What’s worse than dominating a game and losing at the last? Making a bloody habit of it. Over the last few years, Everton have certainly done that. At Turf Moor against beatable Burnley, it happened again. The Toffees made all the running, controlled the ball, created all the chances but left empty-handed after Scott Arfield’s sucker-punch. New era, same old malaise.

Burnley's Scott Arfield took advantage of some shoddy refereeing to steal all three points for Burnley against Everton.

There was no excuse for this defeat. Put simply, Burnley are not very good this year and they weren’t even close to their best on Saturday. They were disorganised in defence – Everton found acres of space throughout – and limited going forward. All three of the Clarets’ shots on target related to their two goals – otherwise, there was nothing. In fairness, Burnley missed suspended frontman Andre Gray and anchorman Steven Defour which underlines the extent of Everton’s failure.

The visitors’ main weakness was the complete lack of cohesion in attacking midfield. While Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas’ returns to the starting lineup were welcomed by supporters, it continued Ronald Koeman’s unsuccessful policy of rotating his creators. Desperate to make an impact when given a chance, players tread individual paths. Consequently, there was very little co-operation and no consistent pattern of attack.

In the first minute, Mirallas turned down a simple pass to Romelu Lukaku choosing instead to fire a weak shot straight at an opponent. Soon after, Barkley cut inside to shoot at a comfortable height for Tom Heaton when he could have beaten his man and crossed. Lukaku himself refused a potential assist for Mirallas only to lose possession. Yannick Bolasie, a number 10 for the second half last week, spurned several crossing opportunities. Everton were dominant but in a disjointed, messy fashion.

Mirallas tucking in nullified any connection with Bryan Oviedo and with Seamus Coleman putting in the sort of dreadful shift it’s perhaps now fair to describe as a Seamus Coleman, Everton lacked effective width. After Koeman’s handling of Barkley, Coleman must be on thin ice with Koeman. Even worse for Everton, Lukaku came short so often, he shrunk the pitch and crowded the midfield. With all three of Barkley’s offensive outlets converging on the centre, unsurprisingly, his passing game struggled particularly in the second half.

Still, Burnley carried virtually no goal threat until Tim Howard’s, sorry force of habit, Maarten Stekelenburg’s howler. Scott Arfield evaded Ashley Williams’ foolish lunge to leave himself completely open in the centre. His incredibly weak shot – basically a pass – was neither going in nor seriously threatening goal and yet Stekelenburg slapped the ball into Sam Vokes’ path to present an unmissable chance. A hero to zero moment for the up-and-down Dutchman.

Central Heaton

Everton responded well after the break. A noticeable upturn in tempo and intensity made them a much more credible threat. Barkley fired in a couple of tame left-footed drives before Ben Mee’s woeful misjudgement presented Lukaku with 40 yards, and indeed Bolasie, to run into. 2016/17’s most productive partners have struck up an instant friendship this season. Here, that was just as well, as Bolasie took the ball from Lukaku before lashing into Heaton’s right corner.

Yannick Bolasie opens his account for Everton following Romelu Lukaku's assist against Burnley.

Heaton continued his excellent form to frustrate Everton. He may have got nowhere Bolasie’s drilled effort, but a fine tip over from the former Palace man’s whipped long-ranger and a last-ditch flick to deny him a crossed assist for Lukaku guaranteed him the last laugh. After that, Everton continued to probe but it was like picking locks wearing boxing gloves.

And then the inevitable. Arfield had received peculiar protection from beleaguered official Mike Jones having been booked early. A further four fouls, one a blatant trip on Gareth Barry who had long evaded him, went unpunished as Jones grasped to offset his impulsive spate of first-half bookings. Crueller still, Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s shot ricocheted off the crossbar into Arfield’s path enabling him to notch the winner in. A brutal but familiar ending for Everton.

Unfortunate as the Toffees were, there were some seriously worrying signs. Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s distribution from centre-half was dreadful. Coleman and Oviedo’s attacking threat (and indeed common sense) was virtually non-existent. More generally, Everton are struggling with the ball. Passing is mostly daft and clumsy with only Lukaku and Bolasie combining well going forward. Players aren’t working together to open gaps or isolate opponents. With Everton’s wide players regular appearing at number 10, there’s huge scope for confusion over roles. Koeman constantly altering his attacking midfield has undermined efforts to form partnerships, and it’s hit most players’ confidence. Rotation is having a detrimental effect at present.

Without doubt, Everton deserved to beat Burnley but unless Koeman gets to grips with his side’s glaring attacking flaws, there may be similar afternoons to endure.
By Chris Smith
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The ongoing dispersal of Johann Cruyff’s revolutionary ideas in modern football reached a significant landmark on Saturday as Pep Guardiola’s Man City were held by Ronald Koeman’s Everton. The fulcrum of Cruyff’s Barcelona Dream Team, Guardiola and Koeman represent separate strands of their mentor’s philosophy. The former roommates’ first clash as opposing managers, an exciting 1-1 draw, illustrated that perfectly.

Everton's Maarten Stekelenburg saves a penalty from Man City's Kevin De Bruyne.If Guardiola reflects the attacking id of Cruyff’s football brain, Koeman can be considered the defensive ego. Guardiola prefers inventive, risky football; Koeman is cautious and pragmatic. This was immediately apparent on Saturday. To unsettle Everton’s predictable 4-3-3, Guardiola named a 3-2-2-3 – an unusual but patently logical approach which played to City’s strengths.

The home side charged forward, opened Everton up at will, and scarily redoubled efforts out of possession to rapidly regain the ball. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling were dangerous out wide with Fernandinho and İlkay Gündoğan dictating from deep. The Toffees’ success came in nullifying David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne but that too was a close call.

Swinging your weaker foot backwards in your own box is extremely unwise, but if Silva is tiptoeing behind, it’s an absolute no-brainer to rule that one out. Phil Jagielka, solid at times but reckless at others, scythed down the Spaniard. The returning de Bruyne stepped up but Maarten Stekelenburg palmed away his tame effort and announced himself to the Etihad.

Guardiola’s attacking boldness dictated the early exchanges, but Koeman’s reactive pragmatism shaped the next phase. Everton’s central midfield trio, Gareth Barry, Idrissa Gueye and Tom Cleverley, was so deep Fernandinho and Gündoğan had acres to do as they pleased in the centre, and so Koeman instructed Gerard Deulofeu and Yannick Bolasie to tuck inside. City were crowded but the Toffees were essentially unable to keep possession or launch attacks. A further tweak was required.

Long ball lifeline

Deulofeu was moved alongside Romelu Lukaku with Bolasie withdrawn centrally. Immediately, City were opened up. After cutting in from the left, Deulofeu’s fine strike was saved unconvincingly by Claudio Bravo. Everton were encouraged. “Pep likes to […] build up even when it is difficult. I am a little bit different. I prefer to play the long ball”, said Koeman on Friday. And so it proved as the visitors took the lead. Gueye’s chip drew Stones carelessly over halfway and enabled Bolasie to get the flick. Aided by Gaël Clichy’s complete lack of defending, Lukaku easily made space and drilled past Bravo.

The goal altered the impact of two substitutions which occurred minutes earlier. When Koeman brought on James McCarthy for Deulofeu, Guardiola replaced Kelechi Iheanacho and Sergio Aguero; Everton were settling as City gambled. Yet after Lukaku’s goal, the visitors had a fortified midfield and Guardiola had played his hand. Five minutes on, that didn’t look a particularly good hand anyway.

Everton's Maarten Stekelenburg saves his second penalty of the day from Man City's Sergio Aguero.After his lucky escape with Silva, Jagielka swiped Aguero in such calamitous fashion it was almost amusing. The worst tackle of his Everton career handed City another penalty. Aguero however picked the same spot as De Bruyne and so once again did Stekelenburg. Unbelievably, the Dutchman then significantly raised his game. Again, City’s star duo was on the receiving end.

First Stekelenburg pawed Aguero’s strike with one of the fingers on his right hand, before he superbly tipped De Bruyne’s razor-sharp 25-yarder with one of the nails on his left. As Stekelenburg hobbled, de Bruyne stared incredulously; it was a truly magnificent save. This may well have been the best performance of any Everton ‘keeper Neville Southall. “The game of his life”, Koeman suggested.

Divine intervention

Unfortunately for Stekelenburg and Everton, City had drawn level by then. Guardiola utilised his final option perfectly. Having named a defensive bench, Nolito was the only game-changer at his disposal. Seconds after his 71st-minute introduction, courtesy of a joint Barry and Jagielka error, the former Celta man headed home with first touch to earn City a point. A stodgy, unproductive, unexciting spell followed as Everton fouled, milked injuries and wasted time: elusive game-management in all its boring glory.

City dominated the ball, created far more chances, and had a greater number of shots but Everton deserved the first point any side has taken from the Etihad this season. It will take a hell of a performance for any Premier League keeper to top Stekelenburg’s efforts this year, whilst Ashley Williams, among the chaos of quality opponents and his captain, took charge with a game-leading 13 clearances. The Welshman’s reliable defiance and calm authority proved vital. He was excellent.

One man who had no impact was Ross Barkley, beaten to central midfield and (ridiculously) number 10 spots by Cleverley, and the cameo role by Kevin Mirallas. Perhaps this was not the game to indulge him but if Koeman’s mistrust of Barkley becomes a staple, Everton will suffer. Otherwise however, it was a fine afternoon for the Dutchman. He may be troubled by a continued lack of attacking cohesion however his side digging in for 90 minutes to earn a point from a game they should have lost 4-1 will have pleased him immensely.

As for Koeman’s first clash with friend and former protégé Guardiola, it was fantastic. Two similar but completely different strands of Cruyff’s ideas pitted in direct and ultimately equal opposition. The only shame was that Cruyff, now seven months deceased, was unable to witness such a compelling testament to his enduring legacy.
By Chris Smith
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Everton were beaten in the Premier League for the first time under Ronald Koeman after positive, lively and organised Bournemouth beat them 1-0. The Blues’ bubble of optimism was burst with sobering reality as old habits resurfaced and recent improvement dissolved. Junior Stanislas’ devastating 25-yarder separated the sides, but beyond the scoreline, Everton were comprehensively outplayed.

Bournemouth's Junior Stanislas fires in the winner at home to Everton.Stanislas scores at a rate of one every seven and a half games and has just five for Bournemouth not against Everton. Yet here, he grabbed his third in as many starts against the Toffees, and it was a cracker. With Idrissa Gueye out of the centre, Harry Arter craftily slid Stanislas the ball. 25 yards out, free to the left of Gareth Barry, he had a sight of goal with no Everton player prepared to press. A swift draw of the right boot and a rasping drive into the top corner later, the Blues were done for. Stanislas, no one’s bogeyman, became Everton’s scourge once again.

The strike was inconsistent with the scrappy football that preceded and followed it, but it was the least both teams deserved after their respective first-half showings. Bournemouth were so dominant it became a repetitive source of stupefaction they were not already ahead by the time Stanislas struck. Callum Wilson headed just wide a minute in, Seamus Coleman deflected Jack Wilshere’s shot onto the bar, the outstanding Arter also clipped a post. There were plenty more close calls.

As for Everton, scarce chances were handled with such disillusioning fecklessness that abandoning attacking was almost preferable late on. Ross Barkley’s whipped cross presented Romelu Lukaku with the sort of headed chance most lampposts would accidentally score only for the Belgian to aim right next to Artur Boruc. Weak header, sharp reactions – take your pick. Later, Barkley himself rose to meet Coleman’s cross only to finish with the composure of a new-born foal. And, genuinely, that was about it. From top to bottom, Everton were awful.

Creative deficiency

The Blues’ defence was disorganised throughout the first-half, but there is a sense the game was lost in attacking midfield where Everton were totally ineffective. Barkley, Kevin Mirallas (left) and Yannick Bolasie (right) were really poor. Had they put in these sort of shifts as schoolboys, their parents may have been tempted to switch off the radio on the way home and ask if everything was alright. They struggled to complete passes, to notice opponents, to kick properly!

Everton's Ross Barkley is crowded by three Bournemouth opponents at the Vitality Stadium.

With Bolasie and Mirallas constantly veering inside, Everton lacked width to stretch Bournemouth. Barkley suffered the most. As standard, he was constantly crowded. Low on confidence with eyes pointed ever more fixedly down, he was unable to cope. The last thing he needs is teammates occupying the same space dragging in opponents. Width is essential for Barkley, and for Koeman’s approach: the manager must put this dereliction of duty right.

After impressing and scoring against Middlesbrough, Coleman’s levels dropped again. He was erratic and irresponsible defensively, he repeatedly turned back with space in behind, he… …. he kept running out of play. I’m honestly convinced I have sore eyes from rolling them so hard after a truly bewildering, low cross late on. Coleman’s occasional brilliance must be underpinned with consistency: his off days have no place in a top half side.

Everton have allowed just three shots on target in the last three matches, but they’ve conceded four goals in that time. The first was a foul, the second a fluke, the third and fourth absolute screamers but the Blues were not unlucky. Middlesbrough were on top, Norwich were dangerous on the break, Bournemouth were totally dominant. Everton were at fault for all four of the goals, often in several different areas. Koeman’s players need to get to the ball quicker, block far more crosses and disrupt a lot more shooting opportunities. Defensive solidity is not there yet despite vast improvement.

Koeman himself must take a share of the blame having thrust five peripheral players into the side against Norwich after five straight wins. Whether he was resting players or developing the squad, Everton have now lost their rhythm and momentum. But often knowledge arises through error, progress can be a consequence of failure. That quite frankly is the crutch to cling to after such a shambolic outing as this one.
By Chris Smith
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Everton extended their unbeaten run under Ronald Koeman to six games with a fourth straight league win as Middlesbrough and Lee Mason were overcome at Goodison. The North East’s best side and the top flight’s worst ref combined for a ludicrous opener but a 25-minute blitz kick-started by Gareth Barry capping his 600th Premier League game with a goal helped the Blues to a 3-1 win and their best start since 1978.

Mason’s first opportunity for major error – Boro’s opener – arose 21 minutes in when Maarten Stekelenburg grabbed Stewart Downing’s cross only to have his wrist headed by Alvaro Negredo. “He dropped it” Mason told Everton’s players with judgement that should see him barred from the legal profession. Have you ever seen a keeper run to the halfway line to complain then volley the ball angrily into the air? I wouldn’t be surprised if that was an occupational hazard for Mason.

Gareth Barry equalises for Everton against Middslesbrough in his last 600th Premier League game.Just three minutes later, Ashley Williams presented him with a chance to even it up. Two wrongs often make a right with Mason, sometimes three, four, five and so on. Challenging Victor Valdes for a corner, Williams’ foot was so high it was unwittingly  a red card offence. No foul said Mason, instead a sweet left-foot leveller for the man of the day, Barry’s second goal in four games.

Mason’s mare continued. Adam Forshaw robbed five yards from a free-kick: play on. Everton found room after a Gaston Ramirez foul: don’t play on. Forshaw lunged at Williams: play on. Barry nudged Ramirez: yellow card. Mason actually played advantage here but called it back when Emilio Nsue, erm, dribbled past Leighton Baines. An appalling throw-in misjudgement was corrected by a linesman. Viktor Fischer was told “it doesn’t matter” if a team retains the ball after a foul. There are the worst referees, then the worst of the worst, then a considerable gap, then Lee Mason.

Screwing Boro by screwing Everton

His first decision was such a blatant howler it ultimately ruined the afternoon for Boro. Aitor Karanka’s side had played well until then, passing crisply, pressing sharply and tackling with impressive force. But Mason’s error proved the spark for Everton. Supporters were suddenly angry and vocal, the tempo increased and in a few short moments, the home side had tipped the balance. Boro may have helped themselves to a resilient 1-0 win with a different ref.

Once Barry had finished so calmly, Everton had control. Yannick Bolasie and Seamus Coleman began to find space. Arguably the Toffees’ best defender, Coleman was the undisputed match-winner after he cut in with menace before slotting into Valdes’ left corner. Coleman, like Baines, is benefiting from Koeman’s clarity and simplicity. There hasn’t been much to criticise about either man so far.

Romelu Lukaku and Yannick Bolasie jokingly argue over who got the last touch for Everton's third against Middlesbrough.Minutes later, Bolasie crossed to find Lukaku onside and (possibly) able to get the slightest touch. The pair have clicked on the field and struck a chord off it. For the second this week, Lukaku ran to Bolasie to thank him for an assist. Remarkably, both are the sons of ex-Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) internationals (Roger Lukaku and Gaby Yala) and Western European migrants – kindred spirits of a particularly specific variety.

Towards the end of Roberto Martinez’s reign, two-goal leads meant the onset of doubt and anxiety. If you can be 2-0 up at home to West Ham with the ball on the penalty spot in the 69th minute and lose 3-2, you can always lose. Leads meant defending: struggle, inadequacy, failure. On Saturday, there was none of that. There wasn’t even a single Middlesbrough shot on target.

Significant defensive improvement

Everton have allowed just 12 shots on target all season, eight in the first two matches. With Williams in the side, the Blues have allowed just one per game. Two of three total goals conceded have involved fouls on Stekelenburg. Three goals is probably a few shy of what Everton ought to have conceded against what has been a smorgasbord of attacking blandness but the Toffees’ defence bears significant improvement.

Everton's Idrissa Gueye evades a lung from Middlesbrough's Daniel Ayala, in front of professional buffoon Lee Mason.Stekelenburg is quite good. His form will dip but he’s a definite upgrade on Tim Howard. Williams and Jagielka provide a solid base where there was chaos – minimum-of-fuss clearances transmit confidence. Both full-backs operate as defenders who join attacks rather than freestyle flank dwellers, or whatever they were under Martinez. And Everton’s central midfield can compete with the best in the Premier League.

Idrissa Gueye leads the tackling count by eight with 31. Added to sixth-placed Barry’s 19, that’s 10 tackles per game from central midfield. 86.15% of their combined 674 passes have been completed – more than any Premier League duo. And they have two goals and an assist between them in five games. A month into their partnership, Barry and Gueye could barely be performing better. Both men personify Everton’s top to bottom improvement under Koeman.
By Chris Smith
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Welcome to opposite world. Everton have the joint stingiest defence in the Premier League. Romelu Lukaku is scoring headers for fun. Toffees supporters are accustomed to early game-changing substitutions. David Moyes is in the opposition dugout, Jack Rodwell patrolling their midfield, back at the scene where the Blues were crushed 3-0 just four months ago. Revenge in a complete reversal: Everton 3-0 Sunderland.

Everton's Romelu Lukaku celebrates after completing an 11-minute hat-trick against Sunderland.Lukaku arrived under pressure and left with the match ball following an 11-minute hat-trick. Reports of travel arrangement rows and private jet fee fall-outs were dismissed clinically, as he backed up Everton’s defensive improvement but only after a bold switch from Ronald Koeman. Ross Barkley picked a bad time for an off day after Koeman responded to his criticism of Roy Hodgson by stating “I don’t like that“.

“Every manager will select the best players and the best team”, Koeman reminded his player. With Barkley struggling and the game drifting, a perfect chance arose to give a talented player encouragement to raise his game or “kick me on […] to get to the next level” as Barkley said in the same interview. Koeman didn’t need to mull it over. Barkley off, Gerard Deulofeu on, Yannick Bolasie left, Kevin Mirallas number 10.

From that point it was a different game. Sunderland’s previously reasonable defences began to look flimsy. Solid Lamine Kone grew ragged, thrown about by Lukaku on the turn. The Black Cats basically stopped marking. New signings, Idrissa Gueye and Yannick Bolasie, came to the fore, both assisting, and ending Everton’s best performers after Lukaku.

Gulf in class

Gueye sees so much of the ball nobody can get the man of the match award off him. Even through the glare of Everton’s fourth fastest hat-trick, he shines: most touches against Sunderland (120), most passes (106), best pass accuracy (88%), second most tackles (5, usurped by Gareth Barry) and, unexpectedly an assist that brought Lukaku to life. With Deulofeu well-positioned but having already erred on the breakaway, Gueye took charge and chipped to the back post allowing Lukaku his third headed goal in a week.

Everton's Idrissa Gueye dispossesses the wholly ineffective Andan Januzaj of Sunderland.

Painfully for Moyes, for the second time in four games with the scores level, he brought a player on who committed an error leading to the winner three minutes later. That’s a terrible habit and one which might cost Sunderland their Premier League status. Koeman illustrated the gulf in class; his changes have earned five of Everton’s 10 points. The Blues are a goal away from second, Sunderland three goals above from the bottom.

Bolasie also provided an aerial sitter for Everton’s number 10. The winger had put one right on Lukaku’s head in the first half only for Jordan Pickford to deftly claw away, but also wasted opportunities and shot wildly. A switch to the left enabled him to isolate Javier Manquillo. After being caught in no man’s land for the opener, the Atletico loanee was left chasing Bolasie’s dust as the former Palace man rounded the outside and crossed perfectly for Lukaku’s more powerfully headed second. The outlook is grim and getting grimmer for Moyes on Wearside.

71 minutes in, Lukaku completed his hat-trick courtesy of a slick through-ball from Mirallas. Everton had retained possession for some time, distributing it torturously as Sunderland tried to break out into a run. When they did, Mirallas’ one-two with Deulofeu left him perfectly placed to free Lukaku. He duly obliged and there was simply far too much space to miss.

Huge improvement

The Blues’ new centre-back pairing has earned clean sheets in their first two games together. In the equivalent games last season, seven goals were conceded. Under Koeman, just three shots on target were allowed. Everton desperately needed this change; Koeman is turning weakness into strength and developing resolve. Moreover, his no nonsense interventions have been met with a significant upturn in intent and tempo. This bodes well. Arresting games drifting away was a feature of Roberto Martinez’s first year but destructively absent for the remainder. Koeman’s early, decisive switches have sowed the seeds of a winning mentality. Three straight wins have backed that up.

Everton move third and remain unbeaten. With home games against Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace on the horizon either side of trip to Bournemouth, the Blues have a genuinely decent chance of making their trip to the Etihad on October 15 a top of the table clash. That may be a pipe dream, it may not be, but wholesale change is a reality. Three months and five games is all it’s taken Koeman to rejuvenate Everton, and turn them from a shambles into one of the division’s better sides.
By Chris Smith
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Leighton Baines celebrates Everton's winner against Stoke with Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley.

Everton’s encouraging transformation under Ronald Koeman continued with a dominant, resilient but fortunate win over Stoke. The contest proved a perfect platform for the Dutchman to further differentiate himself from Roberto Martinez, who lost in consecutive years at Goodison to the Potters, as Everton defended a narrow lead and emerged victorious. Seven points from nine represents a fine start for the new man.

The home side’s nine corners to Stoke’s two, their 21 shots to the Potters’ eight, and nine on target to just one paints a vivid picture though the Blues may not score a more fortunate goal all season. Tracking Ashley Williams from a corner, Phil Bardsley appeared to trip over Phil Jagielka before upending the Welshman. These are precarious times for the penalty box grappler, there’s a new world order at corners. Michael Oliver whistled, Everton had the opportunity they craved. When forceful chants of “Baines! Baines! Baines!” were honoured, that seemed all there was to it, and yet there was more, a fair bit more in fact. Baines’ weak effort was palmed away by Shay Given but only to the ricocheting uncertainty of the post, then onto his head and in. There’s no swear word cathartic enough for such an occurrence.

For all the fortune of the winner, there was endeavour elsewhere for the Toffees. In particular, Idrissa Gueye was outstanding. He made the most tackles (6), had the second most touches (85), and completed the second most passes (67) with the third best passing accuracy (91%). Complementing Barry’s stellar ethic, he’s added strength and anticipation. Everton are regaining the ball back quicker and higher. It’s an insight into how narrow our focus can become in this country that an almost identical player to the title-inspiring N’Golo Kante could ply his trade so similarly almost secretly 42 miles away.

Everton's Ronald Koeman sidesteps Stoke's Marko Arnautovic who failed to get the best of Mason Holgate.At right-back, Mason Holgate again caught the eye. For one so undoubtedly raw, he’s remarkably polished. Outleaping here, intercepting there, Holgate exhibits measured understanding of all that’s required, as shown when he dribbled between three in a tight area to win Everton a free-kick late on. Marko Arnautovic’s presence on Stoke’s left marked Saturday as a challenge; the Austrian’s ineffectiveness confirmed it a success.

A replacement for Distin at last

Williams started solidly alongside Jagielka. The pair combined for 16 clearances, six tackles and five successful aerial duels. The latter was particularly useful given Stoke’s tactic, quite reasonably in consideration of Everton’s aerial frailty and Peter Crouch’s midweek hat-trick, of playing it long and high. Bereft of Xherdan Shaqiri, Joselu and for 78 minutes Bojan Krkic, the Potters lacked energy and impetus, and barely threatened Everton’s goal. A deflected Arnautovic effort onto the bar, and a spurned opening from Jonathan Walters was the best Mark Hughes’ side could muster. Everton’s second clean sheet of the week arrived comfortably.

Koeman 38th-minute switch at West Brom drew widespread praise but his first change against Stoke seemed problematic When Everton needed livening up and reinforcing, he brought on Arouna Kone for Kevin Mirallas. Oddly, Yannick Bolasie seemed to step up at this moment, creating an attacking 4-3-3 that left Holgate and Baines isolated. Eerily similar to Martinez. In fairness, subsequent changes, Ramiro Funes Mori for Ross Barkley on 84 minutes, and Tom Davies for Bolasie on 88, adequately addressed the imbalance. Besides, Koeman likely kept Lukaku and Bolasie on to develop fitness.

Everton's Romelu Lukaku evades Stoke's Shay Given before missing a close-range chance.

As for Lukaku’s day, it was one of slight worry and equally slight encouragement. Three games without a goal under Koeman, 11 in total for Everton, and several good opportunities wasted, but a definite hint he’s prepared to up his workload from last season. He dropped into space, turned and shot quicker – “shoot straight and don’t wait” said Koeman after the game offering insight perhaps into one of his coaching mantras and/ or rap credentials. Lukaku also pressed and regained his position quicker. The Belgian’s return to goal scoring form is the next necessary step for Everton: back-to-back one-goal wins, but now to decrease the risk.

Lukaku’s barren spell, the lack of goalkeeping, creative midfield and striking reinforcements and Gerard Deulofeu’s missed one-on-one against Spurs denying Everton four wins from four represent, I think, all major blots on the copybook after the first month of the season, which is good going. The Toffees’ transformation requires more time, more tweaking and more practice, but the template of pressing, organisation and hard work is now well-set. The players are yet to gel, but they’re playing well and getting results in the meantime.

* * * * *

I offer my sympathy and condolence to the family of the 51-year-old Everton fan who collapsed during the second-half, and tragically passed away despite immediate medical attention. It will be of no comfort that this occurred at Goodison Park, but it will at the very least ensure his permanent remembrance amidst a group he belonged to.

By Chris Smith
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Everton's Gareth Barry scores the winner at West Brom on his 100th appearance for the club.38 minutes of dross, and then a game-changing switch. A line in the sand with a substitution. With good reason, Ronald Koeman lost faith in his toothless Everton side who trailed West Brom 1-0 at The Hawthorns. Unlike both his stubborn, reluctant predecessors, neither of them a natural winner, he directly addressed the problem. 22 minutes later, Everton were ahead, then able to confidently see out the first win of his reign.

Koeman understandably named an unchanged side after his first Everton first eleven had performed well against Spurs. But sometimes in life you just have to admit Jonas Olsson has got the better of you. The gigantic Nordic warrior lord had Gerard Deulofeu in the pocket of his figurative tunic. On the right, James McCarthy and Mason Holgate offered little, whilst Leighton Baines found only Gareth Barry weakly sidefooting when he crossed from the left. Everton weren’t creating anything and with the Baggies’ deep defence getting deeper, that seemed unlikely to change.

Koeman could have waited the eight or so minutes until half-time and combined a tactical reshuffle with a massive bollocking. Instead, he ditched his 3-4-2-1, withdrew McCarthy, introduced Romelu Lukaku, shifted Deulofeu to the right and adopted a 4-2-3-1. Immediately, Everton had more width, more space, an outlet, some hope. On the stroke of half-time, they had a brilliant equaliser when a patient passing move ended with Kevin Mirallas playing a one-two-three with Gareth Barry and Ross Barkley before slotting past Ben Foster.

The BBC described Mirallas’ leveller as “straight out of the Martinez playbook” but there were key differences which demonstrated the shift in approach under Koeman. Phil Jagielka was heavily involved though instead of pointlessly passing it around on the edge of his own box, he was somewhat amusingly directing play from inside West Brom’s half. Previously Everton would have drifted sideways cautiously, here they probed the centre quickly. Mirallas’ movement was new – a direct run towards goal to follow a quick ball – and Barkley’s pass to free him more evidence of his increased decisiveness this season.

Rare personal glory for Barry

Barry was at the centre of everything with a series of interceptions and clever passes. It felt entirely fitting then, on his 100th appearance for the club, for him to net the winner. The Toffees were peppering Foster’s goal. Saves from Deulofeu following a corner and Ramiro Funes Mori, who powerfully redirected Mirallas’ free-kick, kept Everton at bay. From the resultant corner however, Deulofeu picked out Holgate whose misfired shot across goal eluded everyone bar the sneaking 35-year-old who headed home. Koeman has had more criticism than praise for his Everton squad so far. His post-match suggestion that Barry is “one of the best players [he had] managed” should not taken lightly. A rare day of personal glory for Everton’s hardest working player.

Gareth Barry arrives late to score Everton's winner against West Brom.The win was not without worry. Maarten Stekelenburg made a huge save from Darren Fletcher to keep Everton level. Gareth McAuley’s foul-assisted opener, a recreation of the goal he scored against the Blues last season, made it two headed goals conceded in two games. Also, Funes Mori has already made a worrying amount of errors. Fortunately, Ashley Williams, who appeared for 15 minutes as a replacement for Mirallas, will tackle both problems head on.

Another compelling positive was seeing Yannick Bolasie making his fledgling strides up the wing for Everton. After replacing Deulofeu on 60 mins, Bolasie was lively and direct on the right. He drew players in, beat them with ease and was robbed of two fine assists by two poor finishes. A whipped cross headed well but wide by Barkley, and an inside-left’s delayed through-ball finished meekly by Lukaku offered a glimpse of Bolasie’s considerable talents. Deulofeu and Mirallas, who have started the season well, are now under pressure.

Koeman’s influence is already clear. Everton’s players are better organised, they work hard, they press effectively and are all at the whim of a manager unafraid to alter his approach. This bodes well. A squad comprehensively misguided under Roberto Martinez has been improved and set on the right track. A next six of Yeovil (h), Stoke (h), Sunderland (a), Middlesbrough (h), Bournemouth (a) and Crystal Palace (h) offers Everton the chance to turn a decent start into a very good one. One thing seems clear: there will be consequences if they don’t.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789  

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The spring in the step of supporters, the lively discussion of new tactics, and the palpable sense of optimism was all testament to Ronald Koeman’s first Premier League match in charge of Everton being a success. For the second time in 2016, Everton and Spurs contested an enthralling 1-1 at Goodison that both sides could have won, although this time, home supporters witnessed significant improvement. Everton were tough, organised and hard-working – all the things fans had hoped for on their way to the ground.

New Everton manager Ronald Koeman makes his Goodison Park against Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs.Hampered by squad deficiencies and injuries to Seamus Coleman and Romelu Lukaku, Koeman named a 3-4-3 with Mason Holgate making his debut to Phil Jagielka’s right. Moving aside for summer signing Idrissa Gueye who tackled brilliantly alongside Gareth Barry, James McCarthy flanked the centre with Leighton Baines, both regularly dropping back into full-back positions. Ahead of them scurried a lively front three of Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas behind Gerard Deulofeu. All three were crucial to Everton’s perfect start.

Four minutes in, Deulofeu propelled Mirallas forward with a precision back-heel which forced Spurs debutant Victor Wanyama into a poor challenge – the first of four that could have earned a booking but didn’t. As Ross Barkley prepared to take the free-kick, Deulofeu stood in an offside position. Perhaps unsettled, Spurs left both Mirallas and Phil Jagielka free – Barkley’s whipped delivery passed both as it made its way into Hugo Lloris’ left corner. It was the goal the crowd needed to exorcise the habitual misery of the Martinez era.

Pre-season clearly included a crash course in pressing and defending as a team – new concepts to Everton’s squad. Again, the front three illustrated the change. Deulofeu, Mirallas and Barkley often receive criticism which centres around words like ‘attitude’ and ‘mentality’.  Here, they closed down, tackled back, interchanged positions and ran themselves into the ground. Only Jagielka (6) won more headers than Barkley (3); Mirallas made as many interceptions as Gueye (2); Deulofeu completely unsettled Jan Verthonghen. The Spaniard should have fired Everton further ahead on the stroke of half-time when Spurs sub Michel Vorm saved from point blank range. And so the game turned.

Fatigue and sunstroke

After the break, the heat and being the most unfit side in the Premier League last year really hit Everton hard. Spurs came out strong. Ramiro Funes Mori caught the eye with a series of interceptions, well-placed headers and searching long balls in the first half, but was soon chiefly engaged in clearing the ball. 30 clearances in total for Everton’s back three gives a fair indication of where the action increasingly occurred. On 56 minutes, Mauricio Pochettino introduced Vincent Janssen for Eric Dier, a switch which may not have seemed so sensible had Martin Atkinson booked Wanyama. Two minutes later, the visitors were level.

Everton debutant and man of the match Idrissa Gueye challenges Spurs goal scorer Erik Lamela.

Lamela out-leapt Holgate to steer Kyle Walker’s pacy cross astutely into the corner. As Janssen began to threaten Everton’s centre-backs and free up Harry Kane, that habitual misery, seemingly vanquished by Barkley’s opener, reared its head again. Doubt spread through the stadium and took effect in Everton’s 18-yard box. Just three minutes separated two magnificent saves from debutant Maarten Stekelenburg either side of a Christian Eriksen near miss free-kick. The Dutchman sprawled brilliantly to deny countryman Janssen from very close range before tipping onto the bar when Lamela seemed destined to score. But Everton survived.

Longstanding weaknesses – vulnerability from crosses, low levels of fitness, deficiencies both in attacking midfield and up front, a lack of width – were exposed again. Spurs equalised from a header, Everton were shot after an hour, all threat was lost as Deulofeu and Mirallas tired and were replaced by Arouna Kone and Aaron Lennon respectively. But long-term issues are being tackled head on. To that vulnerable, aerially inadequate defence, he’s added Ashley Williams who has not finished lower than fourth for total headed clearances since 2011. Yannick Bolasie will shortly arrive to add pace and trickery. Joe Hart may solve the keeper problem. Strikers are also being pursued.

And more generally, Koeman has already improved the squad, the club, the atmosphere. It was like the Goodison of my childhood again on Saturday, after a two-year hellish hiatus. Everton’s fitness was way up on last season. There were clear plans with and without the ball which were tweaked during the game. In a single outing, Koeman has got much more demonstrated he’s able to get the whole team working much harder. And there’s plenty of reason to believe further improvement will occur. With favourable fixtures until December and new signings to arrive shortly, there’s also the opportunity.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789  

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If you’ve read the gossip columns or succumbed to the clickbait of late, you will have no doubt grown tired of the great hypothetical transfer bonanza that’s not been happening at Everton. The Toffees have offered £30-40m all over the shop, and seem well-placed to sign at least two first teams but may well be pipped by… I don’t know, Chelsea? Back in the real world, Farhad Moshiri continued as he started.

Everton manager Ronald Koeman welcomes new director of football Steve Walsh to the club.

After a few programme notes and a brief appearance in front of the camera, Moshiri deliberately drifted into the background at Goodison. He said very little as he developed an understanding. Three months into his tenure, Roberto Martinez was sacked with one game remaining, and in the seven subsequent weeks, Moshiri has completely restructured the club. There’s a new board, a superb new manager and, as of Thursday, a director of football for the first time in the club’s history. Steve Walsh, chief scout, joint assistant manager and principal architect of Leicester’s still incomprehensible title win, has been convinced to leave behind hero status at the King Power and help Koeman rebuild Everton. Gluttony of quality to interrupt Evertonians’ diet of mediocrity.

Walsh leaves behind a golden folklore at Leicester, a chief scout’s dream surely: a bargain team of rejected misfits who became near unbeatable champions. The standout successes are stunning. Walsh found one of the world’s best defensive midfielders in a promoted Ligue 1 side, he snaffled the Premier League player of the year from the division below, and purchased the Golden Boot winner from Fleetwood. All for £7m. He enabled the most absurd dream. Walsh’s invaluable knowledge will form the basis of the plan Everton have needed for decades, but how the club’s newly acquired wealth recalibrates Walsh’s trajectory from the hard-working, overlooked pros who gelled perfectly for Leicester will be fascinating.

Moshiri’s first choice was Sevilla’s seemingly unseatable Monchi but a Premier League-winning fall-back option highlights the scope of his ambition. Fighting so hard for a man who has never previously been a director of football demonstrates total confidence in Walsh, and indeed his manager given Koeman’s favour for the former Leicester man. Moshiri means business. Optimistic pursuits became inevitable captures when the vision and the resources available were made clear. Two top six clubs were left powerless. Far be it from me to make Don Corleone comparisons, but Moshiri literally makes offers people can’t refuse.

Wholesale change

Under a brand new management structure, Koeman and Walsh were effectively offered the chance to define their roles and name their price. Infrastructural poverty transformed by wealth into fertile conditions for wholesale change. It adds a perverse perspective to the years without investment, a plan, or a proper board. Perhaps this unique opportunity to completely rebuild Everton would not exist without it. Perhaps Koeman and Walsh would have waited for a better offer. Maybe if, for example, the King’s Dock had happened, there’d be less appeal for an investor. One thing’s for certain, and it will make a lot of people uncomfortable to admit this, but Bill Kenwright has played an absolute blinder with Moshiri.

Not only has the new man modernised the club, he’s reconnected the fans. Last year at Goodison was the worst I’ve known. Horrendously bad displays bred hair trigger angst; occasional fights in the stands left more permanent impressions than any of the football. Years of frustration with the board and disillusionment with the team’s stasis crystallised in the despair of Martinez’s harrowing inadequacy. A torturous, alienating campaign left fans so angry and fragmented, everyone felt surrounded by idiots. Then, via Moshiri, unity on the common ground of optimism. Whatever you believe about Martinez, whatever you thought about Moyes, whatever you think of Kenwright, Everton have finally got their act together, let’s bloody well enjoy it.

Claudio Ranieri chat's with former chief scout and joint assistant manager Steve Walsh during their title-winning campaign at Leicester.

One brief note on the afore-mentioned but obviously overshadowed new board: Moshiri’s approach here should also be commended. His first acts a month into the job were to appoint Everton Chief Executive Roberto Elstone and Alexander Ryazantsev, a financial expert and long-time associate, to the board alongside Kenwright and Jon Woods. On June 5, Everton in the Community Chief Executive, and Everton Deputy Chief Executive, Dr. Denise Barrett-Baxendale MBE – a seriously impressive individual – was also added. Two part-of-the-furniture Evertonians bolstered by a new generation of sport marketing, finance and community specialists – that sounds reassuringly logical to me.

There may be further staff additions particularly with scouts Kevin Reeves and Steve Brown moving on, but that, in terms of the major restructuring, will probably be that. Now surely Koeman and Walsh can begin the task of making Everton’s squad Champions League-worthy. That’s a significant challenge considering 11th-placed Everton must plug many gaps in the squad and upgrade every department considerably. But at long last, the money’s there and Everton finally have the individuals to spend it wisely.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 

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Ronald Koeman in trademark trendy coat watching on as Southampton manager.

And now for something completely different.

Financial strength and boardroom impetus has enabled Everton to prise an ambitious, trophy-winning manager from the Premier League top six and into the dugout at Goodison. After two years of rebuild and progress at Southampton, Ronald Koeman has cast his lot with a fallen stalwart of English football on the cusp of change. No doubt the reported £6m-a-year salary twisted the arm but then that’s precisely the point.

Farhad Moshiri talked a good game when introduced as Everton’s major shareholder in February. “There is much to be done” began the outlining of his plans in the match day programme as Chelsea visited for the FA Cup quarter-final. The billionaire buzzphrases were all there: “providing additional funds”, “retaining our key players”, “strong core to build on”, “looking at the best options [for the] stadium”. Four months on, we have substance. Moshiri has not only begun to walk the walk, his first step was more of a leap. He has essentially rebranded Everton: wealthy, ambitious, proactive.

The former Arsenal shareholder spent the three weeks between Roberto Martinez’s sacking and Koeman’s appointment wisely. He interviewed several managers including Manuel Pellegrini, Unai Emery and David Moyes, but favoured Koeman’s brand of efficient, attacking football from the start. And with good reason. The Dutchman has won titles in his homeland with Ajax and PSV, and trophies abroad with Benfica and Valencia. Recently he took charge of middling Feyenoord and finished out of the top two just once – on goal difference – during his three-year reign, before securing consecutive best Premier League finishes for Southampton. Even the relative black marks of his 16-year managerial career, Benfica, Valencia and Alkmaar, bore silverware. In short, Koeman has an excellent track record.

Some view Everton as a step-down which, I suppose, accurately describes leaving a club in sixth for one in eleventh. But the wider context, both historical and prospective, must be acknowledged. There’s a clear distinction, even in its infancy, between the ambitionless safety of Bill Kenwright and the optimistic, financially-competitive future under Moshiri. The latter’s only involvement in the Martinez era was to end it, to separate Everton from the recent past. He has made Koeman one of the best paid managers in the world, promised him a transfer budget reportedly in the £150m ballpark, and still hopes with some encouragement to create a director of football role for Sevilla’s Monchi. Already, this is a fundamentally different Everton. Mere weeks have passed, but comparing Southampton now to Everton then is comparing different eras.

Ronald Koeman celebrating one of his 67 Barcelona goals at the Camp Nou, just under a quarter of his career total of 239 - better than any other defender ever.A winner in the dugout

Koeman may have been given assurances in terms of keeping key players, but you’d imagine Romelu Lukaku will be off if Everton can find a buyer. The Dutchman does however improve chances of keeping Stones. If you have an in-demand ball-playing centre-half, hiring the highest scoring defender of all time to coach him seems like a fine response to a problem. In fact, unlikely as it is, Koeman’s roaming sweeper role from Barcelona may well be the ideal position for Stones. Either way, Koeman’s proven, effective methods can offer Stones what Martinez denied him: a proper defensive education.

Koeman will rattle a few cages at Goodison. The Dutchman’s feisty side, belied by his blushing River Island Tin Tin appearance, is considerable. He can be severe. He alienated Valencia fans by telling legends David Albelda, Miguel Angulo and Santiago Canizares to find new clubs two months into his six-month Mestalla spell. Albelda unsuccessfully tried to sue the club for constructive dismissal. He watched Southampton’s U-21s beat their Chelsea counterparts 1-0 in January before harshly saying: “I wasn’t impressed. I look to the development of young players and still they have to learn a lot”. He leaves players out for turning up late to training. However, this sort of ruthless authority is just what Everton need, and Moshiri seeking it out bodes well.

Everton’s current squad has plenty of talent but lots of problems. Poor fitness, bad defending, non-existent game-management, minimal hunger to win, no killer instinct, no backbone to not even name them all. Fortunately, none of this could be levelled at Koeman’s Southampton. However, the academy issue is crucial. Koeman’s reluctance to use Southampton’s youngsters was deemed a divergence from Dutch principles but it may well have been a comment on their ability. Even so, Everton have several excellent U-21 prospects ready for the first team. Koeman has developed youth throughout his career, but now must pair this with the sort of game-changing signings £150m can buy.

It’s a considerable challenge to fully clear the cobwebs of complacency at Goodison, but Everton have a bona fide winner in the dugout for the first time in an age. And if Koeman’s arrival represents the start of ambition, by all means, Farhad, crack on.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 

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