Ronald Koeman needs greater clarity in his team selection if Everton are to progress
A 3-0 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur may have reaffirmed the Dutchman's verbal warnings but does little to push his team up the table.
The soothsaying managers’ skills as fortune-tellers seem more impressive when their positive predictions come true. When they inject unwanted realism, they can appear prophets of doom, men whose prophecies are self-fulfilling.
And so it was when Ronald Koeman suggested on Friday that it was always going to be difficult for Everton to break into the top four this season.
So they illustrated when Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Tottenham, the role models who threaten to become top-four regulars, means they now reside in the bottom five.
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Early-season tables can be deceptive and Everton have already played last year’s top three, with the added impediment of kicking off against Chelsea under 64 hours after finishing a game in Croatia. No one has had a harder start and Everton acquitted themselves commendably in drawing 1-1 away at Manchester City.
The context is important. Yet the numbers can be depressing. Everton have recorded the fewest shots on target in the Premier League. Ten of the 11 men who started against Spurs – the long-serving Leighton Baines is the exception – are Koeman’s signings.
And while the fact that seven arrived this summer means there is an obvious adjustment period and they automatically fall into the category of transitional teams, managers tend to judged when teams are populated by their recruits, not their predecessors’ players.
For many of the 2016 appointments – Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Koeman foremost among them – there was also the sense that this season would be judgment year.
Definitive conclusions should not be reached yet and Koeman is entitled to point to the greater coherence of a Spurs side who, the recent addition Davinson Sanchez aside, have had far longer together.
He is also correct in mentioning that he missed out on a striking target, though the reality that Everton spent £100 million (Dh483.9m) without acquiring a direct replacement for Romelu Lukaku is damning.
So, too, was the way Tottenham outmanoeuvred them. Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies were afforded the freedom of the flanks. Spurs’ energetic wing-backs were hugely influential. Everton were their unwitting enablers.
But it was tempting to rewind to owner Farhad Moshiri’s reaction to the news that Ross Barkley was staying. “The No 10 position is very congested as we have [Gylfi] Sigurdsson, [Davy] Klaassen and [Wayne] Rooney,” he warned.
So it always looked. Koeman fielded all three No 10s against Tottenham. It did not work. Rooney, in a narrow role, saw Davies motor outside him time and again. Nor should he be expected to be a right winger.
And this felt a predictable problem. Play all three and Everton can lack both pace and width. There was always the question of where they would all be accommodated and whether Rooney was being crowbarred into the team when the £45m fee Everton paid Swansea was an indication of how much Koeman wanted Sigurdsson.
The Dutchman belongs to the managerial tradition of bold decision-makers and, as such, he can eschew the obvious, giving him the capacity to get his choices very right or spectacularly wrong. He normally gets them right against Guardiola.
Arguably, however, he has got them wrong in the other three league games. Indeed, he admitted his error against Stoke on the opening day, even if it facilitated a win as Dominic Calvert-Lewin, strangely selected at wing-back in a ploy the manager swiftly abandoned, nevertheless set up Rooney’s decider.
And while Koeman signed two forwards and three attacking midfielders, Calvert-Lewin looks much Everton’s most potent force. It is unfair to ask too much of a 20-year-old with a solitary top-flight goal. Perhaps that explains why Koeman can bench him.
Yet perhaps it is a case of a manager seeking vindication by fielding a host of his recruits in a side that, so far, lacks chemistry and balance.
At his best, Koeman can bring a brutal clarity of thought. He did on Friday. He has to when selecting his side. And that may require coming to awkward conclusions about some of his signings.
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Updated: September 11, 2017 09:06 PM