Afraid to play: Why Everton’s poor form is no surprise

“Afraid to play football”. This was Ronald Koeman’s damning indictment after Everton’s dismal 2-2 draw with Apollon Limassol. His players left the field to boos from the home fans as they looked sluggish and out-of-sorts. The boss lamented his side’s negativity, “We know the fans like us to go forward, not back, back, back”. It really ought to come as no surprise.

Over the summer, the squad has been disassembled and plastered back up. Despite that, Glenn Hoddle, among many others, was optimistic that Everton “might surprise a few people”. This wasn’t a suggestion that they would capitulate without their main man, he meant they would finish in the top six. Although the teams above them last season have strengthened their squads to unprecedented levels, the Toffees have been left behind.

Everton sold their top goalscorer for an initial £75m, and spent over £100m on reinforcements. New signings have added squad depth but not a radical improvement in first-team quality. Wayne Rooney has provided a home-grown winning mentality but he can no longer fully shoulder the requisite goal scoring responsibilities. Olivier Giroud was a key target, but they failed in their attempts to bring him to Goodison Park in a competitive summer market.

Davy Klaassen, although clearly a fine talent, has struggled to settle. Koeman complimented the Dutchman’s intelligence but crucially added, “He can improve physically in battles in midfield”. Sandro Ramirez, another summer signing, has had similar problems with the physicality of the English game.

A few weeks ago, I made the suggestion that if Michael Keane is worth £30m, a 24-year-old with only one Premier League season and two England caps under his belt, then £200m for Neymar sounds about right. At the time, it was not a popular view, but it was no insult to Keane himself. It emphasises that the whole market is awry, and not just for those skimming the cream off the top.

In fairness, Koeman has been active in the market, but it’s easy to become immune to the nature of such inflated prices. Because of the twisted logic of player values and their overall summer outlay, the expectations for Everton’s season have been equally skewed and overhyped.

Sunday grudge match

Sunday brings a crunch home encounter against Burnley. A victory for the East Lancashire side would mean they already surpass their total of seven points away from home last season. Dyche’s men have already taken three points at Stamford Bridge and a point from Tottenham at Wembley.

Koeman said ‘a win is always the best medicine when you’re going through a challenging period’. Burnley are not the ideal opponents to face under those circumstances. Burnley are unbeaten away from home in all competitions this season.

Oumar Niasse, a man seemingly frozen out by Koeman, is in line to start having scored two vital goals against Bournemouth last time out. He’s a man with a point to prove.

It’s early into the season and an array of new players will take time to integrate. The manager continues to preach patience, but these problems should have been anticipated. As for Everton’s indifferent form so far, Koeman only has himself to blame. In only for a short while, victory against Burnley would keep the vultures at bay.

Chris Henderson

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