Alex Ferguson noted that he wanted 8 out of 11 players to win their individual battle to win a game. He felt if they did this they would win. He could count on 1 hand the games where every player played well. For Everton yesterday, that same feeling emerged. Everybody played well. Everton won convincingly against a hugely talented is somewhat ragged side. We probably have to caste our mind back to Arsenal 3 years ago to find an equivalent performance, maybe longer?
To summarise such a game in a manageable number of words is challenging. It is either a short response “we were brilliant” or a much longer analysis, an analysis that may look at the brilliance of 3 teenagers. 2 of them who score (one a contender for goal of the season) while the 3rd eclipses his the lads who’s place he has taken following a 50 million pound summer move. It could be about 2 debuts, or the debut goal. It could be about the resurgence of Barkley, rehabilitation of Mirallas or consistency of Lukaku. Each of those could be a sub plot in and of itself, yet how much time would we devote?
To try to keep it simple, what struck me is that this performance has been bubbling under the surface. Post Watford our performances have turned around, albeit with frustrating results. Against Hull I noticed we desperately push for a winner. It doesn’t come, but there is the fitness and the belief that not only we can win but we need too. This was a significant development.
The 7 games post Leicester have seen 4 wins, 1 draw and 2 defeats. Two big areas have improved since then. We now score goals later in games, 8 in the last 15 minutes of games and 3 in the closing stages. The squad wasn’t fit enough when Koeman came in, but the fitness is now finally arriving. We are also scoring goals from more areas.
Secondly Bob Bradley remarked 3 months ago his team’s job was to stop Lukaku. They succeeded, Everton only scraped a point with a last minute goal. A quick glance at the stats shows to me Lukaku has 4 of the 16 we’ve scored and I can’t think of any assists off the top of my head. 4 in 7 remains a good return for Lukaku, but he’s now being helped by others. Top teams requires both a lethal goal scorer but also others to chip in. Think Kendall and Everton in 1987. Consider also the great United or Arsenal teams from the 90’s, they all had lots of goal scorers.
Underlying stats such as these led me to believe someone was due to get a hiding. The frustration for Koeman is it has come a week late. This is what holds this team back now. The magic word; consistency. It has almost become an Everton in joke now over the last 5 years, that our team can beat the best but lose to average sides. Lose to Liverpool in the cup, win the next three 4-0. Lose 3-1 to Wigan, the week after beat City 2-0 with 10 men. Lose to Leicester and follow it up with a 4-0 walloping of Pep’s City.
Such performances have come to symbolise Everton. For Koeman and Everton to succeed this needs to end. Great teams don’t win things from being inconsistent. Or if they do it is rarely a sustained success.
The consistency has to go beyond just a team, but also to individual players. Koeman’s hardest job was to get consistency out of a squad full of inconsistent players. In any workplace, when a manager asks for me there will be some who respond positively and others whose performance will decline. This should not be used against Koeman, as long as he can get improvement from enough. We see this best with Deulofeu and Mirallas; two talented but inconsistent wingers who have been publically remanded by Koeman. Deulofeu now looks set to leave while Mirallas appears to be rediscovering his pre-Martinez form.
One of the final pleasing things on show from the City game was you begin to see what an Everton team under Koeman looks like. Players now look to be being given jobs that look familiar to them and while we have seen some variety in formations we have moved from the 4-2-3-1 which never seemed to suit anybody.
Mirallas who looks to have lost a yard of pace seems far more content playing through the middle and using his instinctive movement. Barkley look’s happier playing deeper with the game in front of him, while our full backs are able to push on and utilise their fitness and attacking instincts to get forward, with the insurance policy of a 3rd centre half. A performance which got the best out of Barkley, Mirallas, Coleman & Baines cannot be under estimated and would be difficult think of when (if ever) it has happened? If it continues expect to see the good form remain!
Consistency is now the key for Everton. Better players will continue to arrive and we have the rest of the season to find and ultimately hone a way of playing that makes us a viable contender for the top 4 next season. We have 17 games to convince Lukaku to stay. We need to look back on this moment as the beginning of a new chapter, not another repetition of history of a great performance following a cup exit.