Ronald Koeman angrily laid down the gauntlet to the board and his players in the wake of their disappointing FA Cup surrender to Leicester. The board responded by delivering a new £24m midfielder while the team turned into the sort of performance against Manchester City that suggests the corner has been well and truly turned.
Koeman will also have been aware of the increased focus on his position after Everton’s hopes of a trophy were extinguished just seven days into the New Year. But the manner of Everton’s dismantling of City at Goodison Park suggests his message is getting through and things are finally starting to click.
It was quite simply a glorious afternoon to be an Evertonian. Everything they tried fell perfectly into place like a trail of dominoes; the kind of game we have not seen enough of in recent seasons.
The media, unsurprisingly, chose to focus on Man City’s failings. But Everton’s performance cannot be understated. This was, after all, Pep Guardiola’s heaviest league defeat as a manager and Man City’s biggest loss since their Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008.
It all started with Koeman, who has to take much of the credit for his tactics. Playing three at the back allowed his side to execute the Dutchman’s high-pressing tactics perfectly, setting off a chain reaction that saw the players almost seamlessly slot into their respective roles.
As a result Man City were able to enjoy plenty of possession – 71% of it in fact - but it was rarely in threatening areas.
Liverpool employed similar tactics at Old Trafford but Jose Mourinho responded by bringing on Marouane Fellaini and going long to bypass the press. Guardiola would never do such a thing, meaning Everton continued to place a stranglehold on City’s midfield.
But Koeman’s tactics only worked because they were so perfectly executed by a team that finally seems to be responding to his methods. And players who earlier seemed an awkward fit slotted neatly into the Dutchman’s formation.
Mason Holgate continues to flourish and looks undroppable at present. Ramiro Funes Mori hovers on the border between sublime and ridiculous, but the back three allows him to be kept in check by the experienced Ashley Williams.
With youthful legs around him Gareth Barry was able to steadily dictate play without slowing the game down (though he is highly likely to lose his place to Morgan Schneiderlin in the coming weeks). Tom Davies meanwhile was simply outstanding alongside him, displaying a confidence and maturity beyond his years.
The 18-year-old is always so positive and decisive when on the ball. He never looks to play the safe pass, instead he gets his head up and looks forward, helping to drive the team on.
Davies’ blond scruffy hair and rolled down socks just add to his old school mystique. His goal is one for the ages and a strike that will be remembered for a very long time.
David Unsworth and the academy team deserve praise for the way they have prepared Davies for his introduction to Premier League football. The challenge for him now is to sustain his form and nail down a regular place in the side.
Koeman has made no secret of the fact that there is plenty of deadwood to be shed from the squad and is ready to sell those who can’t – or won’t – adapt to his methods.
Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas are two of those players to be linked with a move away. But both have slowly begun to pick up form in recent weeks, showing a willingness to fight for their Goodison futures.
We all know how much Everton means to Barkley and he has perhaps been guilty of trying too hard to impress this season. But Koeman’s formation and the presence of another home-grown player in Davies alongside him seems to have loosened the shackles.
The result was Barkley’s most productive afternoon in a long time, setting up two goals and looking much more like his old self.
Mirallas is another who has been accused of coasting through his Everton career with seemingly one eye on the exit door. But even he was hassling and harrying the City defenders, laying on a goal for Romelu Lukaku before scoring the decisive second himself.
Speaking of Lukaku, the Belgian was much more of a threat with Barkley and Mirallas pushed closer towards him. The lack of support and absence of a genuine ‘number 10’ has often left Lukaku isolated this season. But Barkley and Mirallas may just have solved an attacking quandary that’s bothered Koeman since August.
One of the (many) frustrations of last season under Roberto Martinez was the lack of any sort of game management, especially when trying to hold onto a lead. It was simply not in Martinez’s make-up to shore up defensively to protect an advantage – the classic example being when he brought on Oumar Niasse for Aaron Lennon when defending a 2-0 lead against West Ham with 10 men with 14 minutes left.
Koeman, on the other hand, was decisive and got his substitutions exactly right on Sunday. Sensing that Everton were struggling to hold onto the ball he brought on debutant Schneiderlin for Mirallas on 65 minutes before James McCarthy replaced Barry 10 minutes later.
The fresh legs allowed Everton to maintain their pressing game in midfield, which eventually led to the third and fourth goals.
Ademola Lookman provided the icing on the cake with a debut goal in stoppage time. The £10m signing will need to be eased into the first-team picture given his relative lack of experience. But his goal will give him a significant confident boost and the belief he can make an immediate impact at this level. The fact it came from a John Stones howler makes the afternoon even more glorious.
Even Joel Robles played his part, making a great stop to deny David Silva in the first half. Neither he nor Maarten Stekelenburg look like long-term options for Koeman, but the Spaniard certainly looks capable of holding onto the gloves between now and the end of the season.
And to think we did all this without arguably our best player this season – Idrissa Gueye.
There isn’t much doubt that it was the best Goodison afternoon we’ve experienced since Arsenal were thrashed 3-0 in April 2014, a result that put Champions League qualification into their own hands. Unfortunately that proved to be the high watermark for Martinez and his reign started to slowly unravel soon after.
That simply cannot be allowed to happen again.
For starters we shouldn’t be lulled into think the squad does not need strengthening, no matter how perfect the performance was on Sunday.
A new goalkeeper, central defender and striker are essential to Koeman’s plans. While the likes of Davies, Barkley, Holgate and Mirallas need to maintain that level of performance on a consistent basis.
Sunday’s win gives Everton breathing space between themselves and those below them. And with no Europe or cup competitions to distract them the focus now is trying to chip away at the top six and build solid foundations for a successful campaign next time around.