Everton’s dismal Merseyside derby record continued on Monday night with a narrow 1-0 loss.
Sadio Mane’s injury time-goal was enough to give the visitors all three points in a fiercely contested game which lacked real quality.
The Blues have now won just one of their last 20 encounters with ‘that lot’ and find themselves on an equally troubling run of form; just two wins from their last 12 games.
Not enough shots, not enough quality
Heading into last week’s home fixture against Arsenal, there was much demand from Evertonians to see more passion from their side. A string of limp displays, starting with the 5-0 thumping at Chelsea and culminating with the 3-2 collapse against Watford, had fans on social media issuing a rallying cry for more heart and fight.
And that’s exactly what they got after half an hour against the Gunners, but while it was just enough to overcome a heartless Arsenal, the blood and thunder you take for granted in a Merseyside derby wasn’t quite enough.
There was a distinct lack of quality from both sides, but that Everton could muster just one attempt on target in the entirety of a Goodison derby (Ashley Williams’ second half header), is a shameful statistic. Liverpool managed four, and while clear cut chances were hard to come by for the visitors they certainly looked the likelier and benefited from that bit of luck that often tilts football matches one way or the other.
Robust in the tackle and resilient in defence, Everton simply couldn’t string two passes together to make it out of their own half, never mind try to conceive a goal-scoring opportunity. Heart will only get you so far before footballing deficiencies hold you back.
Confidence is key for Barkley
A player whose creative spark Everton relied on so much last year has been all but extinguished this season. Ross Barkley notched eight goals and eight assists in the league in 2015/16, joint top
with the enigmatic Gerard Deulofeu. But he also created more chances than any other player (11); two more than his Spanish teammate and three more than Romelu Lukaku.
Two goals and two assists is a poor return considering the midfielder’s talents, even considering his omission for two games so far this term. But Barkley is very much a player who needs confidence to excel. He cuts the figure of a young man who bears the weight of personal and collective failings, carrying poor crosses, missed chances, derby defeats and the pain of not being involved on match days for longer than most.
It seems the tough-love approach Ronald Koeman is administering isn’t working with the Wavertree-born Blue. It’s clear his best form came under a manager in Roberto Martinez who fed Barkley’s ego constantly, shielding him from criticism (whether justifiably so or not). Does he need a comforting word in his ear? It would appear so.
January’s window of opportunity
Luckily for Koeman the January transfer window is less than a fortnight away and all the indications are that the Dutchman will be sufficiently backed in order to bring in reinforcements.
And with the way results and performances have turned sour for the man just 15 league games into his Everton project, the window will be a welcome relief. Creativity and goals will be high on his wishlist, but willing runners will be just as much of a priority, both high up the pitch and in central midfield.
Idrissa Gueye has been an exceptional signing -Evertonians shudder to think of the club’s league position without him- but it seems Koeman craves a similarly relentless pair of legs in the final third, someone to occupy opposing defenders and support the isolated Lukaku.
While January windows are often the coldest for attracting number one targets, there’s at least evidence that the funds are warming the pockets of Everton’s manager and new Director of Football, Steve Walsh. News broke over the weekend that Farhad Moshiri has cleared Everton’s debts and injected the club with an interest-free £80 million loan, according to Robert Daniels, member of Everton Shareholder’s Association. It means Everton are set for their busiest January window in history, and an opportunity for Koeman to re-ignite an already dwindling season.
Not all Blues are convinced, but Koeman will get time
Koeman’s Everton are hardly a force to be reckoned with, and with the current set of players there’s no reason to believe that will change any time soon. Players not being good enough; Koeman not ‘getting’ Everton; and players not willing to adapt to the manager’s style have all been cited as reasons things aren’t as they should be at Goodison Park.
But to suggest the manager should either resign or be relieved of his duties is extremely premature. He was not every Blue’s first choice in the summer, but that won’t matter to Moshiri. Everton’s new majority shareholder has chosen his man and spent the best part of £15 million (plus the Dutchman’s salary) to get him here. There won’t be any knee jerk reactions at boardroom level, so get used to seeing Koeman shouting Dutch expletives on the touchline till at least the summer.
12 months on, are Everton better off?
But that’s not to say that the questions raised by Evertonians aren’t valid ones; regardless of the board’s feelings towards the man in the hotseat, criticism is part and parcel of management.
Despite a record start for Koeman, Everton have the same amount of points they did this time last year, when a string of bi-polar performances saw the Blues squander leads and points at Bournemouth and Norwich, and struggle to draws or worse at home to Crystal Palace, Stoke and Leicester City.
So, it’s reasonable to ask whether the Toffees have improved since last year? The answer: clearly not. At least not on the pitch. But the club are undoubtedly in a stronger position in many other aspects. The club is debt-free; has received an interest-free loan from it’s majority shareholder (the same shareholder who has already invested £46m in the playing squad and made the club’s manager the highest paid in it’s history); has improved the facade
of an ageing stadium they look set to leave within the next five years; and are close to announcing the purchase of land (hopefully, dockland) on which they will build a new world-class stadium.
Is this club better off than 12 months ago? Undoubtedly so. But it will take time, new players and coaching to translate this onto the pitch.