In an increasingly trigger happy, revolving door culture of top flight football management, Everton’s Ronald Koeman will be feeling the heat more than most.
Aside from a merited draw with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City that heralded great promise of things to come, a performance(and result) that ultimately flattered to deceive has all but been forgotten on the back of a season otherwise characterised by several chastening defeats.
A supine capitulation at the hands of Europa League newcomers Atalanta looked more than just a bad night at the office. A game hosted many miles from the northern Italian side’s base was hardly played out in hostile surroundings, against a team absent from the shard end of European competition for almost three decades. Despite a lavish summer squad-building programme that included the acquisition of Burnley’s Michael Keane and Icelandic international Gylfi Sigurdsson, Everton lack a totemic spearhead at number 9. In short, Romelu Lukaku has not been replaced and despite the return to Goodison of prodigal son Wayne Rooney, nobody ever assumed that England’s and Manchester United’s record goalscorer was hired to provide anything but a foil to an out and out centre forward, albeit one to be announced.
Everton’s squad undoubtedly contains quality and guile that can be utilised in the final third, although the likes of Yannick Bolasie, Oumar Niasse, Aaron Lennon, and Kevin Mirallas lack the X-factor supplied by a fully firing Lukaku, whose start to his Manchester United career has already underlined what £75 million gets you these days.
An otherwise laudable approach under Koeman has seen the former Dutch master blood several youngsters in Everton’s first team, although perhaps too much responsibility has been placed on such callow shoulders. Koeman has shown great confidence in the likes of Tom Davies, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Mason Holgate, and Ademola Lookman but can they fire the Merseyside club into a top four finish, in the face of such formidable opposition from not only across Liverpool but both Manchester sides and London’s big three – Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal?
The glaring omission from the Toffees’ squad of a recognized number nine in the classic sense, will inevitably drive up the asking price of any striker identified by Koeman as the perceived missing piece in the jigsaw. It will though be intriguing to see if Everton’s lack of presence in the final third is the cause of their stuttering start to the 2017/18 season, or if their manager has plateaued in his abilities to get the best out of a squad arguably already the best in the Premier League’s ‘tier 2’ subdivision of topflight sides.
A fixture at Old Trafford was hardly the place to lick their wounds after being humbled by Atalanta, although the subsequent 4-0 scoreline does in no way paint an accurate picture of events against Jose Mourinho’s men. Two opportunities should have been taken by Wayne Rooney, chances a more clinical striker in the number 9 mould would likely have buried. The issue at hand for Koeman is not only can he source, at the right price, a suitable replacement for Lukaku, but are Everton an attractive enough proposition for a player likely to bracketed as established, perhaps even world-class?
Several potential candidates have come and gone, namely Fernando Llorente and Loic Remy. Even Christian Benteke, at his best a bully of central defenders a la Didier Drogba but too often a player who drifts out of games he never actually drifted into, has stagnated at Crystal Palace and would represent too much of a risk. Bournemouth’s Josh King would certainly be an interesting option, although the step up in class could be too great an ask for the Norwegian international. The same could also be said for Newcastle’s Dwight Gayle.
In the meantime goals need to be found from within Koeman’s Everton, and quickly. Until Lukaku is adequately replaced it would be unfair to judge this particular manager in the harshest of possible terms, although a famously patient and supportive Bill Kenwright and majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri will understandably be extremely concerned by the start to a season that sees only Bournemouth and winless Crystal Palace below Everton in the nascent Premier League table.