Everton’s Europa League ambitions were dealt another severe blow yesterday evening as the pressure continues to mount on Ronald Koeman.
I am running out of adjectives to describe our almost unbearable first half performances. Slow, sloppy, tense, unimaginative and players unclear on what the game plan actually is. Two defensive midfielders and two talented yet sluggish number tens and we’re wondering why there is no pace? In a game against, let’s be honest, much inferior opposition the manager again refuses to inject any pace into the line up and instead opts for his usually stubborn approach.
The system strangled the players in the attack so it doesn’t help when your most experienced and fit centre half resembles a drunk infant deer. Ashley Williams provided one of his trademark sloppy passes in a critical area and gave the ball away to Anton Maglica who put the ball on a plate for Adrian Sardinero and the Limassol front man bundled his gift into the Gwladys Street goal, 1-0 to the Cypriot minnows after just 13 minutes and the worst thing was, I wasn’t really that surprised.
Just a minute earlier Wayne Rooney was put through on goal by one of Jordan Pickford’s trademark monster kicks, but he failed to control. However Rooney would get a goal on 21 minutes as Limassol defender Hector Yuste did his best Ashley Williams impression and hit a dreadful back pass which Rooney pounced on and poked home, a slice of luck that was ever so badly needed. He had the chance to double his tally on the half hour mark as Williams of all people dribbled his way past two defenders and found Rooney who curled a lovely effort agonisingly wide of the mark. There were a couple more half chances but nothing really significant and even the referee had seen enough as he decided not to add on any stoppage time.
There was a sign that maybe, just maybe, Koeman had realised that you don’t need two defensive midfielders when playing a team of Limassol’s level at home as he replaced Idrissa Gueye with Nikola Vlasic at the break. Vlasic was absolutely outstanding and changed the game for the Blues with his direct running and ability to pop up in open spaces. The young Croatian ace opened his Toffees account on 66 minutes after being cleverly released by Gylfi Sigurdsson. Rooney attempted to spread the ball out wide but instead his ball ricocheted of a Limassol body and in to the path of the Iceman who instinctively poked the ball through to the already clean through Vlasic and he coolly slotted home and gave Everton the lead.
Immediately after the goal Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Davy Klaassen were introduced in place of Tom Davies and the extremely disappointing Sandro Ramirez and the impact these changes had was eye opening. With DCL and Vlasic now doing the running up top it allowed Sigurdsson to slot into a second striker role and gave Rooney the pace to delicately and delightfully pick passes and feed the hungry and tenacious forwards.
It was an absolute universe away from the turgid first half performance as Rooney and Sigurdsson were at their creative best and Vlasic and DCL caused countless problems for the visitors. If I and half of Twitter can see this then I’d hope the man who is paid a substantial amount of money to manage this team can see it, but that remains to be seen as we host a rock solid Burnley side at Goodison this Sunday.
Sadly however the upturn in performance and tempo did not result in another goal, with DCL coming so very close to clinching the game after he superbly dropped his shoulder and curled an effort just wide of the mark after an inch perfect through pass from Rooney. This miss and his later more blatant one would prove ever so costly as the visitors, whose only previous visit to England saw them beaten 6-1 across Stanley Park, would snatch a late leveller. Just to add salt to the wounds, the visitors would go down to ten men before they got their second.
However just one minute later Davy Klaassen gave away a cheap free kick on the left flank which was delivered by Portuguese wing back Joao Pedro. His ball was flicked on somewhere in the crowd and Jordan Pickford could only watch as the ball nestled in the Park End net. Hector Yuste was the man who got the goal, making amends for his earlier mistake which lead to Everton’s equaliser.
A minute later and Everton should have had a winner. Vlasic again did superbly on the left flank and wriggled his way into crossing space, putting the ball on a plate for DCL who had a free header from 6 yards out but failed to convert, a fatal cocktail of poor finishing and heroic goalkeeping. You could lament the young forward for missing a couple of big chances but in all honesty this game should have been won a long time before the 90th minute,.
That result and the first 65 minutes for me is one of the most embarrassing I can remember ever watching. Let’s just remind ourselves of who we were playing. Apollon Limassol, from Cyprus, who came in third in that country’s league.
Ronald Koeman is persisting with a style that doesn’t work in any way, shape or form and he seems to be the only man in the Football world who can’t see it. In almost every game this season our last 15-20 minutes have been monumentally better than the rest of the match, why? Because the manager is more often than not forced to change the system and bring on pacey, direct players like DCL, Vlasic, Lookman who in turn put the opposition defence under pressure and allow Rooney/Sigurdsson the space that they were suffocated of in the first 60 minutes due to the cluttered system. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results; remind you of anyone?