Pres­sure pil­ing up on Koe­man

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - PAUL WIL­SON

RONALD Koe­man said last week that he was not pri­ori­tis­ing ei­ther of his club’s forth­com­ing fix­tures in the Europa League and the Pre­mier League; he ex­pected to win both of them. Apol­lon Li­mas­sol hav­ing dealt a crush­ing blow to that idea at a deathly quiet Good­i­son Park on Thurs­day, the Ever­ton man­ager now finds him­self and his play­ers un­der a cer­tain amount of pres­sure to per­form against Burn­ley this af­ter­noon.

Burn­ley, as their stand-in cap­tain Ben Mee puts it, are play­ing well, feel­ing con­fi­dent and get­ting re­sults — in other words, ev­ery­thing Ever­ton are not do­ing.

Koe­man’s side now sit at the foot of their Europa League group with a sin­gle point after mak­ing the worst start in the com­pe­ti­tion by any English team. Ever­ton did es­cape the Pre­mier League bot­tom three a week ago, but only after be­ing out­played for much of the game by Bournemouth, who were even­tu­ally dis­patched by two late goals from a sub­sti­tute who was told by Koe­man last season he would need to find a new club if he wanted to con­tinue play­ing football.

There is no need to go over the by now well-known Ou­mar Ni­asse story again, but suf­fice to say that, if Koe­man does not give his Sene­galese saviour a game against Burn­ley, it would not only be an act of al­most in­de­cent in­grat­i­tude but might well turn low-level grum­bling and dis­sat­is­fac­tion into open re­volt.

Ever­ton thought they were get­ting a smart op­er­a­tor when they re­cruited Koe­man from Southamp­ton, yet the man­ager has spent the last cou­ple of weeks fac­ing more crit­i­cism over his se­lec­tion pol­icy than his coun­ter­part at An­field, and that is say­ing some­thing.

Ni­asse has three goals from two ap­pear­ances as a sub­sti­tute and might well have con­tin­ued his scor­ing run to make life eas­ier against Apol­lon, yet due to Koe­man still be­liev­ing he had no fu­ture at the club as late as the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber, he was not given a place when the Europa League squad was reg­is­tered.

Or­di­nar­ily Ever­ton would ex­pect to beat Burn­ley at home, though or­di­nar­ily Sean Dy­che’s side would not be sit­ting above them in the table. And Burn­ley travel to Mersey­side com­fort­able in the knowl­edge that they took a point from An­field last month to add to the one they brought home from Wem­b­ley when they played Spurs. While the real stand-out score­line of their season to date was the sen­sa­tional win at Chelsea on the open­ing day, which might now be put down to an aber­ra­tion for their hosts — were the teams to meet again this week, it seems un­likely Burn­ley would be three goals to the good by half-time — the points re­main in the bag.

“For us to have nine points on the board at this stage is fan­tas­tic,” Mee says. “We were close to a lot of the big teams last season but kept get­ting nar­rowly beaten. We seem to have learned from that now and this season we might be able to show peo­ple how good we are. We are cer­tainly con­fi­dent we can go to Ever­ton and give them a game be­cause our away form has been par­tic­u­larly good.

“It’s an­other tough test, be­cause they have some good play­ers even if they haven’t been get­ting the re­sults they would like. They can still pun­ish us. We are well aware of that but, if we can be at the top of our game, we have a chance. When you have picked up a few points and good re­sults it builds up con­fi­dence.”

Koe­man was say­ing the same thing not a week ago, yet his ex­pected con­fi­dence boost against the side that fin­ished third in the Cypriot league last season failed to ma­te­ri­alise. As he was pin­ning his hopes on three home wins to help en­sure qualification for the knock-out stage of the Europa League, the Ever­ton man­ager’s strat­egy for the season is now in tat­ters. As sup­port­ers have been point­ing out on phone-ins and Twit­ter for weeks, however, strat­egy does not ap­pear to be a Koe­man strong point.

He was lauded at the start of the sum­mer trans­fer window for mov­ing swiftly to cap­ture trans­fer tar­gets such as Jor­dan Pick­ford and Michael Keane — the centre-half will miss the visit of Mee and his old club to­day through in­jury — though main­tained all along that his main aim was to bring in a striker cum tar­get man to re­place Romelu Lukaku.

That did not hap­pen. Ever­ton ap­pear to have been led to be­lieve Olivier Giroud might join them from Arse­nal and, though that hope was dashed rel­a­tively early in the trans­fer window, no back-up plan was put into op­er­a­tion, not even to the ex­tent of reg­is­ter­ing Ni­asse with UEFA.

Koe­man’s cun­ning plan to re­ju­ve­nate Wayne Rooney by bring­ing him back to his boy­hood club has not been a con­spic­u­ous suc­cess, ei­ther on or off the field, and instead of play­ing Gylfi Sig­urds­son in the hole behind the main striker as ev­ery­one ex­pected, the Iceland for­ward has found him­self pushed out wide, where the record sign­ing has been less ef­fec­tive. Peo­ple are be­gin­ning to ask whether Koe­man knows what he is do­ing, in the same way that Liver­pool sup­port­ers were up in arms about Jur­gen Klopp fol­low­ing the draws against Burn­ley and Sevilla.

The man­ager was frank enough after the nar­row squeak against Bournemouth to ad­mit he had been wor­ried about los­ing his job but clearly thought a cou­ple of home wins would re­store con­fi­dence. That the­ory has yet to be proved and, if Ever­ton end up tak­ing lessons in con­fi­dence from Burn­ley, it might be a while be­fore Koe­man and his play­ers can pre­dict where their next back-to-back wins might come from.

Ever­ton v Burn­ley Sky Sports 2.15

‘If Koe­man does not give Ou­mar Ni­asse a game against Burn­ley, it would be an act of al­most in­de­cent in­grat­i­tude’

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