Toffees in a Sticky Situation

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It’s hardly the most ringing endorsement of his career, but Everton’s 3-0 win over Sunderland in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday might just have saved Ronald Koeman’s bacon.

The beleaguered Dutchman was staring down the barrel at the Merseysiders after a rather nondescript start to the campaign which has featured just one victory in six outings. Indeed, a run of four straight defeats in the Premier League and the Europa League – with zero goals scored and twelve conceded – insinuated that Koeman’s head was on the block.

But his side responded in decent fashion against the Black Cats, running up a three-goal lead courtesy of strikes from Dominic Calvert-Lewin (x2) and Oumar Niasse. The Toffees enjoyed 68% possession and created six shots on target in a display that boasted far more attacking oomph than of late.

Of course, the odd victory in what is essentially a meaningless competition will not save Koeman’s job in the long term, and he must find a winning solution in the Premier League if he is to remain in the hot seat.

Happily for the former Barcelona defender, his side now have three home matches on the trot. A Europa League tie with Apollon Limassol is the filling in a Premier League sandwich of Bournemouth and Burnley, and that is a trio of fixtures that would be food-and-drink for an Everton side in full flow.

Alas, these Toffees are stuck on repeat and that poor start has made them an outside bet for the drop. Can Koeman jolt them to their senses, and ultimately save his job?

The Case For
Bill Kenwright is known as a patient man: he has employed just four full-time incumbents in the Goodison Park hotseat since 2008. Each of Koeman’s three predecessors – Walter Smith, David Moyes and Roberto Martinez – were given time to build an Everton side in their own mould, so Koeman can at least sleep easy knowing he will be given a fair crack of the whip.

Football is becoming increasingly short-termist these days: it’s instant success or you’re out, certainly in England anyway. But it would be foolish of Toffees fans to forget the achievements of last season. Their side almost broke the monopoly of the ‘big six’ in the Premier League, just missing out after running out of steam towards the conclusion of the campaign, and did so on a relatively paltry budget.

And in these early junctures of the new season, it is easy to jump to conclusions in what can be an incredibly unfair environment. Everton have had to play both Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Tottenham in their opening five games of the season – how many points did their fans expect them to be on at this point?

They did exactly what was necessary in defeating Stoke City, and yes the loss to Atalanta in the Europa League was abject but the Italians are a much better side than most would believe.

If we were to create a league table based upon Expected Points, it is easy to suggest that even the most ardent of Toffees supporter would have their team down as somewhere near their current four-point mark.

Transition is a word that gets bandied around a lot in modern football parlance, but clearly this is an Everton side – particularly in attack – which is in a state of flux. Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Sandro Ramirez and Davy Klaasen have come in, while Koeman is determined to hand the requisite amount of game time to young Dominic Calvert-Lewin in order for him to fulfil his potential. From an attacking perspective, it will take a while for things to gel and the manager to find his best combinations.

Should we not be praising Koeman too for bringing in Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane, two young English talents who can form the backbone of the team for years to come? From the optimists’ perspective, the blue half of Merseyside just needs time: time for their new players to bed in, and time to make the most of a more agreeable set of fixtures on the horizon.

The Case Against
While there is sympathy for Koeman as far as the fixture list has conspired against him, and results have been poor but expectedly so, what has been unacceptable as far as a team that finished seventh in the division last season is concerned is the level of performance. Whatever metric or measurement you use, from shot supremacy, Total Shot Rate (TSR), Expected Goals (xG) to simply the naked eye, Everton have not only dropped points but more often than not they have been completely outplayed.

It does not take a genius to work out that a team that manages to record just ten shots on target in five Premier League matches – that’s just two per game for the mathematically challenged – is going to struggle. If you are creating just a pair of shooting opportunities per 90 minutes, you had better make sure they are good ones.

Many will bemoan the sale of Romelu Lukaku as the cause – a necessary evil when a big club comes a-calling – but that misses the point. The Belgian very rarely created chances for himself out of nothing; it was the probing of others that did his bidding. Okay, so Lukaku’s movement and physicality opened doors, but it needed somebody to place the ball on a silver platter for him to cash in.

Clearly the Toffees aren’t getting creative enough in the final third, and having spent tens of millions on the four attacking players mentioned above that really does not bode well for Koeman’s longevity.

So, putting the ball in the net is a problem….and so too is keeping it out. Everton have conceded 13 goals in five Premier League and one Europa League outings, and that is an average of more than two goals per game. Yep, the Toffees are conceding more goals per game than they are having shots on target – good luck with that!

Koeman needs to find answers and he needs to find them to resolve issues in all facets o his team’s play. By even the most generous of standards, the Dutchman has three games to save his job.