Lack of men­ace and con­fi­dence leaves Ever­ton ex­posed

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

MID­WAY through the Europa League de­feat by Lyon at Good­i­son on Thurs­day, just be­fore the fight­ing broke out in fact, the chap in the next seat turned to me and said he wouldn’t mind stick­ing £100 on Ever­ton to beat Arse­nal at the week­end.

“They are clearly con­cen­trat­ing on that game,” he ar­gued, point­ing to the fact that Wayne Rooney, Leighton Baines and a cou­ple of other reg­u­lars had been left out of the side to face Lyon. “And come on, Ever­ton al­ways beat Arse­nal.”

Not true, ac­tu­ally. If you look back over the past five years there have been just two home league wins over Arsene Wenger’s side. There was the one last sea­son, when a late goal from Ash­ley Wil­liams sealed a 2-1 vic­tory that ended a se­quence of five win­less games and put a lit­tle mo­men­tum back into Ever­ton’s league cam­paign, and a tidy 3-0 trounc­ing in Roberto Mar­tinez’s first sea­son that the man­ager de­scribed as “tac­ti­cally per­fect”.

There were two draws and one de­feat in the other three games, so there are no grounds for sug­gest­ing Ever­ton usu­ally have the up­per hand at home against the Gun­ners, though the myth seems to per­sist that this fix­ture will find Wenger at his most fret­ful, one of those pesky north­ern bearpits where the rau­cous­ness of the fans lifts and en­er­gises the home play­ers while si­mul­ta­ne­ously shrink­ing the spirit of the vis­i­tors.

Af­ter be­ing pul­verised then pub­licly mocked by Troy Deeney and his mates at Wat­ford last Sat­ur­day, Arse­nal’s frag­ile con­fi­dence must be steel­ing it­self for an­other phys­i­cal on­slaught, yet that in­tim­ida­tory as­pect of Ever­ton’s game is pre­cisely what has dis­ap­peared un­der Ronald Koe­man. Per­haps the for­mer Ajax coach de­lib­er­ately set out to re­place it with some­thing more re­fined, in which case he ad­mit­ted de­feat in the af­ter­math of the Lyon game.

“We have not got the fi­nesse or the con­fi­dence at the mo­ment to try and play out from the back, we make too many mis­takes,” the Ever­ton man­ager said. “We are bet­ter when we play more di­rect.”

Full marks for hon­esty, but be­fore the Arse­nal cen­tral de­fence reach for their tin hats it might be noted there is a flaw in Koe­man’s logic. To play di­rect you need, to bor­row a phrase of Deeney’s, some­one with co­jones up front. Ever­ton do not have any­one fit­ting that bill. Rooney is too short and th­ese days too slow to play as a tra­di­tional cen­tre-for­ward. While he might have been able to sur­prise Arse­nal 15 years ago, it would be an even big­ger shock were he to come up with any­thing as dra­matic now. Do­minic Calvert-Lewin is not suf­fi­ciently ro­bust, and nei­ther is San­dro Ramirez. Ou­mar Ni­asse is in dan­ger of be­ing for­got­ten again.

Ever­ton, by Koe­man’s own ad­mis­sion, failed to get hold of a tar­get man or a re­li­able goalscorer in the sum­mer, so good luck with the long-ball game. Also, if long and strong is now the aim, Ever­ton have even less need of all the No 10-type play­ers Koe­man brought in. Gylfi Sig­urds­son on his own would prob­a­bly be enough; there is no point try­ing to find room for Rooney and Davy Klaassen as well.

An idio­syn­cratic ap­proach to team­build­ing means that Ever­ton sup­port­ers have been forced to watch an un­fo­cused mish-mash all sea­son, and it is hard to see how the sit­u­a­tion can change un­til the next trans­fer win­dow.

In Koe­man’s de­fence there is no ques­tion he has been un­lucky with in­juries. Key per­form­ers such as Sea­mus Cole­man and Yan­nick Bo­lasie have suf­fered po­ten­tially ca­reer-threat­en­ing set­backs and he has also had to do with­out ex­pe­ri­enced squad mem­bers in James McCarthy and Ramiro Funes Mori. Even Ross Barkley, what­ever the state of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween player and man­ager, has been un­avail­able all sea­son.

Ever­ton could do with some­one of his cre­ativ­ity at the mo­ment, even if his pres­ence and pref­er­ence for play­ing in the hole would make that hole even more ab­surdly crowded.

It is not just sign­ing too many sim­i­lar at­tack­ing play­ers that has un­bal­anced the side, how­ever; in terms of age and ex­pe­ri­ence Ever­ton are also strangely po­larised. Very few play­ers avail­able to Koe­man for reg­u­lar se­lec­tion could be said to be en­joy­ing their peak years. Sig­urds­son may be an ex­cep­tion, along with Idrissa Gu­eye and Mor­gan Sch­nei­der­lin, but al­most ev­ery­one else is either a prospect for the fu­ture or some­one whose best sea­sons are be­hind him.

It is not just Romelu Lukaku’s goals and phys­i­cal strength Ever­ton are miss­ing, it is his youth­ful vigour and con­fi­dence. With Lukaku in the side op­po­nents knew Ever­ton pos­sessed at least one player who would be at the top of his game. His ab­sence, cou­pled with that of Barkley, has left the front end of the team look­ing short of char­ac­ter as well as short of men­ace.

The Ever­ton man­ager ac­cepts he is in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion now, be­cause he needs re­sults, Arse­nal and Chelsea are next up and con­fi­dence is ex­tremely low. “Con­fi­dence comes from win­ning games, and we have not been do­ing that,” Koe­man said.

Arse­nal have not ex­actly been pulling up trees either but the chances are they will find Ever­ton less prob­lem­atic than they did Wat­ford. Few imag­ined that when Koe­man took over but, as Lyon demon­strated so neatly in mid­week, a side that can pass the ball is al­ways go­ing to have a chance against one that can­not.

Arse­nal can cer­tainly pass, will prob­a­bly take heart from Lyon’s ex­am­ple, and still have the ser­vices of Olivier Giroud. As long as they can avoid a brawl to wake up their op­po­nents — copy­right Bruno Ge­n­e­sio, Lyon coach — there seems no rea­son for the vis­i­tors to fear any more un­pleas­ant­ness at Good­i­son.

Ever­ton v Arse­nal, Sky Sports, 1.30

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