Ronald Koeman issued a scathing attack on his own players’ ability after watching his side fall to a 2-1 defeat at home to Olympique Lyonnais. The loss sees Everton rooted to the bottom of their Europa League group, with just one point from three games.
Even their point was a disappointing result at home to Apollon Limassol where they only managed a 2-2 draw in a game they would be expected to win.
It’s the worst start for an English side in the competition, and their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages look slim. But the more worrying thing for the manager and the fans will be the performance of the players and Koeman’s assessment of them.
The club went on a big recruitment drive during the summer, spending close to £150million on new players. So for the manger to be criticising players signed on his watch is a big slight on the way the club is currently run.
If these players are unable to play the football the Dutchman wants at Everton why were they signed in the first place?
One new signing was singled out after the game as a player who might be struggling more than the others. Davy Klaassen arrived from Ajax for £23.6million but has found it difficult to find a role in the team and is in and out of the starting XI as a result.
“The situation of Klaassen is really difficult,” said Koeman.
“I know, I was a good player but I had several moments struggling. If you are struggling with your confidence, you take wrong decisions. He had one shot tonight but there was an open pass to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and it’s one-on-one on the goalkeeper.”
Steve Walsh was hired from Leicester City following their title win to help steer Everton to similar heights. The director of football should be working in line with the manager’s plans, but these latest comments suggest that this isn’t the case.
Klaassen has looked like something of a misfit since arriving as the club and this throws up concerns about whether they really knew what type of player they were signing, or whether they just saw an Ajax No.10 and made assumptions based on that.
The players who best fit the current Everton team are homegrown talents Tom Davies, and the bafflingly unfancied Jonjoe Kenny. Kevin Mirallas has also impressed on his return to the side, while Gylfi Sigurðsson and Nikola Vlasić have the ability to provide but no-one to provide for.
And, in fairness, Idrissa Gueye has done the job he was likely brought in to do, leading the side in the N'Golo Kanté group of stats, while Jordan Pickford has also impressed in goal.
As well as this supposed lack of ability, Koeman also thinks that many of the problems are down to confidence. His side attempted to play out from the back versus Lyon but repeatedly made errors which led to opposition chances.
“On the ball we need to improve. We make too many mistakes,” said the manager. “The team is not ready to play from the back. We need to play more direct. The circumstances mean it is better to play more direct, instead of trying to play short. We don’t have this confidence, we don’t have this quality at the moment.
“All the time we played short from back through midfield we had some mistakes, and thanks to our goalkeeper, Jordan, it was only 2-1.”
He also described 20-year-old Mason Holgate's foul on Fernando Marçal, which led to a penalty, as “stupid”. In doing so he lumped the youngster in the same category as Klaassen – players he isn't happy with, and whose performances he is now unwilling to depend on regardless of their age or whether they are a new signing trying to settle in. Although he did praise his side's second-half performance.
“I'm disappointed, we had a good start and we made a really stupid foul for the penalty,” added Koeman.
“It was the right decision from the referee to give the penalty, and the performance was under level in first half. The second half was much better. We fought for everything, scored a good goal, created good chances, and were unlucky with a ball hitting the post. In life you need luck, but instead of 2-1 up we went 2-1 down.”
Only so much of this performance can be attributed to bad luck. Signing players which don't fit the desired system isn't bad luck, and missing out on a target man to replace Romelu Lukaku isn't bad luck either.
If the team are to play more direct, who will they aim for up front? They have a good amount of pace in the side but these quicker players are rarely used in the same lineup. If they are, then these direct passes could be played into the channels behind the defence for players to run onto, but there is no-one in the side who can perform the role of a striker who can use their strength and skill to hold up the ball.
This is something they should look to remedy in the next transfer window. But given the money spent this summer, and the one obvious big departure up front, failing to solve this issue at the time may cost Koeman his job, even if the problem isn't solely of his own making.