest problems I feel we have is Koeman is trying to get them to play the polar opposite of the previous manager. Some of the players are struggling with this and not just the older ones either.
We need a turnaround in the playing staff sharpish but it's not that quickly remedied unfortunately! Is the kick-and-rush tactics we play a sign that Koeman doesn't rate our midfield so therefore tries to by-pass that with long balls?
I do find it surprising that a man schooled in Dutch football and Barcelona ways is just 'hoofing' the ball up the pitch in the hope Lukaku can get on the end of it. Maybe when he gets the players he needs, we might see a change in style and tactics? Here's hoping....
10 Posted 24/12/2016 at 15:36:06
TW will always have rants for a few days after a disappointing game but thankfully it also has contributors with perspective. I would expect to see signs of real progress about this time next year.
11 Posted 24/12/2016 at 15:39:07
We can play better than we are at the moment with this squad, no doubt. Remember Martínez's first season? Lots of pressing and a higher tempo. Still not sure where that went wrong.
I believe once Koeman believes in the squad a bit more, be that in defence, midfield or attack, we will play better football but he won't have us getting thrashed for footballing principles.
12 Posted 24/12/2016 at 16:31:28
I'm underwhelmed by Koeman so far. I can see what he's trying to do and I agree that he needs to change this squad radically to make what he wants work. I hope he is backed, as whoever is manager has to do this.
I'm looking at the last year across the park and using it as a template. We can do that and do it better, can't we?
13 Posted 24/12/2016 at 16:44:31
Welcome to the real world of the Premier League and the level necessary. I hope he is successful with his objective of turning Barkley into Cruyff.
14 Posted 24/12/2016 at 16:50:12
Sort of stripping everything back to footballing basics, ie, press the opposition, harass them into making mistakes therefore winning the ball back and playing direct in your face football?
When the above is achieved, build everything back up to where he wants over time with hopefully better quality players who can adapt to different tactics but with the above as the their base starting point?
Might be wrong, mind; I could be giving him too much credit here! Time will tell.
15 Posted 24/12/2016 at 16:58:36
Along with Coleman and Lukaku he's one of our more valuable assets and I think he would be missed less from the team than those 2. A lot of Koeman's 'criticism' in the media is to get us used to the idea of him being sold avoiding the shock and uproar when he is sold.
16 Posted 24/12/2016 at 17:33:07
I would like to see him in the 8 position in a 4-3-3. That position would also work in a 3-5-2. For both systems we need players.
Most importantly, he needs to be a pro off the field.
17 Posted 24/12/2016 at 17:53:35
18 Posted 24/12/2016 at 17:55:35
19 Posted 24/12/2016 at 18:06:13
John (#16) 100% yes. This is where Ross should play in my opinion. I am interpreting Koeman's comments as a challenge to Barkley, throwing down the gauntlet, if you will. It's not over for him yet at all.
20 Posted 24/12/2016 at 00:35:21
It can be argued, I suppose, he was exposing the squad for its inadequacies but the signing of Williams increased the average age of a defence which sits far deeper than a high-pressing game requires.
I think it would be mistaken to interpret the performances in the last two matches as evidence of progress. In some ways, games against the top teams are the easiest to play simply because players and fans are up for the challenge. Even a central midfield of Gueye and McCarthy was seriously stretched at times against Arsenal who, despite their complacency after the first 20 minutes, might still have retrieved a point.
However, if the team, with a couple of shrewd additions, can maintain the level of effort they have shown in the last two games against lesser opposition, we can look forward to better results for the rest of the season.
21 Posted 25/12/2016 at 02:05:29
To build our football team
We had loadsa money but signed no players at alllllll
We hoof from the back
To Rom in attackkkkk
The School of Science
It's on it's way out! 😔
22 Posted 25/12/2016 at 06:43:58
Incidentally, a very Happy Christmas to all on this site, thank you for the arguments and the passion and thanks for caring.
23 Posted 25/12/2016 at 22:02:46
Two points I would like to make:
1. Most of the squad are now 4 years older than Martinez's finest hour and have been in decline these last 2 years.
2. I always felt when Billy Boy had the reigns that there was no plan other than stuttering from season to season on a hope and a prayer.
WE now have proper plans in place to achieve the Champions League, build a new stadium and our debts are finally cleared.
The future is bright the future is (orange) Dutch Blue.
24 Posted 25/12/2016 at 23:12:56
25 Posted 26/12/2016 at 12:07:06
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