The recent Spurs’ game and today’s Derby is a sobering reality check in terms of where we are in Koeman’s project. The defeat is still raw but the manner in which it’s being portrayed is not accurate in my book.
I’m going to start by addressing this so called “fear” of playing Liverpool. It’s nothing more than a convenient label that requires no thought or analysis. It’s all so easy for pundits or whomever to say “Everton possess a fear factor, a mental block versus Liverpool”.
Four Everton players had never started a Derby game, so how can they fear or have a mental block about something they’ve never experienced?
It’s a totally inaccurate and lazy way of judging the real problems, which is leadership and accountability as individuals. Yes, football is a team sport, but for a team to function and achieve its objectives each individual has to perform to the level expected – each achieving and completing their given tasks in order to function as a team. Only teams with exceptional talent can perform when one or two players are not at their best. We don’t possess those players currently, and sadly it was more than one or two who didn’t perform. Part of that is down to youth and inexperience, the rest is a reflection on the abilities of the senior members of the squad.
There’s not an Everton player on the pitch today who will have met their individual objectives set prior to the game. That’s what needs addressing. Koeman and his people have to sit down with each individual and say “we agreed the following…….., yet it didn’t happen. Why did it not happen, and what has to change to ensure it doesn’t occur again?” Now for several it’s probably too late in their careers, particularly their Everton careers to do much about it, but for the youngsters surely that’s the only way they’re going to learn from the experience.
The way to learn from days like today is to take individual responsibility for your own actions, there’s no point in hiding behind the team performance or “fear” – that’s not an accountable action.
To compound the lack of individual responsibility, there was a total absence of leadership on the pitch to identify and address the problem. Leadership has of course been an issue for a long time and will surely be addressed in the summer. The only time today I saw any, was Lukaku of all people, making sure that Lucas did not talk Barkley into the referee’s book early in the first half.
Whilst we have a core of promising youngsters, the paucity of our squad was laid bare again today. Koeman will have put out what he considered our best available team and his tactics probably acknowledged that he’s aware of our relative strengths and weaknesses. However, for the tactics to work, individuals across the team had to perform their given tasks. Having just Gana and Davies in the centre of midfield is a great display of confidence in their abilities. As it happened, it didn’t work – not only did neither not perform to standard but nor did their team mates around them.
We’re surely seeing the last season of Jags, Williams (albeit his first) and Funes Mori in the centre of our defence, either in a back four or a three/five like today – Robles who had a terrible game was left horribly exposed for each of the three goals.
What of Ross? I can only say the occasion got the better of him, perhaps the fact that it was the Derby and the frustrations of his international break got to him. Regardless there are significant behavioural weaknesses to his game that become all too evident on occasions like this. Until he learns that self control and decisiveness in thinking, especially on the big occasion, he’s going to remain a talented but enigmatic figure who won’t meet his full potential.
Romelu? I don’t subscribe to the “he wasn’t arsed” comments but he was horribly isolated even with Calvin Lewin supposedly playing close to, alongside him. I’d say three things to defend his attitude today, his actions in stopping Barkley from receiving an early booking, his reaction to our goal, and in the second half the positions he took up in the box. Holgate had several opportunities to deliver but failed to deliver beyond the first man. Had Coleman been on the pitch, Lukaku would at least have had opportunities. Having said that, he can do better, and if he’s going to fulfil his personal ambitions and opinions, then start putting in match winning performances against better teams. Tuesday night would be a great place to start.
Koeman’s tactics were interesting today – I expressed delight when I saw the side, Barry has a role as substitute in games like today but he can’t be seen as a starter in the really big games. Mirallas has long since ceased to be a starter for Everton in my eyes, although I appreciate the view of some that he at least gets up for games such as this.
It’s clear that Koeman doesn’t believe we can go toe to toe especially away from home against the top 6. His preference, probably determined by personnel rather than through choice has been to play defensively hoping to catch teams on the break. Sadly it’s not worked in any of the games against the top sides away from home this season.
This is a reflection of the inability for most of the squad to perform at the highest levels as individuals in these games, rather than a reflection of the system deployed. Almost all the goals conceded away to the teams above us have resulted from individual error by one, sometimes more individuals.
It’s not until the quality of individuals (mentally as well as tactically) improve through further strengthening of the squad, that we’re going to see significant uplift in performance in these games.
We’ve come a long way since the very dark days of last year’s Anfield debacle and the semi final – “the defining week” as Martinez put it, but we’ve clearly got a huge way further to go.
Being realistic, 7th in the Premier League is the level at which we are operating. We are currently the best of the rest, and that’s a significant improvement on the last two years but as we all know we need even further changes in the squad, the release of those not good enough, replaced by higher talents.
It felt like the wheels coming off our development project by the end of the game, and it always does feel terrible when losing to Liverpool. The truth is we were horribly exposed by injuries, we don’t have enough depth to our squad, but equally none of our players took the individual responsibility required to perform as part of a team.
When we have a team full of individuals who accept that personal responsibility that’s when we’ll start winning the games that really count, and then perhaps we’ll win some silverware.