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
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