After former Everton manager Roberto Martinez said last Sunday that the Blues defence was not much improved from last season when he was in charge, you just knew Ronald Koeman was smarting and waiting to retaliate.
In an interview with The Guardian ahead of Saturday’s trip to Middlesbrough, Koeman commented he was still dealing with problems Martinez had left him with.
“First of all, he is a really good talker, a good communicator and all that, as you say.
“He speaks nice and like everybody he is a human being defending himself. But I think it is easy to talk after Bournemouth about the defence. That defence had three clean sheets in a row before Bournemouth [actually two in three]. And finally the numbers, the stats, it is still not the end of the season so I will wait to give my good answer.”
He went on to say that the issues he is working out are across the squad.
“It was not only defence. I remember one or two meetings at the start of the season where I showed what we needed to change. I took clips out of last season, including good clips of the team in ball possession but also clips out of possession because in my opinion there was not always good defensive organisation when an attack broke down.
“A big part was defending set plays – 14 conceded last season was too many. Then you need to know the character of the players, the quality of the players; if you are there with them day by day you get a different idea.
“Also being more direct instead of a lot of ball possession back to the goalkeeper. Play the ball in the channel … There is more high pressing, trying to press your opponent and not to wait and drop back too much. That takes time and maybe you need different players to play that system. There were several aspects of football I wasn’t happy about.”
Koeman was also asked about Ross Barkley’s recent resurgence, after the Dutchman had singled him out for criticism earlier in the season.
“I spoke about this with Ross.
“He mentioned that it is always about him. I said: “OK, start to be afraid when they don’t ask about you. Then you need to be afraid. And if the manager is still criticising you as a player then it means he still believes in your qualities. If I don’t talk about you any more than that is when you need to be afraid.”
“I understand it is always difficult for him. There are always a lot of comments and questions about him. We had a conversation about this.”
The player had also received some criticism for choosing to celebrate his goal even before he had scored last weekend against AFC Bournemouth.
“I know Ross. It wasn’t disrespect to the opponent for scoring that goal. It was a moment where he felt it’s an easy one. It was funny and it wasn’t disrespectful.
“I never did that. I didn’t score easy goals.”
It does appear that with more consistent effort Barkley has finally crossed over the Dutchman’s good side.