Everton given a big lesson, says Koeman
The royal blue tide of optimism around Everton, after that £130million spend, did not last long. This was a night as grey as Everton’s dreadful kit and Ronald Koeman’s expensively assembled squad were embarrassed by a team on their first foray in Europe for 26 years.
Everton were blown away and a third successive defeat will only increase the scrutiny on Koeman after a summer recruitment drive which had promised so much.
All those fears over Everton’s lack of pace appear well founded on this evidence and here in northern Italy they had the cutting edge of a plastic spatula, unable to respond after a three-goal blast in a nightmarish first half. Former Everton defender Martin Keown likened last night’s display to something out of Dad’s Army while former England striker Chris Sutton called it “gutless” and said travelling fans deserved to have their costs reimbursed. The only crumb of comfort for Koeman is that Manchester United, last season’s Europa League winners, also lost their first group game but this was a reality check for the Dutchman.
Many Everton supporters had streamed out of the stadium by half-time and those that remained jeered the players who applauded them at the final whistle. Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford, and a reunion with Romelu Lukaku, now looks an even more daunting prospect.
Koeman said: “I share the fans’ anger and it’s a big lesson today. This was a wake-up call, if not the problem is much bigger. The team is far away from what we need to show and of course you can find excuses about young players, but most of the players are not at the level we expect. What I saw on the pitch was a big difference between Atalanta and Everton in belief confidence, aggression and passion.
“So that’s a question to myself, what I did wrong. It’s easier to criticise the players, the team, and individual mistakes but the team was not prepared well for what it saw in the first half.”
It could have been even worse for Everton and the sad truth is that Atalanta had the cigars out after half-time, the game won after a one-sided opening 45 minutes.
Fourth in Serie A last season, Atalanta’s fans will have savoured the two-hour drive back to Bergamo after such a memorable night.
With their own stadium under renovation, Atalanta will play all their European games 120 miles away in Reggio Emilia but the atmosphere felt like a home tie.
Everton were under pressure from the start, with goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg overworked in a rare appearance, tipping over a header from Phil Jagielka that threatened to arc into the net after just 100 seconds.
With six changes made to the team humbled by Tottenham last weekend, Everton were disjointed and unable to find any rhythm, eventually falling behind in the 27th minute.
Stekelenburg had saved brilliantly from close range to deny Andrea Masiello yet from the resulting corner, the Atalanta left-back could not miss from barely a yard out after the ball took a deflection off Jagielka.
Atalanta, playing with width and endeavour, increased their lead four minutes before half-time after a stunning strike from their talisman.
Alejandro Gomez, known as Papu, was given far too much space to curl the ball into the far corner from 25 yards.
The third goal came just before the break as Bryan Cristante exploited defensive hesitancy to advance into the area and direct the ball to the right of Stekelenburg.
Atalanta could have added more goals early in the second half, with Gomez shooting over before Remo Freuler struck the upright.
Wayne Rooney was replaced midway through the half after a desperately poor evening, with Everton only managing one shot on target all night.
Grey day: Everton players show their disappointment after Andrea Masiello’s opening goal for Atalanta while the home fans celebrate. Ronald Koeman’s team slumped to their third successive defeat last night