Everton made a tough week much tougher with a weak, vulnerable Merseyside derby performance as they failed to win at Anfield for 18th straight year. Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho tore apart a slow, flimsy back three which saw Matthew Pennington repeatedly exposed, both Liverpool players scoring in a 3-1 win. Ronald Koeman’s post-match reaction completed a poor afternoon for him.

Coutinho celebrates after giving Liverpool a 2-1 lead against Everton, the Reds eventually winning 3-1The Blues were up against it both in terms of Morgan Schneiderlin, Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori’s injury absences and in terms of the squad’s limitations. Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge were missing for Liverpool, but Mane, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino made a potent front three. Koeman’s plan to deny Liverpool space in behind worked for the most part at the expense of all the space in front.

First Mane then Coutinho picked up the ball in midfield before exploiting a multiple defensive errors. Everton’s initial response was hesitant, their eventual challenges flimsy. They took up poor positions and made bad decisions from there. They lacked an awareness of their opponents’ habits. Mane loves to dribble at pace, Coutinho likes to cut inside and bend it into the corner. Both did as they pleased as Joel Robes, apparently watching the action on a lagging stream, failed to react in time.

So too Koeman who was perhaps deceived by Pennington’s equaliser from a corner – a bitterly ironic effort that involved all of Everton’s back three combining nicely. A change was required and it was blindingly obvious. The back three lacked pace, the attack lacked width. Mason Holgate could be moved back, and Jonjoe Kenny introduced. Koeman had other ideas.

He replaced Pennington and Tom Davies with Enner Valencia and Gareth Barry permitting a shift to 4-4-2. This was fine and allowed Everton to become a threat in the game but it arrived seven minutes after Liverpool had made it 3-1. Presumably as an apology for Funes Mori’s stamp on Divock Origi during last year’s Anfield derby, Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka stood as far away from each other as possible. A neat ball from Coutinho opened it up for Origi, Robles completing the apology by… erm…. running forward in the wrong direction and guessing wrong.

Overrun

Undoubtedly, the game was lost in the space between Everton’s three centre-backs sitting deep out of position and the centre-midfield failing to successfully engage. However, the front three of Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Dominic Calvert-Lewin didn’t help. Lukaku barely offered an outlet all game while Barkley and Calvert-Lewin’s attacking positions left Everton exposed in the centre. Barkley in particular was a hindrance.

BarkleyBarkely drew attention to himself this week after being overlooked for England. He had a point but all eyes were going to be on him anyway after he under-performed in the Goodison clash and was lucky to stay on the pitch. At Anfield, he repeated that display entirely. An early clip on Emre Can left Barkley fortunate to escape a yellow, a studs-up challenge on Lovren left him fortunate to escape a red. He improved after the break but in the most insignificant fashion.

In a different way, Lukaku let the occasion get to him, the occasion being another clash against a top six side. Once again faced with a half-decent centre-back, he totally crumbled. Not just losing a personal battle: anonymity. Not once did he seek to isolate Lucas though in truth he had little chance as Barkley hung on to the ball relentlessly and Everton crossed with little accuracy. Everton’s two biggest stars were brought down a peg.

So too the whole club after recent stadium-based optimism, and the team after a good start to 2017. This was a defeat that confirmed Everton’s inferiority, not just to Liverpool but also to the other teams above them. Chelsea away, Liverpool at home, Tottenham away, and Liverpool here – four changes of system from Koeman, four miscalculations, four crushing defeats. While Everton are unbeaten in four games against the rest of the top six, Man Utd pose a serious threat to that record on Tuesday.

Everton's Ronald Koeman looks dejected alongside Jurgen Klopp who won his third straight Merseyside derby for LiverpoolEverton missed several key players meaning they had no choice but to play some youngsters who were unsuitable for their roles, but this was simply not good enough from Koeman. We’ve been here before, the recent Tottenham game being the previous example. This season, Everton look competent against the bottom 13 and completely vulnerable against the top six. Worse still, he does not appear to be learning.

Evertonians need to patient. Though these problems could have been better addressed by now, they will be in the summer. However, that should not excuse the extent to which Koeman has fallen short in big games this year.
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Click here to read ‘O’Neill reveals the flaws in his approach with latest response to Koeman’
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By Chris Smith
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Everton's Ronald Koeman donned a pair of glasses to read out a prepared statement criticising James McCarthy and Martin O'NeillWhen James McCarthy withdrew from the warm-up of Ireland’s clash with Wales, he increased the likelihood of his Everton exit tenfold. He also reignited the vociferous club versus country debate about his fitness. Ronald Koeman deemed it befitting of spectacles, Martin O’Neill felt it required a Friday night statement. Let’s examine the terms of this increasingly daft debate.

During his pre-Merseyside derby press conference, Koeman explained his displeasure at McCarthy’s latest setback. After just one start in 2017 and three weeks out, he believed “one full week of training sessions” was required. McCarthy trained just twice before mistakenly declaring himself fit. It’s not unreasonable for O’Neil to think he had recovered from a hamstring strain, nor is wanting Ireland’s best players available for their nine or so games per year, but this is not an isolated incident.

In October, McCarthy completed 171 minutes against Georgia and Moldova despite missing six weeks for Everton with a groin strain. Back at Finch Farm, he was described as “massively overloaded” by the club’s medical team. “You’re killing the player!”, said Koeman unequivocally. A week later, McCarthy broke down again. Despite not appearing for Everton for a month, he was then called up to face Austria before O’Neill decided, to Roy Keane’s dismay, to avoid risking him.

The Irish camp was having none of Koeman’s suggestions. “I totally refute that“, responded O’Neill. “James had declared himself fit”. That’s just not good enough though, is it? McCarthy has a well-established tendency to overestimate his fitness with a national game looming. He regularly gets that call wrong. O’Neill is exploiting McCarthy’s patriotism and reneging on a duty of care by leaving the decision in the player’s hands.

James McCarthy stretches in the warm-up for Ireland's World Cup qualifier with Wales before limping off.

O’Neill and Keane’s comments have often been antagonistic. Koeman has been mocked for “bleating about” McCarthy’s injury, his claims dismissed as “absolute nonsense” and “total rubbish”. Keane referenced the club’s trophy drought. Koeman has responded angrily from time to time, he has criticised O’Neill but he has avoided petty personal insults. His tone has been markedly more serious.

Take for instance O’Neill labelling Koeman “the master tactician of the blame game” in his Friday night statement. Or the suggestion that Everton’s pre-season, now six months ago, would “provide some enlightenment”. Well let’s see. After Ireland’s last Euro 2016 match on June 26, O’Neill believes McCarthy returned to Everton after a very short break “but only 11 days later, he played his first of three games, all within an eight day period”. With clear enjoyment but total naivety, he ended the recollection: “Overload?”

Everton faced Real Betis on July 30. That’s 34 days after Ireland lost to France, not 11. If “only 11 days later” referred to the time after McCarthy’s “very short break”, that’d be a 23-day break. McCarthy did start three games in eight days but look at how they were handled. 60 minutes against Real Betis, 66 minutes five days later at Man Utd, and 65 minutes three days on against Espanyol. Koeman also left McCarthy as unused sub for the first game of the tour. That seems pretty low-risk and reasonable to me.

In total, that’s 191 minutes of pre-season action in eight days with an extra day’s rest allowed. When O’Neill selected McCarthy against Georgia and Moldova, he put him through 171 minutes in four days. Overload? This surely what O’Neill is unwittingly suggesting here. And he’d be correct. After that, McCarthy got through 40 more minutes for Everton before aggravating his hamstring again.

Koeman has not made excessive or insensitive demands of McCarthy, he has merely asked him to prove his fitness. Anyone who has watched Everton regularly over the last two years will tell you this simply hasn’t happened. However, that has not proved a deterrent for O’Neill. He has continued to select him regardless, exhibiting carelessness where caution is required.

Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane share a joke during Ireland training.

Everton’s fitness tests have repeatedly shown McCarthy to be unfit at times when he has been passed for Ireland. What does it say about the Irish setup as a whole to repeatedly put a player at risk in such reckless fashion? Isn’t this a bit amateur? Isn’t this the sort of thing Keane walked out of a World Cup in protest? Are we to presume he’s suddenly in favour of such shoddiness now he’s swapped sides?

O’Neill can release all the smarmy statements he likes, Keane can continue to hypocritically question players’ loyalty. Soon however they need to stop overburdening and exploiting McCarthy, and to start adapting to his needs. It is the Irish camp, not Everton that would be served better by “quiet introspection“, with emphasis on the quiet.
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By Chris Smith
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Bramley Moore Docks, 19th century industrial dock turned site for Everton's new stadium.125 years since Everton left Anfield for Goodison Park, the club has reached an agreement to build a new stadium on the banks of the River Mersey. Stanley Park’s perimeter has served the Toffees wonderfully since 1878 but a move to Bramley Moore Dock offers a long overdue opportunity to rejoin English football’s elite. The end and beginning of eras: Everton’s moment of change is approaching.

An “innovative finance model” will see Liverpool City Council act as guarantor of a £350m loan and receive £4.4m annually for 30 years with Everton purchasing the land from Peel Holdings for a little more than £20m once planning permission is approved. Though Mayor Joe Anderson will inevitably encounter criticism particularly from disgruntled Liverpool fans no longer dazzled by their recent stand modification, he will presumably take it in good spirits as fellow Evertonians refuse to let him pay for a pint ever again. Good for the council and great for the club, the deal will do wonders for the city.

The move appears a masterstroke in terms of civic and brand identity. Locating centrally beside the River Mersey, Everton have secured prime real estate in Liverpool’s distinctive landscape. Crucially, the new stadium will reconstitute local history. Bramley-Moore Dock opened for business (mainly to export coal) in 1848, 30 years before Everton existed. It closed 140 years later following the Miners’ Strike, a year on from the Blues’ last league title. Simultaneous wilderness years eventually became conditions for change.

Bramley Moore dock and the Liverpool backdrop as perceived from across the water in Birkenhead.

Just as TV money began to pour into English football, Everton slipped into 30 years of stagnation. The Toffees celebrated Goodison’s centenary year exactly a week before the inaugural Premier League campaign began. A portent of the future: basking in the past as a rapidly-changing landscape left the club alienated like a poor child pressed against the window of what is now a Tesco Express.

As three stadium opportunities have failed, Goodison, one of the purest remaining sources of nostalgia in English football, took on the mythical semblance of a cage. Fencing in, limiting activity, stunting growth. This is where Dixie Dean scored 60 in a season; where the Holy Trinity strolled to the league title; where Bayern Munich were vanquished in the rampant second-half of a European semi-final. Dilapidated in its latter days, Goodison Park was a pioneer of another age. Its charm has never deserted it. But this is modern football; we are way beyond spoiling the sentiment.

New purpose

All reverence for the Old Lady aside, the move is vital. Everton have operated laudably as an analogue club in a digital age for years. The club has been left behind. 30 years of drift has infected the fan base with defeatism and hopelessness. Nobody is optimistic on cup days. We are well-acquainted with the glass ceiling. But all that could now change. A new stadium will help Everton bridge the increasingly definitive revenue gap that elevates the top six. It will provide new optimism, new purpose and new experiences.

There are plenty of obstacles ahead before Everton move into their new home, but even then, that is but phase one of a much bigger plan. Everton must retain their current stars and attract better players to compete. The club needs to expand its business operations, to secure lucrative sponsorships, and develop its scouting and coaching departments. An “iconic waterfront stadium” is the perfect context for an attempt to return to competitiveness but what is more important is good planning and execution at the very top.

Bramley Moore dock will soon be Everton's new home after once planning permission is granted.

To that end, Farhad Moshiri appears capable even with Alisher Usmanov sub-plots ignored for now. Just like Ronald Koeman’s appointment, the Bramley Moore news has encountered unanimous approval. And that’s no mean feat. Goodison Park is incredibly special. To many people, it will be the most emotive place they will ever know. Plus, Everton’s reputation as a club yet to sell its soul sat well with supporters.

Sadly, such transactions are prerequisites for progress these days. Stand still and you get left behind. There is no denying the Blues have fallen foul of that but the drift is coming to an end. After decades of frustration, Everton can finally turn the page and begin another chapter.
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By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 

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Two days after his 20th birthday, Dominic Calvert-Lewin celebrates his first goal for Everton against Hull.Everton strolled to their 10th home win this season as Marco Silva’s vulnerable Hull City were beaten 4-0 at Goodison. With all eyes on Romelu Lukaku after a week of thought-provoking outspokenness, a classic misdirection trick allowed Dominic Calvert-Lewin an early opener before Enner Valencia and Lukaku turned an edgy lead into a comfortable win late on.

Although the game bore plenty of positives, Everton did not play well. The opening goal however was as encouraging as they come. Naturally attention will be drawn to the combined 38 years of Tom Davies who marauded forward and found the right pass, and Calvert-Lewin who finished unmarked from eight yards, but this was an opportunity enabled by Ross Barkley’s vision, a growing influence for Koeman’s side.

As Davies bent his run to exploit Andrea Ranocchia’s deep position, Barkley took Hull’s defence out of the game with a calm through-ball. Ranocchia’s laughable cover made Davies’ job easier in picking out Calvert-Lewin. The youngster stroked home from eight yards. Koeman has been criticised for perceived mistrust of youngsters, and indeed creative players. It’s tough to envisage a more compelling counter-argument than Calvert-Lewin’s first for Everton.

To suggest the floodgates subsequently opened would be to mislead. Hull, as is typical of their efforts under Marco Silva, competed throughout. The visitors found space and ought to have found an equaliser when Sam Clucas anticipated Ashley Williams’ error but overdid his attempted lob. Hampered by Oumar Niasse’s contractually-arranged absence, Hull’s threat nevertheless grew, particularly when Morgan Schneiderlin limped off to become the focal point of Evertonians’ pre-Anfield derby anxiety.

Hull’s problem was clear – 49% of possession, eight corners to five, no shots on target – but their finishing was not helped by wayward final passes. Silva’s plan to squeeze Everton towards his three centre-backs, and three central midfielders worked to a reasonable extent but it was lopsided. The channel between Curtis Davies and Harry Maguire was fruitful all game for Everton. Indeed, they exploited this weakness for each of the first three goals.

Game-changer

Everton required both an understandably harsh dismissal for Tom Huddlestone who lunged at Idrissa Gueye, and Enner Valencia’s introduction to comprehensively unsettle Hull, but they were clinical thereafter. A mere 69 seconds into his outing, Valencia offered Lukaku a target for a neat chip over Maguire and Davies before finishing past Eldin Jakupovic to kill the game. On the stroke of full-time, roles were reversed when Valencia freed Lukaku inside Maguire to add an unfair reflection to the scoreline.

Romelu Lukaku celebrates his second goal in front of the Gwladys Street during Everton's 4-0 win over Hull.

And still there was more as Omar Elabdellaoui’s tired back-pass saw Lukaku one-on-one with and shortly beyond Jakupovic. His 21st league goal this season completed both Everton’s victory and a bold step personally. “Instead of living in the past, you have to think ahead. How this club has to grow, how this club has to improve”, Lukaku said whilst outlining his desire to play in the Champions League this week. To back it up: a goal to become Premier League top scorer and Everton’s first 20-goal marksman since Gary Lineker in 1985/86, and another one for good measure. This is a seriously impressive young striker developing superbly.

Everton may not be able to match Lukaku’s ambition for the remainder of his time at Goodison, but, leaving all that aside for a second, they ought to be pretty content with their present conditions. Victory over Hull made it six straight at Goodison in 2017 with all three goals conceded in that stretch occurring in a frantic, complacent 31 minutes against Bournemouth.

The Toffees have backed up their genuine threat to the weaker members of the top six by temporarily taking one of their places, Man Utd slipping down to seventh for a few hours at least. But with Arsenal looking as bad as they have for two decades, Koeman’s side could still pose a threat if one or two catch-up games work out in their favour. Whether or not that pans out, Everton (theoretically at least) have given themselves a chance of a complete turnaround following their derby defeat in December.

That painful 0-1 loss was Everton’s seventh in 15 games. Since then however, the Blues have lost just once (at Spurs) in 12 games, having won nine of those games. Indeed in 2017, Koeman’s side have scored the most, conceded the joint fewest and collected the most points. That’s a really impressive return but one clearly undermined by their weak display at White Hart Lane. Big-game improvement is the next development Koeman’s Everton need to make. With Liverpool and Man Utd up next after the international break, this is the perfect opportunity to address that weakness.
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By Chris Smith
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There has been a lot of recent discussion about Ross Barkley’s future. With 15 months left on his contract, this is understandable although it continues the trend of speculation rather than analysis. Pay too much attention and you may overlook the fact it is Barkley’s present, not his future, that warrants discussion.

Everton's Ross Barkley crosses to Romelu Lukaku in the Toffee's 3-0 win over West Brom at Goodison.

Barkley’s great form in 2017 has seen only a handful of Premier League players outperform him. He appears to have found the calmness and clarity required to let his talent shine. Having been dropped and singled out by Ronald Koeman, and by 2016’s three England managers, he has responded well: a better work ethic, improved defensive contribution, and a greater impact in attack. Koeman’s firm but fair approach has paid off: after months of pale imitation, Barkley finally looks himself.

Koeman deserves credit. His methods are more subtle than the cruel to be kind reputation he has accrued suggests. A reminder of his responsibilities and a few games on the bench made good medicine for overindulged, overburdened Barkley, but more helpful still has been the adjustment to his role. He is not currently playing as a number 10, but as an attacking midfielder, and the difference is crucial.

For some time, the number 10 region exposed him. Harangued by opponents well-schooled on his weaknesses, Barkley was consistently overcrowded, out of time, and caught in two minds. Now, placed on the right of a front three, he has Seamus Coleman’s relentless endeavour beside him and at least two defensive midfielders holding the fort. This permits a free role that suits him perfectly.

Barkley is just as likely to be playing a one-two with Morgan Schneiderlin in front of his back four these days as he is shooting from inside the box. He provides cover and also looks to get beyond Romelu Lukaku. More crosses per game than last season (0.9) and also more headers (1.3). Barkley was one of the Premier League’s easiest players to set a game-plan for but this surge of unpredictability has made him a potent threat once again.

Hint of seniority

Tom Davies has been key in this regard. Not only does Davies problematise Plan A in dealing with Barkley, his presence genuinely seemed to have a positive influence over his teammate. Whether the hint of seniority jolted Barkley, or their styles overlap, or whether they have a mutual understanding, Davies’ emergence coincided with a calm, mature approach for his fellow academy graduate which has remained ever since.

Under Roberto Martinez, Barkley scored a fair amount of his goals in spectacular fashion – the galloping solo effort away Newcastle and whipped strike at home to Man City come immediately to mind. There have been none this season, nor have there been many goals in general (just four this campaign). Clearly this is insufficient but picking the right pass more often than going for the spectacular ought to be considered a positive development for now. Obviously this depends on goals returning to his game long-term but that seems a reasonable assumption.

Ross Barkley displays his growing confidence by celebrating before he scored in Everton's 6-3 win over Bournemouth.

There was an interesting moment against West Brom. With the deadlock unbroken and Coleman to his right, Barkley delayed, turned inside, overlooked another pass then turned back. The crowd’s response was notable: almost nothing. Ridiculous as it is, such hesitation would have induced angry responses, even booing in months gone by. Evidence perhaps that harshly treated Barkley has finally won over his home crowd.

Had it not been for Romelu Lukaku, Barkley’s form would have drawn more attention. That may be connected. Lukaku is not only comfortable with main man status, he actively seeks it out. Barkley is cut from a different cloth. He appears to enjoy the periphery, coming to the fore just as Davies captured attention, assisting six goals in eight games as Lukaku scored 10 in 10. Barkley was very much a high profile individual under Martinez; he’s a functioning cog in a machine under Koeman.
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By Chris Smith
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All good things must come to an end, and so too mildly encouraging things such as Everton’s unbeaten run which was surrendered away at Tottenham. The 3-2 scoreline flattered the defensive Toffees who were thoroughly outplayed following Ronald Koeman’s cautionary blunder in overloading his defensive midfield.

Dele Alli seals the points from Tottenham against Everton by glancing past Joel Robles.

Three months ago, Koeman allowed Chelsea’s attack to dictate a reshuffled, defensive lineup. It failed. A similar thought process undermined his side’s efforts at White Hart Lane. Granted Harry Kane had scored 13 in 12 games, and Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli are in menacing form, but this was Moyesian apprehension from Koeman. All worrying about opponents, no confidence in his own side. Confidence corrupted by fear.

To the destructive pairing of Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye, Koeman added Gareth Barry who was 36 a few days ago. James McCarthy’s energy or Tom Davies’ play-making seemed much better bets. If the intention was for Barry to drop back and form a back three, that’s precisely what Schneiderlin did last week. The decision was baffling and within 20 minutes it contributed significantly to Everton’s downfall.

As Kane advanced, Gueye ambled back casually enough to suggest a challenge was with his remit leading Barry to back off to cover the space. With none forthcoming, Kane was allowed a free strike 25 yards. To nobody’s surprise, he lashed home with a fine strike. Joel Robles could have done better. Tottenham suddenly upped the gears and started creating chances at will with Eriksen and Kane particularly guilty of squandering.

Naturally, the defensive midfield overload inhibited Everton’s attack. Davies and Ross Barkley have shown plenty of creative flair but burdening them with two thirds of the attacking responsibility against the league’s best defence seemed a little hasty. Barkley, it must be said, coped well. With frustrating inevitability, Romelu Lukaku was isolated and failed to stamp his authority on proceedings.

The real flaw in Koeman’s approach was apparent immediately after Kane’s goal. If the plan was just to prevent, that plan’s immediate failure resulted in the loss of all confidence. Everton’s players seemed to doubt their ability to get back into the game which ought not to be a problem for a side nine games unbeaten. Changes of personnel and formation were essential at the break to give the side a boost.

From bad to worse for Everton

Koeman’s decision to make no alterations seemed risky as the second-half kicked off, and foolish 10 minutes later when Robles, Williams and Schneiderlin catastrophically presented Kane with an easy opening for 2-0. It took eight minutes for Koeman to begin undoing his errors. On came James McCarthy for Barry to liven the midfield, and Kevin Mirallas for Davies to bolster the attack.

Former Southampton bosses Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino stand side by side as Everton take on Tottenham.

A quarter of an hour later, the switch paid off as Lukaku gathered Mirallas’ pass and, via a pretty funny Jan Vertonghen slip, fired into the corner. The suggestion of a draw that briefly enveloped proceedings was quelled late on when Schneiderlin and Leighton Baines fell asleep from a free-kick. It was a nice chip from Harry Winks, a neat flick from Dele Alli but a dreadful goal to concede from Everton’s perspective, especially so as Enner Valencia grabbed a consolation.

This was an odd sort of contest for Koeman and his rejigged side. While there is no shame in losing away at Spurs, there certainly is the manner Everton did. Though 3-2 is hardly the worst scoreline, 5-1 would have been more fitting. Managers will always make mistakes but this one was revealing.

The selection confirmed Koeman’s go-to plan for top sides: squeeze the centre, sacrifice attack. This approach will work for some managers, Tony Pulis and Diego Simeone for example, but Koeman simply hasn’t shown himself to be any good at it. Everton were trounced away at Chelsea, ground down at home to Liverpool and chasing shadows at Spurs. This setup isn’t achieving what it’s supposed to.

There is a worrying lack of sophistication in Koeman’s method. Shape, width and all impetus are essentially disregarded in a trade-off for extra central midfielders. The full-backs mainly venture forward in doomed, isolated bursts. Lukaku, at the very least, has to contend with both centre-backs alone. A fundamental rethink is required to keep Everton competitive.

Everton's under-performing centre-backs Ramiro Funes Mori and Ashley Williams look on dejected following Tottenham's opener at White Hart Lane.After the game, Koeman rightly pointed out the years Pochettino has spent drilling the same players. Though Everton’s attempt to follow Spurs’ lead will take time, persistent issues such as the Toffees’ dreadful centre-half pairing should be addressed immediately. Koeman’s experimental tendency must be underpinned by a process of learning and development. After playing it far too safe away at another top six side, it’s time Koeman showed he’s learning lessons from this failing approach.
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By Chris Smith
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LukakuRomelu Lukaku equalled Duncan Ferguson’s Premier League record for Everton with the clincher in a comfortable 2-0 win over Sunderland. His 60th league strike for the Blues condemned David Moyes to a fourth straight defeat against the club he left nearly four years ago. It was a victory of substance over style that enabled Everton to go nine unbeaten in the league for the first time since December 2013.

Ronald Koeman’s main selection issue at present is how to arrange his central midfield. With so many options following Tom Davies’ emergence, Morgan Schneiderlin’s arrival, and Idrissa Gueye’s return, over-engineering the engine room is a serious concern. Here, he got the balance spot on. Davies stayed further forward in Ross Barkley’s orbit as Schneiderlin and Gueye’s multi-faceted midfield shield kept Sunderland at bay.

Schneiderlin in particular was excellent. Slotting in between the centre-backs and commanding the space in front, he was essentially a docking station for the ball as Everton moved upfield. Radio listeners may well have wondered how many Schneiderlins were playing. In retreat, he was equally impressive with three tackles and four interceptions to maintain control. How this all affected Gueye was interesting.

Following an excellent tackle from Schneiderlin, Gueye inadvertantly beckoned Sunderland’s first corner and, and first spell of pressure, by losing the ball. Shortly after, he waved Ademola Lookman forward although Leighton Baines was burdened with two opponents. Gueye was treading on Schneiderlin’s toes, performing his roles less effectively. But 20 minutes in, he got big shove in the other direction.

Everton's players celebrate Idrissa Gueye's first goal for the club against Sunderland.

When Lookman failed to gather Lukaku’s flick-on just outside Sunderland’s box, Gueye found himself free enough to intercept, freer still to drive in the box and shoot. Despite Lukaku’s complaints about being better placed, Gueye’s near goal experience made its impression. When Seamus Coleman squared one just before the break, Gueye slammed home his first Everton goal with aplomb.

The goal was remarkable in that Everton carved Sunderland apart almost accidentally. Barkley was central to the move without touching the ball as two passes intended for him found Coleman and Gueye respectively. Everton did however warrant such luck after dominating proceedings. First half, Sunderland offered nothing but the odd wry smile at Darron Gibson recreating elements of the Craggy Island five-a-side. Even Jermain Defoe had failed to threaten.

Koeman gets it right again

Moyes chose his words well at half-time because Sunderland improved after the break. Clear-cut chances were still scarce but Adnan Januzaj at least began to expose Ramiro Funes Mori. Everton kept the Black Cats at arm’s reach but more through luck than judgement on occasion, particularly so when Januzaj stepped on the ball. Koeman was faced with a decision: shut up shop or go for the kill. In the context of Moyes’ return, his response was significant.

Koeman put responsibility for the win on his attackers’ shoulders by bringing on Kevin Mirallas for Lookman, and Enner Valencia for Tom Davies. The message was clear: score again, win the game. Moyes no doubt considered this approach risky given his propensity to worry about opponents’ strengths. Sure, Defoe made a compelling case for caution by rattling the bar on the counter, but seconds later, Koeman’s approach paid off and the game was over.

Bryan Oviedo endured a tough afternoon with Everton repeatedly targeting his area of the field. The first goal arrived when Coleman found space to his left; the second when Lukaku outpaced him in behind. With Sunderland fully committed to a corner, Mirallas released Lukaku to drive into the box and deflect in the decider off poor Oviedo’s leg. Then came the added security of James McCarthy on for Barkley. Shutting up shop at 2-0 with 10 minutes to go – that sounds about right.

Everton's Tom Davies takes on Sunderland's Bryan Oviedo at Goodison Park.

Koeman suggested Everton’s mid-season sojourn to Dubai was full of hard work but would only be truly valuable if Sunderland were beaten. To win in such a dominant manner while keeping a fifth clean sheet in seven league games reflects well on the spirit Koeman is cultivating within the squad and around the club. Gueye’s celebration incorporating most of the bench, and the rush to shake Barkley’s hand as he was substituted, further backed this up.

As underlying improvement has surfaced over the last month, Koeman has begun to cut a much more impressive figure at Goodison. The players appear to be enjoying their work while functioning well at both ends of the pitch. The last nine games have seen Everton score 21 and concede just seven (five of which were scored by Hull and Bournemouth).

However impressive Everton have been in the last nine games, they have clearly benefited from favourable fixtures. Perched menacingly just outside the top six, the Blues now require a tough challenge to put their recent uplift in context. Next week at Spurs, that challenge awaits.
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By Chris Smith
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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.
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By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 

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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.
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By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 

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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.
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By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter@cdsmith789 

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