Five Things we Learned From Ronald Koeman’s First Everton match

Yesterday saw Ronald Koeman take charge of his first competitive game as the manager of Everton. With new players coming in, along with some fresh ideas to bed in, there was no let up as the Toffees welcomed Tottenham Hotspur to Goodison Park. Last term, Spurs were Leicester’s only real challengers for the title, while Everton were stranded in midtable. Prior to the game, Koeman raised some concerns over the fitness of his players but as they held out for a 1-1 draw, there were some encouraging signs.

Five Things we Learned From Ronald Koeman’s First Everton match

A new formation

As Tottenham got the game underway a little after 3:00 pm, it was instantly noticeable that Everton had lined up in a 3-4-3 formation. Club captain, Phil Jagielka, was accompanied in defence by Ramiro Funes Mori and young debutant Mason Holgate. James McCarthy occupied an unfamiliar right wing back role, with Leighton Baines on the left. The three-strong defence worked to stifle the lone figure of Harry Kane in attack, while a centre midfield pairing of Idrissa Gueye and Gareth Barry broke up the play in the middle.

It left Kane isolated for much of the first hour until Vincent Jannsen’s introduction in the second half. The cultured shape of Everton also featured a front three of Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu, often interchanging across the front line. Despite no clear aerial threat, Everton were very direct in their passing, looking to take advantage of the pace of Deulofeu and capitalise on any errors in the Tottenham defence.

Taking a one-goal lead through a Barkley free kick which evaded everyone, Everton were unlucky not to go 2-0 up just before half time. Deulofeu getting in behind the defence but firing a shot straight at Michel Vorm.

A structure which includes three centre backs and two wing backs might be something Koeman turns to regularly this season. The formation proved hard to break down and will likely be implemented against the stronger teams. It would also make use of Everton’s many centre backs and also allow Baines and Seamus Coleman to operate further up the field.

An Everton Team That Presses

Perhaps the biggest factor in the downfall of the previous regime was Everton’s reluctance to press the opposition. Under Roberto Martinez, the Toffees were usually comfortable on the ball but showed no urgency in winning it back. On Saturday, for 60 minutes at least, Tottenham were afforded very little time on the ball to create.

It was only as the game progressed that the tide began to turn. Everton began to tire and in the 56th minute Jannsen was brought on to partner Kane up front. Christian Eriksen dropped deeper to spread the ball wide and at least two players attacking the ball at crosses. Within three minutes the visitors were level, Erik Lamela heading in from a Kyle Walker whipped delivery.

From there on, it was all Tottenham. Gueye and company did their best to close down but its effectiveness waned as the energy decreased. But it is clear to see, as the season progresses, Everton will work much harder when possession is lost.

70% Fit but Still Hard to Beat

Encouragingly Everton were only 70% fit according to Ronald Koeman. Yet they still caused Tottenham problems. Not only in their tenacity, work rate and ball-winning in midfield, but also in stretching the defence with their pace.

Holding one of the division’s better teams to a draw makes for a very promising start to Koeman’s tenure. With his players at 100% and with a recognised striker on the pitch, Everton might have gone one better. At the very least, they would have posed some threat in the second half.

A point at home to Spurs can only be seen as a good result at this stage of the season. When Everton’s fitness levels eventually reach Koeman’s high standards, he may be expecting to take all three points in these type of games.

Idrissa Gana Gueye

One of Everton’s three summer signings, Gueye, put in a man of the match performance. It’s early days, of course, but the ex-Aston Villa player looks a very astute purchase at £7 million. He was signed to reinvigorate the Blues’ midfield, and he led by example as he relentlessly chased down Tottenham’s midfield.

The Senegalese midfielder threw himself into tackles, of which he won six, and kick started a number of offensive moves. His passing range looked impressive, and his work rate even more so. Gueye was also surprisingly adept in the air, winning all of his aerial duels despite being just 5’7″.

A new striker is needed

While there were many positives to take from the opening day, there were a few negatives too. The biggest is perhaps the depth, or lack there of, in attack. A front line of two wingers and an attacking midfielder worked well yesterday, but Everton cannot rely on them for the whole season. Romelu Lukaku was forced to sit out with an ankle injury this weekend, and Everton’s only other available striker was sat on the bench – Deulofeu preferred to lead the line.

When Arouna Kone was introduced, he offered less than Deulofeu who had ran himself into the ground for 70 minutes. If it wasn’t clear already, it will be now. Kone isn’t good enough for a club with Europa League aspirations, never mind Champions League.

To cap off another underwhelming performance, in one of Everton’s only second half openings, Kone somehow passed the ball out for a goal kick in an attempt to take on Toby Alderweireld. It put nearly 40,000 heads in hands, and soundly summed up Kone’s 2016. If Everton are to truly progress, they need at least one other striker to support Lukaku.

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