Oct 24, 2017

With Koeman gone, Everton stand to benefit. Too much quality in this team

Everton fired Ronald Koeman yesterday, cutting ties with the man once seen as the Barcelona manager in waiting. It was widely expected and not much of a surprise in the end. Everton have been a shambles all season even after spending $150 million on new players over the summer, according to figures compiled by our friends at Transfermarkt.com. There are other statistics that speak to Koeman's ineptitude, with the Royal Blue Mersey blog listing just 10 of them. To quote Abraham Lincoln, it was altogether fitting and proper that Koeman was fired.

Everton have been an embarrassment, especially considering their aspirations from the preseason, but there is reason to believe things will change for the better with a new man in charge. It needs to start with some kind of tactical consistency. Koeman trotted out a different formation almost every game and started players at different positions or not at all, with seemingly little rhyme or reason. Then he was quick to make halftime substitutions, just to add a little more unpredictability to the mix. Picking a formation, sticking to it, and deciding on a "spine" of about six or eight starters at key positions will be a first priority for interim manager David Unsworth. Simply doing that may not produce results itself, but it will put the team in a good position for the undeniable talent in its ranks.

Much has been said and written about Everton's inability to replace Romelu Lukaku and how the team's ills emanate from it. That's a little simplistic. Lukaku is a prolific goalscorer but it's hard to see how even he would be able to bag goals this season with all the confusion in the lines behind him. Luckily Everton have players who can provide service to a deep-lying forward. The problem is they have too many of them. Morgan Schneiderlin, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Nikola Vlasic, Davy Klaasen, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and that's not counting Wayne Rooney or the injured Ross Barkley or out-on-loan Kieran Dowell. Decide who the creative force is in attacking midfield and then make somebody like Rooney or DCL play at striker. That will undoubtedly leave somebody frustrated for lack of playing time and desperate for a move out of Merseyside during the January transfer window. Fine, let that player leave. Especially if it's an attacking midfielder as Everton have too many already. Once the midfield is able to generate chances (and again there is enough talent for it to do so consistently) then it doesn't really matter who is putting the balls in the net. Even an aged Rooney is good enough.

Everton's defense is in decent shape already. Go ahead and laugh. Of the 18 league goals conceded this season, 12 were from a combination of Tottenham (the fifth-best team in the world, according to us, 3-0 victors at Goodison Park on Sept. 9), Manchester United (4-nil victors on Sept. 17) and Arsenal (5-2 last weekend). Here too Koeman's mixing and matching did Everton no favors. Nor did his undying devotion to Ashley Williams. Because other than the 33-year old Welshman, the facts again speak to quality players. Jordan Pickford is a superb goalkeeper and future number one for England. Michael Keane, signed from Burnley this summer, was a bright spot until a recent loss of confidence, in no small likelihood manager-related. Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines are perfectly capable, just on the wrong side of 30. Mason Holgate, on the other hand, is not. The 21-year old has only started once at centerback this season, a 2-1 victory over Bournemouth on Sept. 23. He did not play in either of the three lopsided losses mentioned earlier. It might be worth giving him another shot in a back three. If not him then Cuco Martina or Muhamed Besic could be given a shot. The point is, though Everton's defense is thin thanks to injuries to Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Mori, they do have options here as well.

Managing these options will be Unsworth's jobs for now. Perhaps the 44-year old will be given a chance to win the position on a full-time basis. More likely Everton will target a big-name replacement, somebody like Carlo Ancelotti or Thomas Tuchel with whom they have reportedly already made contact. Lack of Champions League football might be a bit of an ask for managers of those reputations, but Everton have the players and the budget to make this a compelling offer. Either way, they will likely be alright by the end of the season. Not top-five, but certainly solidly mid-table.

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