On Thursday, Everton took on Atalanta in their first Europa League group stage match of the tournament. The team, coming off an awful loss to Tottenham, had everything to prove in a game that wouldn’t mean as much if it were not for the recent performances that the Toffees have put out there in recent weeks. The game was never in Everton’s favor and they were always looking like an English championship side, in the same way they did against Tottenham, eventually getting battered 3-0 on the road. This marked the second abysmal performance in a row for the Toffees, and questions are starting to be asked; more specifically, questions about Ronald Koeman.
The manager has refused to change his tactics to support the team’s lack of a true centre-forward and has alienated some players in addition. The lack of ambition shown by him and the players has been visible, and many fans have already started the “Koeman Out” chants after the loss on Thursday. With many having valid arguments, the real question here is, should the Everton board seriously consider the idea of sacking their manager after the recent performances?
As a fan, it is hard to argue the opposite side. The team has shown no real improvement on the mistakes they have made and have seemed to have lost all their desire based on their play on the field during these past few games. Watching the game yesterday, the team did not look into it at all and it seemed like everyone was lagging behind while the Atalanta players were running circles around them. Even worse, for the second straight week, after giving up the opening goal, the team absolutely fell apart and looked weaker and weaker every second. That boils down to the leaders on-and-off the field and that puts Koeman at fault. There absolutely cannot be that type of reaction after conceding and that is something you must establish at the beginning of each season and make sure everyone on the team has that embedded in their brain. When players get down after giving up one goal, it is all downhill from there and that is all that has been seen when watching Everton these past two weeks.
Now, emotions on the field are one thing. Sometimes, even at your very best, you can’t control that, but one thing that can be controlled is a manager’s tactics and that has been the bulk of the conversation against Koeman. It is very evident that Everton have an abundance of central midfielders, but Koeman has consistently went with formations that haven’t suited those players, primarily the one used against Tottenham and then, again, versus Atalanta, the 4-2-3-1.
This formation would be fine, if it were to use wingers like Kevin Mirallas and Ademola Lookman to play those outside midfielder positions, but instead Koeman has tried to fit all of his central midfielders in those roles, playing them out of position. This has, naturally, caused the team to be more narrow because the CMs do not know where to play in these unfamiliar roles. So, instead of having wingers pushing down the flanks with the outside backs overlapping, the Toffees have a bunch of players gravitating towards the center of the pitch, while the outside backs are left out on an island to defend the flanks. The picture below from @11tegen11 describes what went wrong with these tactics perfectly:
Look at how much space was left on the left side. This wouldn’t be terrible if the Toffees weren’t facing sides that went three at the back with wingbacks, but both Atalanta and Tottenham did, and Koeman refused to recognize that it didn’t work.
Koeman did come out after the game on Thursday and say that it is important, now, for him to question himself and did have a meeting with the senior players, as well, but it will be interesting to see if anything actually changes. Although right now the situation is fairly low key because there is an understanding amongst supporters that the opening few weeks, fixture wise, have been hard on the club—it is the lack of energy and genuine desire that is the subject of fan frustration, and something that could escalate in the coming weeks.