Desperate Koeman in must-win territory at travel-sick Everton
A trip to newly promoted Brighton on Sunday already feels like a must-win game for Everton after four successive home games expected to signal a revival became another false dawn.
Poor results have seen manager Ronald Koeman shirk responsibility and rotate a conveyor belt of excuses. Fans have little time for such platitudes and need action on the pitch rather than empty promises off it. Koeman's present ignorance of problems on the pitch combined with a lack of accountability off it mirrors his predecessor Roberto Martinez. Over time, anything Martinez said before and after matches became little more than noise to supporters.
For a team so intent on securing a return to European action last season, the continual use of the Europa League as a reason for recent struggles is wearing thin. With majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri also hopping on the Europa League bandwagon, the Everton hierarchy are mining this limp reasoning for all its worth. Everton spent much of the closing weeks of last season marooned in seventh place, out of reach for the teams below and unable to catch those above them. Koeman knew for months that his team faced an early start and additional matches this term.
This merely adds to the air of desperation surrounding Everton at present, as despite Koeman maintaining there is no added pressure, the steady stream of excuses of late suggest otherwise. Some supporters have compared recent months to the bleak Walter Smith tenure at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, in certain aspects, the unwanted comparison rings true. While some Everton problems may be exclusive to this season, other are more entrenched and away form is perilously close to matching the desperation evident under Smith.
Lost amid concerns over the shape of the team and players out of position is Koeman's ongoing failure to create a functional team on the road. Everton have won one Premier League away game in the whole of 2017, winning none of the last 11 league games on their travels. Anything other than three points on Sunday would be the worst away sequence since a 13-game winless run between September 2001 and March 2002, the final months under Smith.
Everton have taken five points from the last 33 available away from Goodison, scoring just seven and conceding 19. Koeman began in impressive fashion, beating West Brom and Sunderland in his first two away league games, but there have been only two wins in 20 away games since then. Four wins and just 21 goals scored in 22 Premier League away games under Koeman systemic of the issues evident in the current setup.
The lack of pace is never more apparent than away from home, where Everton struggle to press opponents as their preferred midfield hasn't the energy or mobility to do so. Allied to the absence of this same trait in defence, Everton tend to sit back, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, a team sitting deep requires the ability to counterattack and hit teams on the break and Koeman continues to ignore those options within his squad. It leaves Everton trapped in a vicious circle of slowness.
The hope is the international break signals a rethink, as there can only be so many missed turning points before this partnership reaches a dead-end. Koeman has to be proactive and foster the kind of collective belligerence needed to stop this slump becoming a crisis.
Therein lays the problem, though, as all indications beforehand point to the same flawed methods surfacing this weekend. There has been talk of experience, hints of a recall for Wayne Rooney and sticking by an out-of-sorts Ashley Williams. None of this addresses the many flaws evident in this team, as experience is the hand most overplayed this season. Everton look one-paced and flat, devoid of a spark, the kind of spark provided by the youngsters so often jettisoned in favour of big-money signings and underperforming elder statesman.
Fans want to see Koeman reacting to five defeats in the last eight matches in all competitions, a run of form that has seen Everton lose four of their last five league games without scoring. Fail to change and the only likely outcome is a parting of ways, as this team seems incapable of winning matches in its current guise.
How refreshing it would be to see Koeman respond to mounting pressure with a bold and youthful team selection. As it stands, heading into a run of five matches in 15 days likely to shape the season, supporters are hoping for a turning point but fearing more of the same. As the saying goes, it is the hope that kills you.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.