For the number of senior players in the Everton squad, the expected leadership from the group has been sorely missing. One could say that very rapidly the Blues have already sunk back to the lows experienced last season that led to the firing of Roberto Martinez.
After today’s humiliating loss at Watford, the Blues now have one win in their last eleven games in all competitions, which is now looking more like a fluke than anything else.
The Toffees are currently showing that they have no mental strength whatsoever, with the lack of confidence so desperately affecting the players’ form that manager Ronald Koeman might need to bring in a fleet of psychiatrists to spark these highly-paid, professional crybabies.
In this holiday season, the airing of woes has to start with laying the blame at the feet of the management at the club. Koeman had this very side humming to begin the season despite complaints from him that he hadn’t had enough time to prepare.
The Dutchman was brought in because he was widely recognized as tactically flexible, and could bring out the best out of squads that were less than world class. The players seemed to respond to the more disciplined approach that he brought to the side after the lackadaisical years under Martinez.
After five games into the season, Everton were in the top three of the Premier League, unbeaten and winning games combining strong effort and opportunistic football. But then, it all started to fall apart. The Blues got complacent, thought the League would roll over for them and seemed to take their foot off the pedal.
Koeman insisted that this was not the final vision, and he was right. The solid, sturdy outside was just a facade, and the core of this team is old, uninspired and rotten.
Everton were among the top defences in the top five Leagues in Europe at the beginning of the season. Turns out, having two central defenders in their thirties does not a strong core make. Using Ramiro Funes Mori, who is at best an average centerback, in rotation with Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams is a poor combination.
Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman are at best wing backs and their defending capabilities have always been suspect when playing in a four-man backline.
Anchoring that defence, and literally dragging the team down like a rusted anchor snagged on the shoreline, is aging goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg. While stile capable of making some blinding reaction saves, his inopportune errors have taken the wind out of the team’s sails more than once.
Gareth Barry is a great football player, but is past his prime. His vision is good and intentions honorable, but he has lost more than just a step with age and ends up putting undue pressure on the defence behind him. He somehow makes Idrissa Gueye look bad, which really takes a lot of doing.
James McCarthy and Tom Cleverley as midfield replacements are like trying to gourmet meal at a posh restaurant with an oar and a speculum.
Which brings us back to Koeman again. Watching him sit on the bench with his steely, thousand-yard gaze is infuriating to this fan at least. For a tactically flexible manager, we’ve done precious little that can be called useful. For all his 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and even 3-4-3 formations he has tried, he still doesn’t know how to make the sum of the players he has greater than their individual collectives.
Our players can’t play a deep press? Fine, change the formation and style to something else that plays to our strengths.
Weren’t able to change the squad over one transfer window? No team in the Premier League is ever able to do that, yet managers like Antonio Conte are getting his side to work hard and play well.
The Blues even looked halfway competent in the 4-4-2 they almost accidentally happened upon recently, only for Koeman to instantly dismiss that option.
He insists that the youth brigade that is propelling David Unsworth’s U-23 side to the top of Premier League 2 is not ready for the big stage yet. But neither is this sorry excuse of an Everton starting XI.
At this point, what harm can it do to use Mason Holgate in defence? Even add Tyias Browning in there. Give the team a lift by playing Tom Davies to link up the midfield and the strike force.
Between the veterans in this squad and manager Ronald Koeman, it is very easy to see where the decline in Everton’s performance has come from. And the way things are going, even a successful January transfer window is not going to change anything at this once-proud club.