Not what was expected. Or was it? This tale is one of a team’s whose expectations in pre-season were to get closer to the top four, but in truth never looked like they could come anywhere close to that bar from the get-go.
It’s been a miserable week, let alone season, for Everton to say the least. A 5-2 tank job to Arsenal at Goodison Park on Sunday was the final nail in Ronald Koeman’s coffin and on Monday morning, he was sacked. Having worked his Dutch magic to take Everton to seventh in his first campaign with the Toffees after securing European football for Southampton two years running, Koeman lost his touch. Sunday’s beating to the Gunners exposed a team who clearly lost faith in a manager whose tactics and team selection confused many at times. On Wednesday, Chelsea dumped Everton out of the EFL, Carabao, whatever you want to call it, Cup, which saw club hero, David Unsworth as caretaker manager.
Ironically, Everton face Leicester this Sunday in a battle of struggling sides who recently sacked managers as they hope to salvage their respective seasons and validate strong investments. It was Everton in May 2016 who had to witness Leicester’s improbable league title party first-hand. Perhaps this, in addition to Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri taking over majority ownership three months prior, gave them extra motivation to ensure one day, they would be at the top of the mantle again.
Yes, again. People forget how great of a club Everton used to be back in the day, particularly in the 80s, where they won their last pair of their nine top division titles. Plus, they won their only European title, the European Cup Winners’ Cup in in 1984/85 to cap off an incredible double-winning campaign. Since then, Everton has won just one trophy, the 1994/95 FA Cup. They have mainly been a mid-table club over the last two decades, with just one Champions League appearance (their 2005/06 playoff loss to Villarreal) and occasional appearances in the UEFA Cup/Europa League.
You can’t fault for Moshiri for taking on this investment and wanting to return the club to its former glories. Following last season’s return to respectability after two highly underwhelming campaigns under Roberto Martinez, Everton spent big in the summer, a shade under £160 million to be exact. Key signings included Icelandic maestro and former Everton ball boy, Gylfi Sigurðsson, promising English back liners, Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford as well Dutch international Davy Klaassen. Plus, the man who once proclaimed he was ‘Once a Blue, always a Blue’ is back in blue as Manchester United legend, Wayne Rooney returned to Goodison amidst strong buzz.
It was all supposed to click. Getting solid players either approaching or in their primes while guided by a very promising manager linked to the Barcelona vacancy at the end of last season. Albeit, linked by agent talk rather than Barca wanting him back. Judging by how this campaign has gone, the La Liga giants dodged a major bullet.
Koeman’s constant tactical juggling caused the team to lack identity. Not to mention the fact he couldn’t fit his new pieces in the puzzle properly. Sigurðsson, who functions best in an advanced central role, has spend most of his time languishing on the left wing to make room for Rooney and Klaassen through the middle. This practically kills any width Everton have as they try to break down defenses. For all this supposed creativity, Everton have just seven goals and two assists in nine league games, plus rank in the lower half in key passes.
Those simply putrid attacking figures not only heighten their inability to come up with ideas but exposes further how badly they need a man to turn any ideas into goals. Romelu Lukaku was always going to be a big loss to this side. That has been validated further with his brilliant start at Manchester United, netting as many times as his old club have this season on his own. Considering Lukaku contributed to 50% of Everton’s 62 goals last campaign, one of the Premier League’s highest rates, replacing such a vital part of their team was never going to be easy. But, they failed. Miserably. Rooney will give you the odd good game and has scored three times in the league, but as has been well documented, is on the wane.
Oumar Niasse, who was at odds with Koeman from the moment he returned from his loan at Hull City in the summer, has done little aside from a quickfire brace to sink Bournemouth. Sandro Ramirez, who bagged 14 league goals during his stint at Malaga last season, has yet to adapt to the physicality of the Premiership. And the man who has both of Everton’s assists this season, England’s U20 World Cup hero Dominic Calvert-Lewin has shown promise, but lacks end product. The original idea was to have Plan G, Olivier Giroud, as their Plan A to replace Lukaku and the deal appeared to be wrapped up. Koeman himself said post-sacking that he “had Olivier Giroud in the building” until Giroud decided he’d rather stay in London, blowing up their plans.