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Tactical Breakdown: Why Koeman’s tactics and transfers are costing Everton

With Everton's poor start to the season, RealSport analyses the tactics behind their loses and ask what can be done to change their fortunes.

Everton were one of the biggest spenders in the summer transfer window and, despite the sale of Romelu Lukaku who was undoubtedly the focal point of the team last year, many praised Koeman’s transfer policy which seemed to add great strength and depth to a team that people believed could mount a feasible challenge to the top 6. 

Six games in, however, and Everton’s performances have left many people surprised given the calibre of players that they have in their squad. In this article, Ben Fleming pinpoints four tactical flaws in this current Everton side and seeks to show how Koeman’s transfers have either failed to solve the issues or have, in fact, made them worst.

Ageing defence

The defence is a key area of any team and, at Southampton, Koeman’s success was built on a solid defence marshalled by Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk supplemented by great width in the form of Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares. 

At Everton, Koeman is lacking a defender in their peak. Michael Keane is still a few years off his prime whilst Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, and Ashley Williams are all on the wrong side of thirty. 

Cuco Martina typifies Everton’s problems in the summer transfer window with the full back finding himself part of a makeshift back five despite not being able to get a game for Southampton last season. 

Uncreative spine

In the centre of midfield, Koeman has played Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin. On the surface, this seems wise and should provide a great basis for turning over the ball whilst giving the defence extra cover. 

However, neither of these two midfielders possess an innate attacking ability and, given that Koeman is already playing a back five, two additional holding midfielders can sometimes stultify any forward movement. Between the two of them, they have created three chances in 6 games and is a likely root of Everton’s recent goal scoring woes. 

In their most recent game against Burnley, Schneiderlin’s heat map shows just how deep he sat throughout the game, offering little going forward for the 63 minutes he played and completing no take-ons. Even Nikola Vlasic, who was given more creative licence in the midfield, attempted 1 take-on.

Morgan Schneiderlin heat map vs Burnley

Morgan Schneiderlin heat map vs Burnley

On the other hand, Tom Davies, in the 20 minutes he was on the pitch, completed four take-ons and occupied a far more attacking position as his heat map shows. Davies added dynamism to Everton’s game and, coupled with his ability to carry the ball through midfield, created a greater number of chances for the front line. Playing against a bigger team, there might be an argument for two holding midfielders, but against Burnley, it seems Koeman got his tactics all wrong. 

Tom Davies’s heat map vs Burnley

Davies’s regular absences raise questions about whether Koeman thinks he is good enough. His performances last season merit an extended run in the team this season but if Koeman doesn’t see him as a first-team regular, then the question is: why has he not looked to fill this void? Once again, the lack of personnel in a key area raises questions about Koeman’s  performance in the transfer window, 

Overload in No.10

As they unfolded through the course of the summer, the signings of Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaasen, and Gylfi Sigurdsson all seemed particularly exciting. Added to the imminent return of Ross Barkley, it looked as if Everton’s No. 10 role was well accounted for. 

However, rather than solving an issue, this influx of attacking midfielders has created an issue. All three of these signings are similar to a certain extent. None are blessed with great pace and all prefer sitting in the hole and using their vision to create chances. The problem is that when you play them all together, they are devoid of pace and the ability to stretch teams. 

A perfect example of this was Everton’s fixture against Spurs. The image below shows the average position of all three ‘No. 10’s’ (18, 10 & 20) during the game. 

Average positions of Everton players vs Spurs

This narrow arrangement of the forward players is fine if you have athletic fullbacks. But, much like Man City last year, Everton’s full-backs are not blessed with great pace, leaving them unable to stretch teams and create chances in the centre. With Kevin Mirallas, Ademola Lookman, and  Dominic Calvert-Lewin on the bench, though, it seems as though the problem could easily be remedied. As before, Ronald Koeman’s transfer activity seems to have resulted in a tactical insufficiency.

No replacement for Lukaku 

The final area that highlights Everton’s current tactical frailty is their forward line. Despite the fact that Sandro Ramirez had a good breakout season with Malaga last season, he was always  going to need some time to adjust and learn how to function as a striker in the Premier League. With few other options, Koeman found himself calling up an out-of-favour Oumar Niasse in his place. 

Niasse, although blessed with greater pace than Sandro, is let down by his finishing and this is reflected in the fact that, other than Crystal Palace, Everton have the lowest chance conversion rate in the division at 7.4%. 

Of course, replacing Lukaku was always going to be a tall order for Ronald Koeman. However, given the fact that the only striker that he brought in has failed to deliver so and has led to him scrabbling about in the depths of his squad for an alternative, it is hard to see just how the management at Everton thought they would ameliorate the loss of their Belgian talisman.

Despite their transfers showing promise, then, Everton have failed to deliver on the field and much of the blame for this can be laid at Ronald Koeman’s door. If he continues in this vein, don’t be surprised if he finds himself following in the footsteps of Frank De Boer and out of the Premier League. 

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Ben Fleming

Opinion pieces on Wrestling and tactical articles on Football. What more could you possibly want?

Twitter: @benfleming293

Tactical Breakdown: Why Koeman’s tactics and transfers are costing Everton

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