When I watched Everton last season, I could spend an hour going through every part of the pitch and picking out a load of issues that they had. It’s fair to say, Martinez wasn’t moving Everton forward. The fact they finished bottom half of the table while having players like Barry, Lukaku, Barkley and Stones in their team shows the amount of issues they had. In contrast, this time around 20-30 years ago, they were the club of the moment. So what exactly happened last season? Why did Everton do so badly?
To be frank, I’m not sure Martinez had any idea on how to structure his team come the second half of the season. He wanted to play out of the back to utilise Stones and Jagileka’s passing ranges but this gave the problem of making Barry almost useless in midfield. Barry’s best trait is receiving the ball from deep and sending it forward, as a deep-lying playmaker should. Martinez’s structure allowed him and McCarthy to sit higher up but this gave another problem: it highlighted Barry’s lack of mobility and inability to press. Teams were ripping apart Everton and it wasn’t any of the personnel’s fault, it was the manager’s.
Fast forward a few months and you see Ronald Koeman take the helm at Everton after his tenure at Southampton. Many described this move as odd and almost a sideways move but it was a smart one by Koeman. He knew none of the big teams in England would need a new manager for another couple of years at least and Everton have the ability to be a big team in England again, while also having better finances, facilities and arguably better players than Southampton. But what did he bring to Everton? Instead of building around a certain way of playing, he built around a certain player: Gareth Barry.
Koeman first cashed in on England international John Stones and bought Ashley Williams in his place. This essentially meant to me he wanted to change the structure of Everton’s midfield and he did so. He lets Barry sit deeper and with the addition of Gueye from Villa, he had a versatile midfielder next to arguably one of the most underrated DLPs to play. It’s a solid midfield structure and with the additions of Bolasie and Valencia, it means Everton now have pace, power and skill in the final third to link up with the midfield and defence.
This is an interesting topic for most fans and pundits. But for me they’re not. You look at the depth teams like City, Arsenal and Spurs have in contrast to Everton and you’ll see they’re much better prepared for a long title push. Everton could be top for material but whether or not that’ll be easy is uncertain, as there’s about 7 teams potentially hoping for four Champions League spots. Saying that, I look at United and it’s fairly safe to assume Everton look like a stronger team. Competent defence, midfield which suits their defence and a solid structure to it, balanced and deadly attack. Anything is possible for Everton.
But Everton arten’t without their issues. Koeman is a top manager with a major drawback, in that he changes his team/set up way too much. This season alone Everton have used 3 different formations. Is this a problem? Well Koeman is a tactical manager and sets up to win games. However long term strategists will notice that you ruin cohesion and collective spirit if you change too much. If you look at Leicester last season you’ll notice that they barely changed their set up and starting eleven, and used the fewest amounts of players available. I know Everton probably aren’t aiming for a title but to get into the Champions League they’ll have to make sure they keep some continuity. Inconsistent comes if you aren’t consistent with your set ups: Koeman has to notice this.
Then there’s the problem with squad depth. I’ll admit their depth isn’t as bad as I make out, but it for sure could be better. It’s not unfair to say you could strengthen Everton in about 5 positions on the pitch and looking at the teams around them (Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea, United), Everton aren’t the standouts in this area.
If you’re an Everton fan reading this you’ll probably disagree with a few of these points, but in a sense you’ll agree that the fact Everton are being talked about in relation to Champions League positions shows how far they’ve come since the days of Martinez and Moyes. Especially with Martinez and (I quote Paul Merson) his “Men in Black memory eraser.” Everton are definitely a team to watch at the minute and their draw with City was a masterpiece in what Koeman can do. It’ll be a while until Koeman can get a squad good enough to be a title contender for sure, but it’s exciting times ahead for Everton, the fans just got to have patience with the Dutchman.