After finishing seventh last season, Everton enjoyed a transfer window of record spending. Optimism was rife about the Toffees, despite losing their line-leading, top-scoring striker, Romelu Lukaku.
Lukaku’s loss was a tough one, but the inevitability of the departure meant many – including myself – glossed over it as Everton embarked on a seemingly impressive window. Last season had built the foundations for Ronald Koeman, and he was backed in the transfer market like few other managers in the world would be after finishing seventh.
The fiasco with Ross Barkley shone the light on Chelsea and Tottenham’s pursuits rather than Everton’s role. Koeman had as good as discarded the once-boy- wonder, and swiftly moved to clutter the role in the team that he was meant to inhabit for the next decade.
Hope faded quickly
With last summer’s marquee addition, Yannick Bolasie, still ruled out come the start of the season, Everton’s frontline was clearly imbalanced. They were in dire need of mobility in the absence of Lukaku, with Kevin Mirallas having fallen out of favour, too.
Despite all of this, their clutch of signings were a flexing of Everton’s new financial muscle, and a sign of inflated ambition. Upper-mid- table would no longer suffice.
The plan – albeit with a rough set of opening fixtures – was not for Everton to be 16th at the start of October. Nor was it in the script that they would have a solitary point from their two Europa League group matches.
Koeman is now looking down the barrel. When Everton return to action after the international break, they travel to Brighton. Anything other than three points there could spell the end for the Dutchman, especially as their next two matches are against Arsenal and Chelsea.
Vast chasm blocks route to the Promised Land
Whether competing with the top six was a realistic aim or not, their performances against Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham show how far off this Everton side are.
Koeman’s pragmatism bordered on negativity, but he has been suffocated by a limited selection of cards to play.
It has been clearer in those matches ahead of any other. Whereas Lukaku would have given them an outlet and a counter-attacking threat, Sandro Ramirez, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney cannot run beyond. Too many Everton players want to play in front of the opponent’s defence. Koeman has set his team up to defend deep, but without the ability to launch quick counters. That does not work, and they have been dominated as a result, scoring only one goal in those four matches.
Nothing going right
The concern does, however, stretch further. A change in personnel and shape against Burnley saw the Toffees fall to another defeat. Against the undoubtedly inferior Apollon Limassol, they were
shaky defensively and created very little. Even in matches when their surplus of supposed creators should be beneficial, Everton are failing to deliver.
They have won one league match since the opening day, and that required a heroic substitute performance from Oumar Niasse against the struggling Bournemouth. Niasse – along with Dominic
Calvert-Lewin – has a significant role to play if Koeman is to keep his job, but that alone is a glaring failing of their summer business. Such is the nature of club decision making, it is tricky to attribute blame for transfer shortcomings, but there is no question that Koeman’s hands are tightly tied.
The Dutchman has not been faultless. Some of his decisions have been puzzling, and the team is too often shackled in midfield. He cannot do much about individual errors, though, which have hurt the side on countless occasions. Michael Keane, Ashley Williams and Leighton Baines have all been below par.
Blame should be shifted
Koeman will take the fall if Everton’s results do not turn around immediately. Even though there is not much more he could do. The failure to add flair and speed to the attack has cost Everton’s performances, even if results would have been similarly underwhelming, and it’s the manner of the disappointments that has been as disconcerting as anything for the Toffees.
The mishmash squad is the greatest fault at Goodison Park, but we may never know how much of that is down to Koeman’s own decisions. For now, his options are distinctly limited, but the line-up he named against Burnley is perhaps an eventual admission that his methods need to change.
Should the former Southampton manager survive beyond their cup tie with Chelsea, he has a favourable run of league fixtures up until the Merseyside derby in mid-December. The Toffees could yet get back on track, and Koeman will be all the more deserving of the credit if they do that from here.