Ronald Koeman on thin ice as farcical Everton limp further into disarray
New and improved Everton are starting to look and sound a lot like old Everton, the sleeping giant happy to trundle along and offer little conviction in their attempt to push toward the top of the table. Majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri offered manager Ronald Koeman the dreaded vote of confidence on Monday, though this show of support inspired little faith.
Whether it was Moshiri merely protecting his investment in a manager given ample funds this summer, his reference to the 1-0 Burnley defeat on Sunday as "the only unexpected loss" is simply inexcusable. Irrespective of the poor recent record against the top teams, nobody in his position at this football club should ever imply any defeat is expected. This all feels painfully reminiscent of the days when former club captain Phil Neville tried to paint finishing in the top 10 as some sort of noble achievement.
Moshiri also repeated the paper-thin injury and fixture list excuses offered by Koeman earlier in the week. You cannot celebrate the return of European football but then complain about the extra fixtures just two matches into the group stage. Everton should be up to full speed, not commenting on tiredness at the beginning of October.
Such an uninspired statement does little to ease the pressure on the man in the dugout. Koeman has always seemed detached from Everton, almost with one foot out of the door, though in truth that has not been an issue until now. Yet as pressure builds, it is difficult to shake the nagging sense that dismissal would not bother Koeman in the slightest. When questioned about his position this week, Koeman has not sounded worried or even concerned. Whether it is arrogance or ignorance, neither trait offers much encouragement moving forward.
This general indifference adds to the sense of hopelessness enveloping the club. International breaks usually feel disruptive, but two weeks without Everton probably feels like a blessing to supporters at present. A 1-0 defeat to Burnley on Sunday means Everton have already lost as many home league games as the whole of last season. In the space of a few months and a summer of lopsided spending, Goodison Park has transformed from fortress to funfair.
Four goals scored and no clean sheet since the opening day tells the story of a team that has lost its way in every department. Everton have won two of the past 10 matches in all competitions. Seven points from seven league games has Everton ranked 18th on shots on target, goals scored and goals conceded.
This downturn extends to the end of last season. Dating back to April, Everton have scored six goals in their past 12 league games. That is why inevitable focus on the failure to replace Romelu Lukaku misses the bigger picture. Debate over the quality of forward options is irrelevant in a team creating as few clear-cut chances as Everton.
Even with Lukaku still in the squad, this narrow system had begun to run its course. Six months on, this broken setup remains in place. Anybody able to discern the formation toward the end of the second half against Burnley deserves an award in cartography.
Koeman continues to ignore the crippling lack of width and force players out of position in matches. Against Burnley, two strikers sat ahead of a shapeless mess masquerading as a midfield with two full-backs so isolated they might as well have sat in the crowd. Asking 32-year-old Leighton Baines to be left-back and left-sided midfielder for the entire match exposes the folly of this wrecked system. The switch to two strikers counted for nothing as midfield issues went untouched behind them.
Opponents easily outmanoeuvre Everton in wide areas and Koeman is either oblivious to it or too stubborn to address it. This is a team of strangers simply occupying the same area of grass. A shortage of pace, no width and the continued use of two defensive midfielders means the only realistic passing option for most players is backwards or sideways. Much like the full-backs in close proximity to them, the holding midfielders seem expected to play two positions, breaking up play and providing the attacking impetus. Meanwhile, the failing setup makes the more attack-minded players mere passengers.
Spending £45 million to use Gylfi Sigurdsson out of position is perhaps the strangest decision of them all. Aside from aimless long balls or switching the play to full-backs with no support and nowhere to go, there is still no shape, no creativity and no plan of attack. Never mind a goal, a player registering a shot on target feels like an achievement at this point.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had more touches of the ball than both Everton strikers on Sunday. Ashley Williams ended the match up front and Wayne Rooney briefly popped up at left-back and in central defence. The only tactic seems to be that there are no tactics.
Stubbornness, misguided recruitment, misplaced favouritism towards big-money signings and a complete lack of width are the primary factors behind this alarming start. Amid a desperate run of form threatening a swift European exit and derailing progress in the league, Koeman has shown little sign of turning this around and the reasons for continuing with this charade are running out.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.