It’s now well over a month since Ronald Koeman was let go by Everton after overseeing a nose-dived start to the season.
The Toffees, in the meantime, have taken to plumbing new depths: out of Europe already, they now find themselves licking their wounds after a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Southampton, a team whose own manager is under pressure because of the stagnant football his side have played so far this campaign.
Everton’s situation needs no introduction. From possible top-six candidates at the start of the season to relegation fodder, this is a club in a mess. And we’ve been conned – hoodwinked by a seemingly good transfer window which made people believe that Ronald Koeman’s second season in charge would have heralded a new member of the super-club cabal.
The second half of last season set the promise off running: Everton were in the hunt for a Champions League place as late as March, when a defeat at Anfield seemed to put paid to those hopes. After that, Koeman’s side faded away, but it seemed only natural – with nothing to play for and no danger of finishing any lower than seventh, you could have forgiven them a lethargic end to the season.
But then the summer saw the optimism really kick into gear. Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford, Sandro Ramirez and Davy Klaassen joined the club early in the window as exciting young talent seemed like it would add a spark to the side. A move for Gylfi Sigurdsson was on the cards, too, certainly one of the Premier League’s best players outside the top six. Everyone knew that Romelu Lukaku was going to leave, but they had a whole summer – not to mention £75m to spend – in order to replace him. No one thought there was too much grounds for worry.
But when Everton made the stunning decision not to replace their departed striker, that’s when the deception started.
They may have tried to find a striker, but it’s clear they should have found someone to lead their line this season, even if a direct replacement was impossible. Instead, they’re left with a wildly unbalanced squad consisting, it seems, of a number 10 in every position from the midfield forward. It was always going to spell disaster, but even so, surely not quite as much as this.
And that’s why, despite some whoppers in the summer, the biggest mistake of the lot has to be sacking Ronald Koeman and not having a replacement lined up. Because no matter how bad things could have become under Koeman, at least the club would still have a direction. Now it’s getting desperate.
Between now and January 1st, Everton will play ten football matches. Their last ten have yielded only one win, and in that time, they have failed to even keep one clean sheet. In fact, you have to go back to the Europa League playoff round to find the last time Everton stopped the opposition from scoring – in their home victory over Hajduk Split.
This midweek, they’ll come up against West Ham: a fixture between two teams who find themselves in similar positions in the table with two of the worst goals conceded columns in the Premier League table. Indeed, the Hammers sacked Slaven Bilic just two weeks after Everton ditched Koeman.
Since then, though, it’s been West Ham’s board who have done the better, sacking their manager and appointing David Moyes at the start of an international break, thus giving him time to bed in before the festive period begins.
Whether they brought in the right man or not has been debated for weeks by Hammers fans, who seem to be getting behind the new man now in an attempt to make the best of their bad situation and get on with the task of cheering their side on to escape the relegation battle, finish strongly in the league and perhaps even go on a bit of a cup run in the new year.
But Everton, having dithered over the appointment of a new manager, look like they haven’t even hit rock bottom yet. Continuing to fall this week with defeats to West Ham and Huddersfield would mean defeats to two teams within touching distance on either side of them in the table and would surely plunge the Toffees into a relegation battle with a defence who can’t keep a clean sheet and a striker who can score at the other end. And without a permanent manager.
Conning us in the summer with a good start to the transfer window before letting it drop off so dramatically was one thing, but waiting so long to appoint a new manager has been the real problem. Everton have gone from being a good team in a bad place to a bad one in a worse place.
And when they come up against West Ham on Wednesday evening, you get the feeling that the comparison won’t be favourable to Everton.