Nikola Vlasic bright spot in uninspiring Europa performance for Everton
Everton created a piece of unwanted history on Thursday night as their failure to beat 10-man Apollon Limassol signalled the worst-ever start to a Europa League group stage by an English team.
Apollon began the night with 19 defeats in 22 European away games and 78 goals conceded in that time. This home game against notoriously poor travellers was an opportunity for Everton to respond to the humiliating defeat against Atalanta in the previous round of matches.
Instead, the same blunt tactics and system stood at the centre of another disappointing performance. Manager Ronald Koeman continues to tread a stubborn path as pressure grows.
Impressive against Sunderland before sitting out the Bournemouth win as an unused substitute, Nikola Vlasic continued the recent trend of young or seemingly unheralded players making more compelling cases for inclusion than several high-profile signings.
Repetition is the name of the game for Everton. This was not a defeat but felt like one and had all the prevailing issues that were evident in recent setbacks. Opponents employing any hint of width cause chaos due to the absence of the same trait in the Everton setup.
Manager rating out of 10
4 -- It was impossible to pinpoint the formation or identify anything resembling a plan, especially in the second half. Beyond Vlasic offering width on the left, the remaining midfielders tended to operate within a few years of each other.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jordan Pickford, 6 -- Left with no chance on either Apollon goal, though almost kept out the first. A good low save in response to an effort from distance was his only other tangible involvement.
DF Jonjoe Kenny, 6 -- Young right-back deserves credit for his endeavour in the face of a forlorn situation, continually pushing forward despite a lack of options and support around him, meaning most forward bursts amounted to little.
DF Mason Holgate, 5 -- Learning on the job is never easy, and the 20-year-old again played an unflattering role in the opening goal with his eyes following the ball rather than the Apollon player behind him.
DF Ashley Williams, 5 -- Only he knows why he opted against passing back to Pickford or clearing the ball downfield for the calamitous mistake gifting the visitors their first goal. Weak pass and subsequent failure to close down the cross underpinned a sluggish performance.
DF Leighton Baines, 7 -- With a typically committed display on the night, the captain tried to inject some impetus from his left-back berth, creating a team-high four chances and offering more threat than several attack-minded teammates.
MF Idrissa Gueye, 7 -- A surprising choice to depart at half-time, and the midfield missed the combative presence of a player that won as many tackles in 45 minutes as any of his teammates did in 90.
MF Morgan Schneiderlin, 5 -- An obvious target for criticism with too many safe or sideways passes, although any critique must be weighed against tactics frequently leaving the midfielder without an obvious passing option ahead of him.
MF Tom Davies, 5 -- At home in central areas and arguably the best player in recent matches, the 19-year-old midfielder appeared everywhere but there in this match, popping up on the left and right. Another example of a player moved around to accommodate others.
MF Wayne Rooney, 6 -- Despite scoring probably the easiest goal of his career to equalise in the first half, Rooney appeared in various positions throughout the match but was not convincing in any.
MF Gylfi Sigurdsson, 7 -- Moved centrally in the second half and was one of the few bright spots, claiming his first assist for the club and displaying some neat flicks and touches around the penalty area.
FW Sandro Ramirez, 5 -- Only Koeman knows the thinking behind tactics that saw Everton spend much of the first half knocking long balls toward the isolated and diminutive forward. In trying too hard to overcome such constraints, his touch began to evade him.
MF Nikola Vlasic, 7 -- Built on recent League Cup outing with another fine display off the bench, adding pace and invention to a pedestrian midfield while finishing his first Everton goal with a confidence absent elsewhere in the team.
MF Davy Klaassen, 5 -- Not alone in seeming unsure of his actual role on the pitch, his introduction made the right side of midfield even narrower and a needless foul led to the second Apollon goal.
FW Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 6 -- Held the ball up well and offered a presence in the penalty area but missed an excellent opportunity at the far post in the closing stages.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.