It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Ronald Koeman’s Everton were the story of the summer transfer window: the financial backing of Farhad Moshiri paved a clear path back to English football’s elite for the nine-time top flight winners.
But this campaign has been dismal. Everton’s record against the teams above them is pathetic: no wins, three draws and 11 losses, with just seven goals scored and 33 conceded.
The club’s return to Europe proved a disaster – the worst group stage record by an English team since the Europa League’s incarnation in 2009. Championship outfits Birmingham and Wigan fared better during their campaigns.
Few are blameless, but most responsible are Koeman and Director of Football Steve Walsh.
They signed Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Davy Klaasen for north of £20 million each, as well as Sandro Ramirez and Wayne Rooney in early July, but unfortunately what followed the departure of star striker Romelu Lukaku was a shambolic seven weeks.
The prolonged pursuit of Gylfi Sigurdsson added a touch of silky class, but created an overload of number 10s and did not plug the most significant gaps.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Rooney and Sandro netted just three goals in the opening seven matches between them but this, and the ostracised Oumar Niasse (more on him later), was now the extent of Everton’s striking options.
The left-back situation was even more desperate. With only Leighton Baines a natural in that field, Cuco Martina – signed as cover at right-back – was the only alternative.
Koeman and Walsh neglected these areas and failed to bring in suitable personnel. Across three transfer windows, the pair secured 15 permanent signings. Of those, who has been a real success? Pickford certainly; probably only Idrissa Gueye on top of that.
Keane and Ashley Williams have looked uncomfortable, Klaasen has played just six Premier League minutes since 24 September, Morgan Schneiderlin has borne the brunt of fan frustrations, and Sandro has been shipped out on loan.
Good recruitment can propel any aspiring football club up the league, but the aforementioned duo squandered this massive opportunity.
The complete lack of philosophy or style on the pitch left the board with no choice but to part with the Dutchman after losing 5-2 at home to Arsenal. Walsh was fortunate not to have suffered the same fate.
Evertonians will back their team to the hilt if they leave everything on the pitch. The cult status of Niasse is proof of that. He has his limitations, but his impeccable conduct when scandalously frozen out of the first team picture by Koeman earned him much respect. A player who will run through brick walls for the cause, one of the few satisfying moments of this term was his first league appearance as a substitute against Bournemouth: two well-taken finishes turned the contest on its head.
Sam Allardyce’s appointment was never likely to bring exciting football. He has stabilised Everton’s position in the table, largely through home wins against teams below them, and Theo Walcott and Cenk Tosun have added much needed balance, but the atmosphere is toxic. The supporters have a right to expect better. Everton mustered just one shot on target in their last home game against Newcastle, were cannon fodder for the likes of Spurs and Arsenal, and threw away an important match at Burnley through a negative set-up against hosts low on confidence after a winless run.
Everton are well behind in their mission to break into the top four, and there is little evidence to
indicate that Allardyce can take them to the next level.
Retaining the manager’s services for 2018/19 would not go down well.
Things can turn very quickly in football. 12 months ago, no one could have predicted that the former England boss would be in the Goodison hot seat, so who knows what could happen in the next year.
Life for Evertonians is rarely dull. After being thrown way off course by the reckless failings of Koeman and Walsh, a pivotal few months are in prospect in the bid to return the club to where they belong.
Photo source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashley_Williams_(footballer)#/media/File:Manchester_United_v_Everton,_17_September_2017_(21).jpg