Like many of my Everton-supporting counterparts across the world, I’ve been calling for Ronald Koeman to be sacked over the recent weeks and months. The deed is finally done, with the Dutchman leaving the club on Monday.
The final straw was not the Apollon Limassol draw, the Burnley loss, nor the Brighton draw. Instead, it was a decisive beatdown at the hands of Arsenal — by no means the worst result the Toffees have had this season.
But, Koeman’s tenure concluding after this match is perhaps the most fitting end to the Dutchman’s time at Goodison Park, as it was the perfect microcosm of his 2017 season.
The process was essentially this:
- One or more bad things outside of Koeman’s control happens.
- Koeman responds by excessively over-complicating things.
- His players occasionally shine through on the back of individual ability, but for the most part look lost.
- One or more players make individual mistakes because the system they play in is unworkable, putting the team in even more trouble.
- The team loses all confidence, and the bottom falls out.
Let’s take a look at how each step played out, both Sunday and in the season on the whole.
One or more bad things outside of Koeman’s control happens
Against Arsenal: The Toffees were without Morgan Schneiderlin on Sunday, which substantially complicated team selection. James McCarthy, we can only assume, was also not fully fit, substantially thinning the ranks at holding midfield.
Overall this season: Where to begin?
The natural place is the departure of Romelu Lukaku, who at times carried Everton last season. Of course, there were more obstacles than just that.
Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie’s injuries to start the season took away two of Everton’s most explosive players. The club’s inability to sign a respectable Romelu Lukaku replacement is, at the very least, not entirely on Koeman, with Steve Walsh and Farhad Moshiri to blame as well.
Additionally, no one could have predicted Ashley Williams’ precipitous drop-off from decent squad player to mistake machine this season.
Koeman responds by excessively over-complicating things
Against Arsenal: Without Schneiderlin available, Koeman had to make a decision as to how to approach an Arsenal team that loves to build via quick passes through the center of midfield. His response was to completely empty the center of his midfield.
Koeman sold Gareth Barry this summer and left Muhamed Besic entirely out of the 18 Sunday, leaving him just Idrissa Gueye to marshal a dangerous Arsenal attack in the center of the pitch.
Overall this season: Koeman’s plan to deal with Lukaku’s departure was to utilize a 4-3-3 with inverted wingers — which potentially could have worked...but with improved personnel from what Koeman started the season with.
That style of 4-3-3 was always going to rely on the full-backs to get into the attack, but Koeman didn’t bother adding a worthwhile attacking right-back over the summer, even though he knew Coleman would miss the first few months of the season.
Couple that with the fact that he appears to have planned to use a combination of Wayne Rooney and Sandro as his faux right wings, and his plan never really had a chance to get off the ground — because his own poor personnel decisions didn’t allow for the success of his unnecessarily complex system.
His players occasionally shine through on the back of individual ability, but for the most part look lost.
Against Arsenal: Idrissa Gueye did what he does best — win the ball off a lax midfielder — and it fell perfectly for Wayne Rooney. Rooney has had his struggles this season, but he’s still definitely capable of a moment of magic in front of goal. The Englishman converted on a picture-perfect shot to put his team ahead.
But, Everton couldn’t take advantage in the minutes following Rooney’s goal, despite the fact that Arsenal looked lost and discouraged. The Toffees couldn’t consistently win the ball in the midfield and struggled to move the ball forward out of the back. Eventually, facing constant pressure, Everton allowed an equalizer.
Overall this season: To say that all Everton’s players struggled under Koeman would be unfair. Nikola Vlasic has proven to be an outstanding signing and has been excellent in most of his appearances this season. Phil Jagielka has bounced back after a rough season last year, and partnered pretty positively with Michael Keane. Jordan Pickford, Leighton Baines, and Idrissa Gueye have all had their share of positive moments as well.
But as a unit, the Toffees have been out of sorts all season. The club has only seven goals through nine Premier League matches, while conceding 18. Everton’s -11 goal differential is second-worst in the Premier League, better than only Crystal Palace.
One or more players make individual mistakes because the system they play in is unworkable, putting the team in even more trouble.
Against Arsenal: Gueye was tasked with being the only ball-winner against a technically-gifted Arsenal side. Predictably, it left him chasing the ball constantly and led to a few poor tackles — the last of which earned him a second yellow.
Overall this season: Again, where do we even begin?
Morgan Schneiderlin is the most obvious example. Koeman’s slow and narrow lineup selections meant that the French midfielder rarely had viable passing options to work the ball out of the back to. He’s looked a shadow of himself so far this season largely due to this fact, as well as its effect on his confidence.
Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez belong in this category as well. Koeman brought them in this summer, but he appeared to have no feasible way to successfully work them into the lineup. They’ve looked lost and now have an uphill battle in convincing a new manager that they belong on this team.
The team loses all confidence, and the bottom falls out.
Against Arsenal: After the Toffees went down to 10 men, they never looked capable of recovering. They were ripped apart by attack after attack from Arsenal, ultimately conceding five goals in a humiliating loss.
Overall this season: Think of all the players who Koeman has, in one way or another, completely drained of confidence this season. It’s a pretty long list — Kevin Mirallas, Aaron Lennon, Ademola Lookman, Davy Klaassen, Sandro Ramirez, Jonjoe Kenny, Morgan Schneiderlin, Ross Barkley — and that’s just a tentative list.
These players have been misused, hardly used, or not used at all, creating an environment of failure at Goodison Park. Every group of 11 players Koeman has sent out over the past eight weeks has looked destined to fail from the moment the whistle blew — and often they have.
Koeman’s poor tactics, mismanagement of players, and complete lack of new ideas made watching Everton week-to-week an absolute chore. You knew they were going to lose, how they were going to lose, and which players you’d see out there losing, all before the match even began.
He faced some tough obstacles that were out of his control, without a doubt. But at the end of the day, he failed to respond to any challenges he was faced with, and he had to go as a result.