With the cluster of usual suspects currently sitting at the top of the Premier League table and providing much-needed consistency following the chaos of last season, it is important not to overlook one somewhat surprising team.
I am talking about Everton, which despite its recent 5-0 thumping courtesy of Chelsea, is currently sitting in sixth place and could realistically push for a top four spot. For a team that finished outside of the top ten last year, resulting in then-manager Roberto Martinez’s sacking, this is a remarkable turnaround.
As a passionate Liverpool fan, I must admit that it is a little strange for me to see Everton doing so well after last season. While I remain entirely confident that Liverpool will once again be the better team in Merseyside, it does make me somewhat uncomfortable that Everton has demonstrated its ability to keep up the pace.
Much of this change is due to new manager Ronald Koeman, who left Southampton in the summer to come take charge of the city of Liverpool’s other team. Despite a storied career as both a player and a coach, Koeman is often overlooked in a league that has the likes of managers Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho.
To the Dutchman, this suits him just fine. A quiet man, Koeman does not need the exuberant personality of Klopp or the overdramatic antics of Conte to get the job done. His meticulous attention to detail, including the heavy emphasis he places on training properly, has been more than enough to turn Everton’s fortunes around.
The fact that he was able to persuade striker Romelu Lukaku — who wanted to rejoin Chelsea this summer — to stay is a telling sign that the Toffees believe in Koeman’s vision.
Even after a disastrous feat like the one against Chelsea, Koeman remained calm and collected. Much like his counterpart over at Anfield, Koeman is focused not just on short-term results but also on the future.
One of the most telling signs of this has been Koeman’s treatment of midfielder Ross Barkley. As a homegrown player at 22 years old, Barkley has a very bright future ahead of him that will likely involve him becoming the centerpiece of the team.
He has been compared to a young Wayne Rooney — a rather interesting comparison considering Rooney is a striker, but it just goes to show that Barkley is a brilliant player.
This season, Barkley has struggled with inconsistency, even being dropped from the starting lineup for the first time in over 50 games against Manchester City.
By dropping Barkley, one of Everton’s brightest young stars, Koeman demonstrated that he is unafraid to act with tough love and do what needs to be done. His tactic has paid off: In the later weeks, Barkley once again demonstrated how talented he really is.
This lack of fear to get the job shows that Koeman, much like Klopp, is creating a team-first atmosphere. While Lukaku — who has scored seven of Everton’s 15 goals — is unquestionably one of the most important players for this squad, Everton is now more than just him.
Koeman brought in Yannick Bolasie from Crystal Palace this summer to provide Lukaku with additional support up front — a strategy that has paid dividends. Bolasie’s speed has freed up Everton’s midfield, allowing the team to create more chances and play the ball forward.
While the Toffees are nowhere near the level of bitter rival Liverpool in terms of rapid counterattacks, it is a huge improvement from last season under Martinez, when the team often plodded around.
Everton has also been bolstered by the introduction of veteran defender Ashley Williams from Swansea. The combination of Williams, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines has provided a sense of stability in the back half of the field. While Everton’s goal differential is not exactly great, with 15 goals scored and 13 goals conceded, it is a reliable defense that helps out new goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
All in all, things are looking fairly bright for Everton as a whole. Koeman has rejuvenated a long-suffering team and despite some inconsistencies that result in heavy defeats, there is much to be positive about, considering there are still 28 games left in the season. The entire city of Liverpool has much to be pleased about, and the Merseyside Derbies of this season look to be exhilarating once more.
Vanessa Craige is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. The Beautiful Game appears every Tuesday.
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