Right, have we all calmed down yet? Probably not, but I’m going to do my best to call for calm and reassure you that everything is going to be sound when it comes to Everton. In April, after the long-overdue sacking of Mr Martinez, who appears to have the best agent in the world (just how the hell did he get that Belgium job?) – if you had said to me that come the end of September, Everton would be sitting in 5th – in reality we are joint 3rd – in the Barclays Premier League, with four wins, one draw and one defeat as our League record to-date, and a Manager called Ronald Koeman at the helm, then I, like many of you, in fact nearly all of you, would have done a forward roll in excitement and snapped your hand off at the thought.
We’ve started the season well, managed to get some early points on the board and shown that we can really turn on the style, or grind out a win if necessary. The games have all been different, but the early signs are that Koeman has got his players well-drilled, organised and hungry. With the Everton good invariably comes the Everton bad, and a pss-poor display against Norwich resulted in us crashing out of the Cup last week and made our 4-0 thumping of Yeovil in the previous round count for nothing. This was tough to take, I’ll admit, I felt angry last Wednesday morning at the fact that again this competition had slipped through our fingers. It is fast way to silverware, a competition that could have ended our drought but on so many occasions we’ve blown it. It is safe to say the game on Tuesday was Koeman’s lowest point of his Everton tenure to date. Unfortunately that defeat has then been followed by a 1-0 reverse at Bournemouth, who are a side we simply shouldn’t be beaten by. But we have been, and we have to put that in the past now and the only way we can do that is by beating Palace on Friday night, winning games tends to put things right.
I started this piece in a positive fashion and I intend to focus on the Everton good. I do believe some perspective is required, I’ve seen many Blues losing their rags after the week that has just ensued but personally I am remaining grounded and patient this time around. From what I have witnessed since the season kicked off on August the 13th the signs are good, the foundations for success are in place and I am confident that we can go on to have a good season and continue to build for the future. Of course we are far from the finished article, we need more new players and to be rid of the average crust of our squad, but this is very early days in terms of Koeman’s stewardship. It is easy for fans to get overly excited or carried away when Everton win a few games – I found myself guilty of this when Martinez first took charge, but under Koeman I’m not getting ahead of myself. I am excited and upbeat about what I’ve seen, but I am also prepared for the fact that we will lose games and endure some disappointments along the way. This may be an Evertonian trait of mine, but I believe it is a fact of modern-day football and the Premier League. It’s never easy, nobody gets a smooth ride, and Everton will be no different this season, because we are not the finished article and improvements do take time. It is more about how we respond to those disappointments that is of an interest to me, Koeman obviously hates not winning, and over the course of the season we will see how is players respond to his methods, but if I was to assess the season to date and measure how our players are taking to the Dutchman’s leadership, then I’d have no reason to worry. His apparent strictness around the training ground and change in methods appears to be having a positive effect at the Club, and some of his in-game management of certain situations have also stood out from the early weeks of his regime. Koeman is a winner, he has shown a ruthless side and will not stand for passengers or under-performers, and this can only benefit Everton as we go forward.
In terms of our recruitment Koeman quickly identified where we needed to strengthen, and measuring his transfer dealings throughout the summer I don’t believe he would just sign players to make up the numbers. Instead he signed players who will make a difference, players who can have the required impact and help get Everton back up the table. Stekelenburg has already made a positive impact, as has Idrissa Gueye, I’m sure over the course of the season we will also see the best of Ashley Williams and Yannick Bolasie too. Although Enner Valencia looks rusty, he may still play a part, we just don’t know. Ideally we would have added two or more quality names to the squad but it didn’t happen, but we have January to come and next summer when we will build again. Don’t forget Koeman inherited this squad, we are in transition. Do you think the likes of Bryan Oviedo, Tom Cleverley et al would be at the Club if Koeman had been in charge for the past five years? I don’t. He will add his own blend to what we have until he is fully happy, and we’ve got the money to help him do this.
Obviously there are concerns over the form of certain players – Ross Barkley has come under fire and he does need to wake up and realise where he is, the lad lacks confidence and it shows. He needs to forget about everything else and just enjoy his football, because it is painful to watch at times. If Ross does one bad thing in a game then he does twenty bad things, but on the other hand he can bang in a peach of a goal or provide some silky assists too, he just needs to find a level of consistency to do the latter as a regular as possible. Others like Mirallas and Deulofeu are yet to really get going this season and don’t get me wrong Bolasie can also frustrate too – he needs to swerve the stud roll tricks and just do the simple things – like when he skinned that West Brom left-back and crossed for Barkley to miss that sitter at the Hawthorns. Sometimes that’s what Evertonians want to see, a winger taking on a player and getting a ball over, leave the tricks and flicks for the right time and place. I have every faith that he can do well for us, and when he and his colleagues get into gear they have the capabilities to tear teams apart. Think back to that second half against Sunderland, or the way in which we reacted to going a goal down at West Brom, beating Stoke 1-0 at Goodison (felt like years since we had won by this score line at home), we do have the ability to fight back but also turn the volume up a level and go at teams. Again it is all about consistency and showing this as regular as possible. I do have confidence that we can do this under this Manager.
I have mentioned the players above who have come under fire but what about the players who have impressed. Idrissa Gana Gueye is the name on everybody’s lips and you don’t need me to tell you why, his relationship with the ever-impressive Gareth Barry has clicked immediately, however across the team there are others who cannot go unnoticed. Stekelenburg has been a revelation in goal, no fuss, no nonsense, just a good solid ‘keeper who can kick the ball over the half way line. At 34, many of us thought he might be brought in to be a back-up to Robles or an additional body in the goalkeeping department but this isn’t the case. Koeman is obviously a fan and the lad has hardly put a foot wrong since getting his chance. It has also been refreshing to see Coleman and Baines re-emerging and showing signs of their former selves. Those two players have been huge assets to Everton over the years but we haven’t seen the best of them for two, maybe three seasons now, but this season they appear to be turning things around and demonstrating their key attributes again. The Bournemouth game aside I believe as a whole our defence has looked better, Jagielka is enjoying having Williams alongside him and Stekelenburg backing him up and if we keep this settled defence in place for as long as possible then this should prove to be a benefactor in keeping ourselves up the table. Up top Rom has shown positive play and got off the mark with an impressive hat-trick against Sunderland and with better service on Saturday the result may have been different against Bournemouth but it wasn’t to be. The thought of Rom going at Palace Friday night it a tasty one, especially with Bolasie facing his old Club and previous fixtures with Pardew’s side historically lively. As I said earlier the Palace game offers us the chance to right the wrongs of the past week and potentially go second in the table if we take all three points. That would be especially nice going into the international break. A Friday night game at Goodison under the lights with the chance to go second in the League, what’s not to be excited about?
Off the field there are positive noises too, the stadium talk is more than talk this time and the rumours about Bramley Moore appear to be more than rumours too. There has been an air of positivity off the field as well as on it in recent months and because of a disappointing couple of results it is vital that this positivity is not completely lost. Don’t get me wrong, I get as angry as the next Evertonian when things don’t go our way but as previously stated, perspective is required. It is so easy to go on a Twitter rant, slate everyone and feel sorry for yourself, but when you wake up the next day and have a think about things as a whole I do believe you feel better. Nobody said being an Evertonian was easy, and you get signed up for life when you support this Club, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Koeman is a man who wants to win and wants to make a difference, but as familiar as the expression goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day and making Everton right again after a horrific two years will take time. Koeman inherited a side in recovery from such a disappointing period, and the task of turning things round will take a lot more time than six games in the Premier League and not even two months into the season. The base is there and it is about building on it; from new coaching staff and methods, a new way of recruiting under Steve Walsh, new plans for the future of our training facility and the land being purchased for a new stadium, to new players on the pitch and a change in the mentality of how we operate as a Football Club as a whole. The tide appears to be turning at Everton FC and a few disappointing results along the way won’t allow me forget that, and I certainly hope that you don’t forget this too.
Up the Toffees.