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2:00 AM UTC Mar 24, 2018
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Everton falling short of expectations and don't seem to know what to do

If Everton fans think the week so far has been bad, it's not over yet. Having been thrashed 3-0 at home by Spurs last weekend and then by the same scoreline against Atalanta on Thursday, they have to go to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on Sunday. Without a win in five games in all competitions, defeat could leave them in the relegation zone. This is not what anyone expected from a summer that promised so much.

After an encouraging start to his second spell at Goodison Park, flagship summer signing Wayne Rooney is again looking like a busted flush. He was withdrawn after 66 wretched minutes in Italy, but he is not the only new signing to struggle.

Spanish forward Sandro is still without a goal in his new colours; Davy Klaassen looks uninspiring. But Everton's malaise isn't the fault of individuals. It's bigger than that. The team as a whole is falling well short of expectations, there's an obvious lack of cohesion and a complete absence of spark. In short, they don't seem to know what they're doing. That means questions will be asked of manager Ronald Koeman.

The only positive to come from Everton's defeat to Tottenham last weekend was that the media were more fixated on the attributes of the victors than the failings of the vanquished. But while neutral observers were content to talk about the talents of Harry Kane & company, Everton fans were left utterly dismayed by their own team. While there is an understanding that the fixture computer has given them a horrendous start, many are already wondering how bad this is going to get.

Koeman's Goodison Park inheritance was a mixed bag. Predecessor Roberto Martinez's faith in youth and willingness to pay a club-record £28 million fee for Romelu Lukaku that, at the time, was considered foolhardy, meant plenty of available talent. The only problem was that they were incapable of defending properly.

Koeman rectified that swiftly, but now the balance seems to have shifted too far. The pairing of Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlen in the middle creates a formidable defensive barrier to opposing teams, particularly when there's a back three just behind them, but it limits the supply lines to the final third. With a back three deployed, the width has to come from the wing-backs, but Leighton Baines is 33 in December and Cuco Martina seems more of a utility option than a Champions League standard footballer. The injured Seamus Coleman has been sorely missed.

When Everton play a 4-2-3-1, as they did against Spurs, there's no improvement. The creation of chances falls to Everton's array of No. 10s, but no trio of attacking midfielders can have offered less than Gylfi Sigurdsson, Klaassen and Rooney did last Saturday.

Rooney, whose invention and determination is still apparent, lacks the pace and stamina to punch his way through defences as he once did. Klaassen is still struggling to find his groove and Sigurdsson, pushed out to the flank, must already be having flashbacks to his spell at Spurs when he was never considered quite good enough for the role to which he was most suited.

Wayne Rooney has struggled in recent games.

But it is in the front line where the glaring weakness lurks. Koeman will have known for some time that Romelu Lukaku was going to leave the club, but while attacking midfielders have been stockpiled at great expense, there's no replacement for the Belgian forward.

Sandro, impish and swift, has shown flashes of ability, but he's not of the same mould. The question mark over Sigurdsson's recruitment from Swansea was not his price, but his usefulness. Everton might have been better spending that £45m on a striker, though it should be noted that their main target Olivier Giroud didn't decide to stay at Arsenal until the final stages of the transfer window.

There have been positives. Jordan Pickford has been excellent in goal, though he had rather more practice than he might have expected against Spurs. Had it not been for him, the margin could have been twice as high. Pickford seems unflustered by the scrutiny he is under, his distribution is excellent and he claims corners in a manner that radiates confidence through the rest of the team. Michael Keane has also been impressive at the back and Gueye continues to be indefatigable in the middle. But Everton need more than that.

Koeman has been at Everton long enough to have put a stamp on the squad. He should certainly have been there long enough to know his best team, but at the moment there's a sense that he doesn't even know his best formation. He needs to find it soon.

If Everton lose to Manchester United, and it would take a brave soul to bet that they won't, the pressure on him will build quickly. This isn't good enough.

Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.


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