If you make a habit of contesting matches that end 6-3, you better make sure you start winning them. Against Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, that’s what Everton did thanks chiefly to Romelu Lukaku who scored four and played superbly. In a game of three thirds, the Blues’ early goal blitz was almost wiped and they had to hang on briefly before scoring another three and settling it. Clinical, complacent, then clinical again – two out of three ain’t bad.

Romelu Lukaku celebrates the first of his four goals against Bournemouth with James McCarthy who also got on the scoresheet in the 6-3 win.

Leaving two gifted youngsters out of an in-form side and switching formation will dominate the aftermath if you drop points. With James McCarthy and Gareth Barry in at Mason Holgate’s and Tom Davies’ expense, it took 31 seconds for Ronald Koeman to be validated. McCarthy pressed at once. His return passes allowed Lukaku to to curl home with aplomb.

Sideways passing enthusiast McCarthy and counter-attacking powerhouse Lukaku make an unlikely duo. How surprising then when they combined for a second. Again Lukaku got between the lines and laid it off first time before his abundant confidence saw him stroll past two opponents. McCarthy scuffed then accidentally rebounded the ball past Artur Boruc.

Lukaku’s first demonstrated his development in linking the play and speeding up attacks. His second, which arrived before the half hour, offered positive reinforcement in area he can improve. Perhaps influenced by Ademola Lookman who hunts for the ball with fine instincts, Lukaku pushed up. Simon Francis’ blundered pass across his own goal which compared to a fireman responding to a burning building with a Molotov cocktail allowed Lukaku a simple finish for three.

With his polite demeanour, possession penchant and attacking football, Howe has been likened to Roberto Martinez. For Howe, that made a particularly unedifying comparison on Saturday. All the tropes were there. Dominating the ball without shooting. Allowing space everywhere. Careless passing which invited pressure. There are few worse ways of differentiating yourself from Martinez than losing 6-3 at Goodison.

Bourne of frustration

Howe was however able to encourage an impressive fightback. After the break, Bournemouth pushed Everton back and attacked more directly. Ashley Williams and Ramiro Funes Mori’s reluctance to get tight allowed Jack Wilshere to find Josh King who poked home. 10 minutes later, lax marking from a corner allowed King to divert Ryan Fraser’s cross for a second. At that point, the whole mood shifted.

Martinez’s Everton made a habit of dropping points in games they should have won 4-0. Goodison’s exasperation was unpleasantly familiar. Suddenly it was all Bournemouth. Mark Pugh turned Schneiderlin before firing wide wildly. Harry Arter drilled low to Joel Robles’ right before blasting at him again from the resultant corner. The fear was palpable. Fans stopped wondering how many Everton would score and started panicking over whether they could draw.

Everton needed to keep the ball to seize control of a win that was slipping away. Calm, sensible passing helped them do precisely that. 21 passes culminated in Lukaku’s most long-range one-two of the afternoon as Coleman’s best cross this season opened up space for a soft volley. It was Everton’s third goal to involve a one-two forced by Lukaku. A minute later, there was a fourth. This time Barkley played the role of returner, his instinctive back-heel freeing Lukaku to slot home.

The goal was reminiscent of Barkley’s goal in September 2013’s 3-2 win over Newcastle – the previous best bit of link-up play between the pair. This is a hugely encouraging sign with Barkley being shifted further forward in recent weeks. Koeman has made it clear he wants more productivity. With five assists in his last nine games, Barkley grabbed his second goal in that time by trademarking a playground classic.

Ross Barkley musters the nonchalance to celebrate before he scores to complete Everton's 6-3 win over Bournemouth.

Following Arter’s sneaky finish off Robles, off the post, and off the pitch for 5-3, Bournemouth surged forward desperately. A Funes Mori wallop, a miscontrol from Barkley left the latter through. Barkley rounded Boruc and to the laughable ire of some celebrated before he scored. Given what a shell of insecurity he has been, it was uplifting to see him relaxed enough to be cocky.

On the right track at last

Koeman deserves credit for this, and too for Lukaku’s four goals which took him to the top of the Premier League scoring charts. Having been brought in primarily to make the side more cautious and balanced, Koeman has significantly improved Everton’s two main attacking threats. Both have retained their productivity while becoming more rounded, more complete players, as Barkley’s slide tackles and Lukaku’s one-twos bore out. Koeman has both players on the right track.

Ironically, it’s Koeman’s supposed speciality – defensive organisation – that leaves a lot to be desired. It was a freak game and Bournemouth’s goals weren’t freak occurrences. Williams and Funes Mori remain the weak links of Koeman’s Everton. Two weak links patrolling your penalty area sounds like a terrible idea. This will have to addressed in the summer but in fairness, only three Premier League teams have conceded fewer.

Romelu Lukaku leaps into the air to celebrate scoring in Everton's 6-3 win over Bournemouth at Goodison.

Barkley and Lukaku’s shift towards well-roundedness and balance under Koeman is also visible throughout the side. There is both risk to the side’s creativity and caution to their defence. And for the first time in a while, the focus is firmly placed on the top six. Koeman has Everton now patiently awaiting a slip up from the big boys. On the evidence of their 2017 form so far, the Toffees are ready to pounce.
—————————
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 

Share Button

Midweek, at a freezing, soaked Bet365 Stadium, Everton failed one of the Premier League’s mythical challenges but nevertheless emerged with a point. After starting dreadfully, recovering minimally before eventually breaking into a somewhat acceptable away display, the Blues ended up disappointed with a 1-1 draw, particularly so when Lee Grant superbly denied Tom Davies a winner late on. All in all, a decent return on a bad day for Everton.

Romelu Lukaku celebrates with Seamus Coleman after the Irishman's deflected cross drew Everton level.

So fabled is the difficulty of the wet weeknight in Stoke, it goes without saying a basic level of defensive organisation is required early on. Similarly, defenders shouldn’t need a reminder to keep an eye on Peter Crouch eager to poach his 100th Premier League goal. And yet seven minutes in, following the most agricultural of punts from Charlie Adam and a basic centre from Marko Arnautovic, Crouch prodded home to leave Everton’s three centre-backs looking amateur.

It was a theme of the first half with Mason Holgate struggling, Ashley Williams all over the place positionally and Ramiro Funes Mori regularly losing track of Crouch. Joel Robles was forced to bail them out when he raced off his line to reduce two promising one-on-one openings to rushed, smothered efforts. Crouch headed tamely at the far post then drilled a swerving volley wide. Everton were really pushing it with Morgan Schneiderlin yet to make his presence felt in the centre. And then fortuitously the equaliser arrived.

Seamus Coleman was half-way through a poor display when he cut inside Erik Pieters and fired across goal with his left foot. Initially flagged as an offside strike for Romelu Lukaku, the goal was awarded once Craig Pawson had consulted with his linesman and correctly identified Ryan Shawcross as having the last touch. Coleman has had a hand in Everton’s last three goals after some crucial contributions over the festive period. Defensively, he has work to do to solidify his partnership with Holgate, but going forward, Coleman is back to being a real asset.

Still, half-time arrived and Koeman decided to address Holgate’s struggles by replacing him with James McCarthy. This displayed good instincts and an encouraging decisiveness though it resulted in Everton losing shape throughout the second-half. Still, the change provided insight into why Koeman has taken such a shine to McCarthy. It seemed not only possible but likely McCarthy would be cast aside. This week however, Koeman made clear that was never his intention.

New Everton signing Morgan Schneiderlin helps convince referee Craig Pawson to award Everton's equaliser away at Stoke.

If it’s McCarthy’s ability to carry out defensive instruction the Dutchman likes, he must have been pleased by his impact against Stoke. McCarthy effectively put Arnautovic out of action with a fair tackle as the Stoke man landed awkwardly. The Irishman made Everton more secure, he helped them see more of the ball, and allowed Schneiderlin to settle. The Frenchman’s kung-fu kick interception and a line-splitting reverse pass were evidence of this.

Together however, they served to affirm Everton’s struggles to create as the entire front three faltered after the break. Ross Barkley, more willing than everyone else, failed to pick the right pass, or manipulate defenders, or seize hold of the game as he has been doing. When Mirallas’ performance dipped, transfer window anxieties were given the opportunity to surface. Ademola Lookman, the single attacking arrival, was summoned from the bench. He thrilled supporters once again with his dribbling and eagerness, but the lack of credible alternatives highlighted the abundantly clear striker shortage.

Although in fairness, Davies, fast becoming Everton’s attacking thrust, could have won it after Coleman dug out a fine cross from the by-line. Lee Grant who unexpectedly has established himself as a decent Premier League keeper palmed Davies’ header away magnificently, young Lookman well-intentioned but unable to find goal or a teammate with a blasted follow-up. Everton were inches away from a hugely uplifting winner from one of their teenage prodigies. For a match that started so badly, this was a reasonable way to end.

There was nevertheless an air of disappointment, not only for the points dropped but also the generally inadequate performance, though Everton fans should be encouraged by what they’re seeing. The Toffees have scored at least two in six of the last nine games. At the other end, Koeman’s defence is not yet sturdy and reliable but only Chelsea (16), Tottenham (16) and Man Utd (21) have conceded fewer than Everton (24). Joel Robles has allowed just four in eight league games. and begun to genuinely resemble a quality keeper. This is still the early phase of the top-to-bottom improvement required.

Everton may have failed to do it on a wet, cold Wednesday night in Stoke but there was virtue in weathering the storm. Besides, winter has, in the main, been kind to Koeman. His side has emerged with an identity and developed a backbone. On the face of it, a drab 1-1 draw at Mark Hughes’ flawed Stoke is tough to get excited about, but showing resilience where once Everton would have crumbled is yet more evidence of progress.
—————————
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 

Share Button

After the Lord mayor’s show is a phrase Everton fans have become bitterly acquainted with in recent years. On the back of last week’s uplifting 4-0 win over Man City, this week’s trip to Crystal Palace, yet to win in the league under Sam Allardyce, seemed a prime opportunity for another airing. In the end, Everton’s patient 1-0 victory was arguably more befitting of celebration. At last, the underlying improvement under Ronald Koeman surfaced.

For the first time, Everton resembled Koeman’s Southampton, and appeared to be exhibiting the style he was hired to instil. This was a step beyond the pragmatic, direct play which has secured most of Everton’s points under the Dutchman. There was a much greater desire to maintain possession, to combine quickly and to create space, there was calm in the attacking third, there was patience. For the vast majority of that, Ross Barkley was the linchpin.

Everton's Ross Barkley fires off a shot when under pressue from four Crystal Palace defenders at Selhurst Park.

Barkley made himself available constantly and weaved majestically around the pitch lending the ball here and there. He had the most touches (91), completed the most passes (56) and had the most shots (5). With the protection of Gareth Barry and Tom Davies and a three-man defence, and with two strikers and two expansive full-backs, Barkley was free to dictate play, and it was a joy to behold.

Everton’s performance echoed many a frustrating afternoon endured away from home under Roberto Martinez. The Blues dominated the ball, created many chances but frustratingly failed to put them away. The differences were crucial, not only to secure the win but also to convince supporters of Koeman’s worth. It was Martinez football with common sense and caution. Case in point: the opportunism of Everton’s winner.

With Jeffrey Schlupp down injured (side note: schlupp seems entirely appropriate as a verb to describe scuttling back on to a pitch sneakily, and as a noun to denote the sort of player who would do such a thing), Everton had the choice to be nice or to try and win. Fond of their nice guys tag, old Everton would have bottled it but there was no such nonsense here. They pressed on, regained and recycled the ball when openings were thwarted, until eventually Davies freed Coleman to blast in from close range.

Mason Holgate celebrates with Seamus Coleman after the latter scored the winner in Everton's 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Everton’s total of 12 goals scored after the 75th minute is surpassed by only Arsenal’s 13 this season. This is a considerable turnaround for a side who had lower levels of fitness than the BDO World Championship under Martinez. On a basic level, Everton work harder and cover more ground for longer periods under Koeman. In that regard, prevailing in a troubling trip to Palace is likely to convince Evertonians more than last week’s inimitable win over City.

It was the Toffees’ fourth win in five, and third straight without conceding. Joel Robles preserved his fifth clean sheet in six league starts by tipping Scot Dann’s header round the post superbly. Christian Benteke also headed a fine chance onto the bar. Mason Holgate continued his fast-track process to becoming Everton’s best defender with yet another assured display. Like Davies, Holgate has injected not only youth but steel and finesse where it was sorely needed and so it seems has Ademola Lookman who looked brilliant during a 20-minute cameo.

Koeman raised hopes early on in his reign as Everton claimed 16 of the first 18 points available, dropping two only on opening day at home to Spurs. But the subsequent months were brutal as the side unravelled completely and produced some frankly horrible football. A new phase is now well underway with the Blues matching that five-game haul since Boxing Day only with more goals scored and fewer conceded. It has taken six months and it has been testing for all, but Koeman’s vision is finally coming together at Everton.
—————————
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter@cdsmith789 

Share Button

Ronald Koeman inflicted the biggest defeat of former teammate Pep Guardiola’s managerial career as Everton trounced Man City 4-0 at Goodison. A perfect afternoon began with Romelu Lukaku’s 12th league goal this season and ended with a debut strike for 19-year-old sub Ademola Lookman. In between, there was Everton’s first complete performance under Koeman.

Tom Davies runs to the Gwladys Street after scoring his first and Everton's third against Man City.

This was an excellent response from Everton after tumbling out of the FA Cup in flimsy fashion against Leicester. For City, who thrashed West Ham 5-0 last week in their best display under Guardiola, this was a bizarre unravelling. Everton were both a resilient and potent as City struggled to contain or create. There was an underpinning organisation which separated this display from all others under Koeman.

Everton’s defence did not rely on last-ditch sprawls and ref’s discretion like against Arsenal. Two sturdy lines remained resolute throughout. The Blues’ attack was not its usual jarring clash of atonal individualism. The players were purposeful, co-operative, and they made smart choices. That Everton had just 29% of possession, and just four shots on target to City’s five only illustrates the perfect execution in both aspects of play. Weaknesses were identified in City, and brutally exposed.

Without suspended Fernandinho, City lacked… a defensive midfield. Everton scored two goals through 18-year-old Tom Davies surging forward unchallenged and picking out unmarked teammates. After a similar effort had been ruled out for offside, the Toffees forged ahead 35 minutes in when John Stones was caught 15 yards out of position when Gael Clichy cleared it straight to Davies. Attempting to recover, Nicolas Otamendi reached the penalty spot while Lukaku was still outside the box to allow the Belgian all the time to stroke the ball home. Disastrous defending.

There has long been a hint about Lukaku and Ross Barkley that they are counter-attackiers awkwardly forced into a framework of slow build-up. Sunday offered a hefty nod in that direction. With City desperate for a win and a goal down, they had to come out. In response, Barkley had one of his most creative halves for Everton. A minute after half-time, he set up the victory by freeing Mirallas to find the corner.

Two opposing substitutions then helped create the conditions for a goal destined to live long in the Evertonian consciousness. Guardiola replaced defensive midfielder Pablo Zabaleta with striker Kelechi Iheanacho; Koeman did it the other way around with Morgan Schneiderlin making his first appearance in place of Mirallas. City were more exposed, Everton were reinforced; Davis suddenly picked up the ball.

Everton academy products Ross Barkley and Tom Davies celebrate the latter's first goal for the club against Man City.Charging forward, Davies drew Clichy and Yaya Toure wide before jinking inside and leaving them for dead. After regaining his feet following Stones’ shove, he collected Barkley’s pass, chipped Claudio Bravo then hoped the hilariously selfish Lukaku wouldn’t make contact. And so it was. A sublime goal crafted by two Everton fans from the academy in front of the Gwladys Street.

Trolling Stones

Remarkably, that wasn’t the cherry on Everton’s cake. That arrived seconds before full-time in almost laughably fortuitous circumstances. Seamus Coleman never puts in a good cross did so only when Stones lost his nerve and booted it against him. Introduced just moments earlier, Lookman showed excellent movement to anticipate the chance, and fine instincts to finish. A second teenage goal scorer for Everton in what was now Guardiola’s worst ever defeat.

Pre-game chat surrounded Stones returning to Goodison for the first time but in truth, he wasn’t even the best former Barnsley ball-playing centre-back on the pitch. Retaining his place in a 3-4-2-1, Holgate demonstrated a lot of what Stones lacks – an eagerness to compete physically, organisation, common sense. He smothered Raheem Sterling into frustration all game while Lukaku, Barkley, Mirallas and Davies gave Stones a torrid afternoon.

19-year-old Ademola Lookman celebrates with Morgan Schneiderlin after scoring on his Everton debut against Man City.

Koeman deserves credit for sticking with the formation after Leicester, for the way he motivated the side, and for how he altered proceedings. The introductions of Schneiderlin for Mirallas, and James McCarthy for Gareth Barry, who was fantastic against his old club, added strength just as levels were dwindling. He then got Barkley the standing ovation his should-have-been-three-assists display deserved when presenting Lookman with the dream scenario.

The Dutchman’s repeated use of the word “perfect” after the game was spot on. His tactics optimised his players’ talents and covered their weaknesses. Lukaku, Barkley and Mirallas – so often figures of frustration and targets of abuse – absolutely mopped the floor with City. They should have ended with three goals and four assists but Lukaku spurned a late chance from Barkley’s flicked through-ball.

It all augurs well for Everton who are likely to further bolster their ranks before February. Koeman’s issue with youth appears to be eroding before our eyes with Davies, Holgate and now Lookman simply too useful to overlook. And the rest of the regular squad is bearing all the signs of the penny dropping tactically, as if they now understand the level of effort required to execute Koeman’s plans.

Four points clear in seventh, the Blues are now free to get on with chipping away at the top six and refining a playing style that will increase their chances next season which, as far as Koeman’s first year goes, suggests Everton are now right on track.
—————————
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter@cdsmith789 

Share Button

Everton’s midfield upgrade gained further structural integrity on Thursday as the excellent Morgan Schneiderlin signed for £22m from Man Utd. Ronald Koeman is reunited with the linchpin of his successful first season at Southampton, and Everton have a high quality replacement for Gareth Barry signed up for four-and-a-half years. A smart signing without doubt, but how will Schneiderlin affect Everton’s play?

Morgan Schneiderlin poses ahead of the media after completing his £22m move from Man Utd to Everton

Schneiderlin will pick up disruptive duties in Idrissa Gueye’s AFCON absence but share them on return. Pre-Kante, Schneiderlin was the Premier League’s standout interceptor. Post-Kante, Gueye has been the only fair comparison. The duo ought to forge a formidable midfield shield which is great news for Everton’s centre-backs who, almost without a single exception this season, have been rubbish. Schneiderlin’s ability to decrease their workload will provide a huge, necessary boost to the defence.

But creatively, he poses a problem. While Schneiderlin is predominantly defensive, he’s a fairly complete midfielder capable of contributing to attacks. However, he favours short passing and so does Gueye. For all the strength, stamina and awareness Everton will now possess in defensive midfield, they will lack someone dictating play from deep and that could be problematic. Responsibility shifts further forward. Enter stage left Ross Barkley.

Only Gareth Barry matches Barkley’s efforts to show for the ball and try to build play rather than pass the buck. His game is still littered with errors, some of them bewildering, but in Koeman’s increasingly direct and obvious Everton, Barkley’s tendency to take a touch and play a risky pass is vital. As the latter stages of Everton’s 3-0 win over Southampton with Enner Valencia as a second striker demonstrated, Barkley is best when he can see the play ahead of him, free of the congestion of the number 10 area.

Long-term implications

With Gueye and Schneiderlin presumably first choice, plus Tom Davies, James McCarthy, Muhamed Besic and, of course Barry in reserve, the already sceptical Koeman is unlikely to play Barkley further back. That’s a shame. This is where he needs to play to develop. There may be long term implications about what type of player Barkley becomes. He’ll be further burdened with central midfield duties while operating at number 10. Delaying the inevitable, Koeman could do worse than play Barkley alongside Schneiderlin in Gueye’s absence.

Everton face Man City at Goodison on Sunday and Koeman is more than likely to play it cautiously. Perhaps that’s not the game to allow Barkley to spray passes in front of defence, but following that, the Blues face Crystal Palace, Stoke, Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and Sunderland. Every one of those fixtures is an opportunity to test Barkley in central midfield and to see whether any sort of partnership develops with Schneiderlin.

Everton's Ross Barkley holds off Southampton's Oriol Romeu in the Toffees' 3-0 victory at Goodison Park.

Once Gueye returns, Barkley will find central midfield further out of range. He’ll be left with the responsibility of proving to Koeman that he’s Everton’s number 10. With just three league goals and two assists this season, and no partnership whatsoever with Romelu Lukaku, that’s easier said than done. There are no excuses now. Barkley needs to continue what he does well, but he needs to do it a lot more often, and reduce the number of errors.

Steve Walsh ought to have Barkley at the forefront of his mind this January – either finding attacking players to optimise his considerable talent and decrease his play-making burden, or finding attackers to replace him. Times have changed. Everton are now willing and keen to invest. They have a new scouting operation beginning to bear fruit for an increasingly frustrated manager. Barkley is by no means assured of his place.

Schneiderlin’s arrival is an undoubted positive for Everton as they seek to upgrade the squad and become competitive, but it increases the pressure on Barkley. It’s imperative that he responds well.
—————————
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter@cdsmith789 

Share Button

Death, taxes and Evertonian misery on Derby Day. This is the perception of the post-80s football fan on Merseyside and Monday showed why. The eye-to-eye combat of yesteryear is over, the romantic competitiveness is dead. Liverpool have become Everton’s bogey team. The latest update of English football’s richest rivalry – a 0-1 Liverpool win courtesy of Sadio Mane’s 94th minute heart-breaker – offered brutal proof if any was needed.

Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates his stoppage time winner against Everton at Goodison Park.

In truth, it was a rubbish match that failed to justify the excessive pre-match PR. Liverpool, for their part, warrant such fanfare these days. Under Jurgen Klopp, they are too lively and powerful for most sides. They hunt in fevered packs. They score the most goals. Everton are miles off that. Hype based on one half-decent performance in 17 games is no hype at all.

Indeed the exertions of that half-decent performance cast shadows over the derby. Ronald Koeman selected the same lineup bar the necessary replacement of suspended Phil Jagielka with Ramiro Funes Mori. The pressing and hard tackling was there from the outset, but unlike the Arsenal game, and surely in some part because of it, Everton couldn’t sustain it. They failed to forge ahead and slumped back to become a purely defensive force.

Having to replace three injured players didn’t help. James McCarthy was removed at half-time with a hamstring concern and so was Everton’s optimism and impetus. Gareth Barry offered no compensatory drive and his passing was uncharacteristically wayward. Maarten Stekelenburg, felled for the second straight game by a Leighton Baines recovery challenge, was the next to go, before Enner Valencia completed the unwanted hat-trick after taking a whack. Koeman’s decision to replace the latter with Dominic Calvert-Lewin has to be considered an error with Kevin Mirallas on the bench.

Gnarled Barkley

Injuries and fatigue limited Everton’s effectiveness, but more than anything, the home side suffered for their gaping lack of quality on the ball. Put simply, Everton are absolutely rubbish at passing. With two tackling midfielders, and Valencia and Aaron Lennon on the wings, responsibility fell almost entirely to Ross Barkley. He crumbled. One of Barkley’s poorest showings of the season was best summed up in a frustrated studs-up lunge on Jordan Henderson he was fortunate not to be dismissed for.

Everton's Ross Barkley squares up to Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson minutes after flattering him with a rough challenge.

It wasn’t all Barkley’s fault. All Everton seemed to do was bypass him with high balls to Lukaku whose inadequate hold-up play made link-ups a rarity. On the few occasions Barkley controlled the ball, he barely had a passing option. Under Koeman, Everton remain an jarring mix of talents and attitudes. Until that is rectified, they need to be a lot more pragmatic than just wellying it forward with no plan whatsoever.

But on the defensive front, Everton deserve credit. Restricting Liverpool to four shots on target, two of them after the 94th minute, is quite good. Four points against title contenders in back-to-back, emotional night games would have marked a fine turnaround for a side who were pummelled away at Watford, but it wasn’t to be, and Everton must begin that process again. As Mane tapped home following Daniel Sturridge’s deflected shot, and Joel Robles’ terribly misjudged dive, the inevitability was crushing.

With just two matches remaining of Koeman’s first window-to-window stint as Everton boss, there cannot be a single supporter who is happy with what they’re seeing. The Toffees are 17 games into a league season having played well for about four halves of football. The team has no identity or rhythm to its play. Weaknesses are glaring. But Koeman is likely more philosophical about his chances of succeeding.

Win those two games at home to Leicester and away at Hull and Everton are where they realistically hoped to be: in the top eight amongst the best of the rest. And what’s more they will be into the transfer window which, on the evidence of their fading derby effort as the squad was stretched, cannot come quickly enough for Koeman.
—————————
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter@cdsmith789 

Share Button

Everton produced a performance of gripping intensity to maintain their unbeaten home record under Ronald Koeman and secure a vital 2-1 win over Arsenal. A match that began with nervousness, fearful passing and an individual catastrophe from Ashley Williams ended with a tenacious Everton, a boisterous Goodison and, redemptively, a Williams winner.

Everton gather to celebrate Ashley William's 87th-minute winner in a crucial Goodison clash with Arsenal.

Koeman’s side still cannot claim to have put in a full 90-minute display but this was certainly their best effort. Disillusioned supporters were re-energised with appreciation as the Blues worked their socks off. Led by James McCarthy and Idrissa Gueye who patrolled aggressively in the centre, Everton showed determination and a much greater willingness to compete. And yet it started in dire fashion.

I don’t know if your centre-back has ever taken an unnecessary touch under pressure, lost possession, studded a teammate’s knee, saw his fellow centre-back booked trying to cover, then deflected the easily saveable free-kick into his own goal, but take it from me, it’s as rubbish as it sounds. With the worst defending I’ve ever seen, Ashley Williams handed Arsenal and Alexis Sanchez the lead.

Desperation proved the catalytic force for Everton. The Blues harried, tackled hard and forced Petr Cech to kick long. One vengeful McCarthy hack on Francis Coquelin lifted the crowd, and though Everton’s shot quality was poor, a goal felt entirely possible. Indeed it was. Leighton Baines has been deprived of crossing opportunities with Kevin Mirallas and Yannick Bolasie ahead but with space to run into and time to cut on to his right foot, his fantastic delivery allowed Seamus Coleman to glance just before the break.

Seamus Coleman celebrates his second goal in three games at Goodison - the vital equaliser in the 2-1 win over Arsenal

The second half followed a similar pattern. Arsenal set up in Everton’s half, regained the ball quickly, and looked easily capable of creating chances but Mesut Ozil – quiet throughout – blazed the best one over. Again, Everton seized control as Gueye and McCarthy’s combativeness forced them forward. With Lukaku winning more headers than usual, Ross Barkley was able to push up. One rasping left-foot effort that sailed just wide hinted at his growing confidence.

And then came one of the moments of the night on 79 minutes. Enner Valencia, derided by Evertonians since his arrival and barely used by Koeman, had earned a start with cameo graft. Here he converted that to a full display of willingness and was duly applauded as Koeman – addressing one of his own shortcomings – replaced him with youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

The Goodison of old

Koeman settled for a point against Spurs, and desperately gambled for one against Swansea and Man Utd, but here he went for it. Immediately, McCarthy surged and forced Laurent Koscielny to bring him down. The Frenchman could have outpaced McCarthy and no doubt regretted his decision when Calvert-Lewin headed behind only for Mark Clattenburg to award the corner. Everton thought they had won it when Phil Jagielka half-volleyed well but Cech’s fine save denied fans’ delirium. Or rather delayed it as comically negligent marking from Ozil then allowed Williams to fully redeem himself and head the winner into the corner.

Ashley Williams makes amends after his earlier blunder to secure Everton's victory over Arsenal at Goodison Park.

The remaining action could fill a short film on how ridiculously bad Premier League footballers can be. Firstly, Barkley shot instead of assisting Kevin Mirallas for the clincher before Jagielka received a second booking for a trip on Lucas Perez. The last few seconds will live long in the memory. A minute of football in which there were three huge chances, two incredible blocks, a blatant penalty overlooked, a last-ditch slide tackle and both keepers in the same net. Pinball comedy football.

Everton hung on to create – on the back of one win in 11 – vital momentum heading into next Monday’s Merseyside derby. This was a huge night for Koeman. Not only did he get the win he desperately needed to begin to assuage his doubters, he got a real sense of the benefit the Goodison crowd can be, and what kind of football it takes to stir it. There’s a natural fit between Koeman’s aggressive style and Everton tradition; they overlapped perfectly on Tuesday.

It was, in many ways, a return to the competitive intensity of the bear pit David Moyes cultivated at Goodison. The weak first 20 minutes aside, Everton fought for every ball, used their physicality to unsettle, and were the dominant team from set pieces. The flimsy, boring football of Roberto Martinez’s later days turned the Goodison atmosphere against Everton, but for the first time in years, grit and determination made it an asset once again.

Quietly, Koeman is re-establishing Everton’s home advantage. Four wins and four draws leave Everton unbeaten in the league at Goodison with three of the top six resisted so far. But the ultimate test is mere days away. If Everton can replicate Tuesday’s heroics when Liverpool venture across Stanley Park, the Koeman era will have precisely the shot in the arm it needs.
—————————
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter@cdsmith789 

Share Button

A perfect storm of incompetence unfolded for Everton at Watford as three goals in 28 minutes rendered Romelu Lukaku’s brace irrelevant in a 3-2 defeat. Ronald Koeman’s excessively cautious selection blunted the Toffees’ floundering attack while another defensive shambles highlighted the chasm between idea and execution as the Dutchman seeks to establish his style.

Watford's Adlene Guedioura scares the living daylights out of Everton's Ramiro Funes Mori by kicking the ball.

Watford had conceded more from crosses than any other Premier League side (11) yet Everton’s third minute corner was taken short. When Gerard Deulofeu eventually crossed, he whipped the ball so close to Heurelho Gomes, there was no chance for any teammate. Not only had Everton failed to do their homework, they lacked basic competitive instincts.

Having dropped Ross Barkley for Tom Cleverley against Man Utd, Koeman opted to play James McCarthy as a defensive number 10 in a three-man centre midfield. With Gerard Deulofeu and Kevin Mirallas on the wings, and bereft of Barkley, Everton had no passing game whatsoever. And yet, to Watford’s temporary embarrassment, they went ahead.

A first half littered with pointless chips up to Lukaku’s chest and into Watford’s possession was finally given aesthetic value when Gareth Barry’s looping, curving pass evaded both Watford centre-halves and enabled Lukaku to slot calmly under Gomes. For the first time in over 400 minutes of football, Everton had a lead.

A goal up, the Blues could have dropped back and pulled closer together. Barry could have fallen into a midfield sweeper role in front of the defence with McCarthy and Idrissa Gueye charged with pressing. Deulofeu, Mirallas and Lukaku would have been perfectly suited to counter-attacking. But none of this transpired.

Enner Valencia laments a wasted opportunity as Everton fall to defeat at Watford.

After 35 minutes, a failed attack left Miguel Britos in possession with seven Everton players in Watford’s half. Barry and McCarthy found themselves in attacking midfield positions with Leighton Baines the furthest man forward. Watford’s effective hold-up play meant the hosts were one decent header away from a counter. So it proved as Britos picked out Troy Deeney who embarrassed Ashley Williams with a well-timed jump.

Stefano Okaka released Nordin Amrabat who easily navigated Ramiro Funes Mori’s nothing block, and returned the favour as Williams and Gueye failed to take responsibility: Okaka skilfully back-heeled in his first Watford goal. There was simply no need to commit so many men forward a goal to the good. Just like the early short corner, it was another basic miscalculation from Everton.

Set-piece: no resistance

After the break, Watford grew in confidence. According to Deeney, Watford had worked on set pieces all week. They backed that up with two set-piece goals in five minutes that highlighted yet more galling weaknesses in Everton’s defence. Sebastian Prödl had headed over from a good position to offer Everton a warning, and yet just a minute later, Seamus Coleman, six inches smaller and two-and-a-half stone lighter, was given the task of marking him with predictable results. Prödl headed Watford in front and they didn’t have to wait long for another.

Everton's Romelu Lukaku celebrates his second ultimately pointless goal of the day away at Watford.

Maarten Stekelenburg diverted a Britos close-ranger smartly over the bar, but from the resultant corner, he flapped pathetically at a neat Okaka header. Everton were beaten. “The team is too passive, it’s not proactive, it’s really reactive”, said Koeman after the game. It was an interesting comment considering he made his first substitution a minute after Watford’s third, but in fairness, he’s spot on.

A group of professional footballers shouldn’t need substitutions or tactical tweaks to urge them forward with games hanging in the balance. Koeman has watched his side frantically rally and score late goals in three of the last four games – with Lukaku nodding home a second here following sub Aaron Lennon’s cross – but also endured their lack of hunger and desire to arrest games before they become salvage operations.

There’s a circular chicken and egg debate surrounding Everton at the moment. Are the players so weak and lazy because of their own instincts or is it a reaction to Koeman’s coaching? Is it still a consequence of the Roberto Martinez era? Is Koeman struggling to correct bad habits or is he imposing them? Is his current failure, and indeed the squad’s, a portent of doom for his reign? You can make a case for all of the strands of that debate, but Koeman must concern himself with remedies and solutions.

“You need January, you need the summer to change what you need as a team”, he added. This is undoubtedly true but it’s entirely possible to make Everton more secure and more productive with the current options available. Koeman’s poor management so far, be it tactical or motivational, has contributed to the illusion of impossibility. With Arsenal and Liverpool on the agenda at Goodison this week, now would be a good time to shatter that illusion.
———————————–
Click here to read ’10 benefits of Everton switching to a 3-4-2-1 formation now Bolasie is injured’
———————————–
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter
@cdsmith789 

Share Button

The news that Yannick Bolasie will miss the rest of the season after aggravating his ACL against Man Utd is a terrible blow to Everton. Bolasie has become a key player at Goodison – he has created the second most chances (20), he has the most assists (4), he formed a blossoming partnership with Romelu Lukaku.

He’s also been the only Everton winger to gain Ronald Koeman’s trust. The Dutchman must now replace Bolasie like-for-like with Kevin Mirallas, Gerard Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon, or he can switch to a wingerless formation. There are many advantages to switching to 3-4-2-1. 10 are listed below.

3421
1) Holgate back in the side. Mason Holgate has looked really capable when he’s appeared this season and has demonstrated his suitability for this role by impressing at both centre-back and right-back. With Coleman further ahead assisting defensively and/ or slotting in alongside him off the ball, Everton would be stronger in this consistently weak area.

2) Williams into the centre. As Paul Riley pointed out it in this blog from October, Ashley Williams makes just 14% of his ball recoveries out of the centre (or made, as the case may now be). “No centre-back gets dragged less” – which contrasts sharply with Everton’s other centre-halves. Shifting Williams to the centre should add balance to the side whilst making the most of the side’s best blocker. He can also organise more effectively from this position.

3) Funes Mori in a more suitable role. Phil Jagielka’s increasingly bad form has thrust unimpressive Ramiro Funes Mori into the side. He may not stay there beyond January but for now, playing him as one of three centre-backs may be the best approach given his propensity to pull wide off the ball. Playing him on the left of a three would share his defensive workload while also allowing Leighton Baines to push further forward.

4) Less defensive responsibility for Baines and Coleman. Everton’s first-choice full-backs were never the best defensively even before Roberto Martinez filled their heads with nonsense, but as their match-salvaging equalisers at home to Swansea and Man Utd would suggest, they still have something to offer going forward. Playing them in a 3-4-2-1 would allow them to provide width which they’ve always been good at, and make more of their natural attacking ability while continuing to provide defensive assistance.

5) The ability to switch to a 5-man defence. As a space-squeezing exercise out of possession, Koeman would have the option of dropping Baines and Coleman back to make five at the back. Also, Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas (or any other attacking midfielder of course) could drop into wide positions to form a four-man midfield. This may come in particularly useful when Everton experience the sort of attacking dominance Man City and Chelsea subjected them to.

6) Lessening Barry’s burden Quite understandably, Barry is looking increasingly tired. He’s 35, he’s had an 18-year career, and during his three-and-a-bit years at Goodison, his work ethic has put his younger teammates to shame. Koeman needs to look at a long-term replacement but for now, an additional defensive player would reduce Barry’s protective duties and allow him to concentrate on starting attacks and dictating the play.

7) Allowing Barry and Gueye to remain in the centre Once again referring to Paul Riley’s excellent analysis, the same blog piece highlighted how Barry and Gueye are dragged out of the centre more than any central midfield duo. As the side loses its shape and the first line of defence is weakened, Everton are exposed. With two defensive players on each flank, Everton’s central midfield duo will have to cover less ground and so should be able to increase their ball retrievals in front of the back four.

8) Baines crossing again Since Steven Pienaar got injured and then left, Baines has struggled with the lack of a consistent ally down the left. To compound matters this year, he often finds himself behind prolific crosser Bolasie who barely ever notices Baines let alone passes to him. With Bolasie injured, clearing the left-flank completely would allow Baines to get back to covering the full length of the pitch and providing more crosses.

9) Creative assistance for Barkley. Mirallas’ presence as an additional creative midfielder will help out Barkley who is so often smothered and overawed in the number 10 role he makes look like such a lonely task. Two attacking midfielders will present more problems for opposition defences and hopefully encourage Barkley and Mirallas to take more shots.

10) Support for Lukaku This is the main benefit. The whole point of this formation is to use the talent at Koeman’s disposal to improve the attack without compromising the defence. Lukaku is struggling to impose himself at the moment and Bolasie is his main supplier. He’s always worked well with Mirallas, less so with Barkley, but with the two of them just off him, he’ll be a lot less isolated. Plus, with three men in the box, there’ll be more margin for error with crosses, which will be particularly useful in Coleman’s case.
———————————–
Click here to read my Everton Man Utd report
———————————–
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 

Share Button

For the second straight home game, Everton salvaged a 1-1 draw with a last-gasp equaliser from a full-back. After a poor first half against Jose Mourinho’s Man Utd and a woeful misjudgement from Maarten Stekelenburg to hand them the lead, the Blues regrouped, reformulated and finally picked up a deserved point in the 88th minute when Leighton Baines slotted home a penalty.

Everton's Leighton Baines earns a point for his side against Man Utd by firing his penalty past David De Gea.

Everton have a serious issue with motivation. Whether it’s a reflection of Ronald Koeman’s managerial ability, an indictment of the players’ professionalism, or a hangover from the Roberto Martinez’s era, it’s a real and present danger for the Toffees. Never able to smother teams, Everton are forced to play catch-up. They start games like they’d start a kick-about in a waiting room.

With Kevin Mirallas, Tom Cleverley and Ramiro Funes Mori in for Aaron Lennon, Ross Barkley and Phil Jagielka, Koeman hoped to resuscitate his lifeless side. It didn’t work. Just like last week at Southampton, Everton failed to muster a first-half shot on target. Also like last week, they fell behind to a calamity as Maarten Stekelenburg had a moment of mental abandonment.

As Zlatan Ibrahimovic ambled forward to gather Anthony Martial’s pass, he was likely as confused as anyone to see Stekelenburg rushing towards him like an erratic, lone linebacker. The hit-and-miss but ultimately inadequate Dutch keeper turned a nothing opportunity into a great chance. Ibrahimovic duly responded with a smart chip which, via the bar then post, a touch of spin and some nonsensical hesitance from Funes Mori, eventually broke the deadlock.

For the fifth game in six, Everton had conceded the first goal and required fiery instruction from Koeman at half-time to make them competitive. Like the Swansea game, the Blues improved significantly after the break and ought to have translated their dominance into victory. While still operating at a fairly poor level, the manner of the fightback deserves more credit than has been forthcoming from supporters.

Star-struck officiating

Ibrahimovic became the second Man Utd player to avoid a deserved red card after swinging his foot into Seamus Coleman’s face in cowardly and unnecessary fashion. Following on from Marcos Rojo’s equally yellow-bellied two-footed lunge on Idrissa Gueye, and Michael Oliver’s decision to allow Man Utd players to constantly waste time and take throw-ins from wherever they pleased, Everton were entitled to feel hard done by.

Man Utd's Marcos Rojo gets away with a two-footed lunge on man of the match Idrissa Gueye of Everton.

Within a minute, Coleman and Yannick Bolasie had to be withdrawn through injury. Despite that, Oliver’s rare star-struck outing, and Man Utd’s increasingly defensive approach, Everton dominated the second half, regaining possession quickly, racking up six shots on target and firing up the crowd. When the equaliser arrived late on, there was a hint of poetic justice to it.

Jose Mourinho was so miffed about Everton’s direct approach (78 long balls compared to Man Utd’s, ahem, 79), he brought on aerial expert Marouane Fellaini to thrust his towering afro at everything that came his way. Immediately undone by neat footwork from man of the match Idrissa Gueye, the ex-Toffee foolishly conceded a penalty. Baines, who missed one of his two failed Premier League spot-kicks against David De Gea and bottled the chance to take another against him in last year’s FA Cup semi-final, righted those wrongs with a calm, powerfully struck spot-kick.

Everton had their equaliser but all told, that’s not something to be particularly content with against an average Man Utd side. There remains a tremendous amount of problems for Koeman to tackle. The only players to have scored in the last four games have been full-backs. Barkley’s been so poor he couldn’t even get on against Utd, and Bolasie – Everton’s bright spark so far this season – may face a significant spell on the sidelines.

Everton's Romelu Lukaku put in another well-below-par shift against Man Utd.

Romelu Lukaku put in the kind of half-arsed shift that would seemingly confirm he has no subscription to the Daily Mail Online. Jamie Carragher revealed the statistical extent of Lukaku’s poor work ethic on Friday. During another below par outing in which he completed 10 of 25 passes, won six of 12 aerial duels, had no shots and sprinted minimally, Evertonians in attendance repeated Carragher’s sentiments in much coarser language.

When he wasn’t time-wasting in a manner Everton fans have witnessed Stoke, West Brom and Sunderland keepers do so in the past, De Gea made some fine stops, not least from Mirallas, to keep Utd ahead. Mason Holgate and Enner Valencia, who both impressed off the bench, came close with headers whilst Gueye also tested the Spaniard.

However, consecutive 1-1 draws at home is nowhere near sufficient after three straight away defeats. All in all, the Blues have won just six of the last 24 Premier League games which is astonishingly bad. Yet again, it feels like there’s not much to build on, merely the next game on the horizon when the opportunity to build comes along again.
———————————–
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789  

Share Button