Everton has long been a club that feels they should aspire to be more than a mediocre mid-table team. When they finished 11th last season it was considered an awful year. The club cut ties with manager Roberto Martinez on May 12, 2016, one game before the season ended. Everton was in 12th when Martinez was fired and had disappointed for long stretches of the season. The year before Everton finished fifth under Martinez, but the team’s dip in form became too much for supporters, and the Spaniard was shown the door.
A month later, Everton snatched up Ronald Koeman away from league rival Southampton. In two seasons with the Saints, Koeman finished 7th and 6th. Everton saw something they liked about that and brought him to Goodison. It was a similar situation when Mauricio Pochettino was plucked from Southampton to coach Tottenham two years prior.
One of the best deals of the summer… Everton paying Southampton £5m to get Ronald Koeman #EFC
— Kaveh Solhekol (@SkyKaveh) September 17, 2016
Koeman has made an immediate impact. Everton sits in 2nd place, two points behind Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. He’s gotten off to a great start with largely the same squad as well. John Stones was sold to City, and Ashley Williams was brought in to replace Stones. Yannick Bolasie was also brought over from Crystal Palace, and he’s been a good signing. Maarten Stekelenburg also replaced Tim Howard who is now in MLS.
With a group of players not built to be table toppers, Koeman has Everton off to their best start since 1978.
[link_box id=”23195″ site_id=”158″ layout=”link-box-third” alignment=”alignright”]Much of Everton’s success is being attributed to Koeman’s school headmaster approach to management. The Dutchman has made training tougher and isn’t afraid to show his displeasure when something isn’t done properly. It’s a fine line between draconian and motivational, but Koeman seems to just a fine job staying on the right side. His no-nonsense approach has players feeling like they know where they stand. His toughness, along with the likes of Williams has also meant Everton has an aggressive and stifling defense. Everton has only faced 11 shots against in the first five games.
By all accounts, the players enjoy playing for Koeman, and they like the tight ship he runs. Gareth Barry admitted that standards slipped during Martinez’s final season. As a result, the team lost confidence in themselves and the manager.
Koeman meanwhile has done wonders with players confidence. Despite struggles at the start of the season, Romalu Lukaku has since gotten over his slow start and is now averaging a goal every 74 minutes. It helps that Everton has created more clear cut chances in the league than 18 other teams, City being the only club with more. Koeman has shown plenty of tactical intelligence as well. He out coached Pochettino in a 1-1 draw with Spurs. Everton was unlucky to drop two points that game.
Everton is already being talked up as this season’s Leicester City, But Koeman thinks that’s crazy talk. A league championship is most certainly a long shot, but Everton shouldn’t view a top four place as unrealistic. The new mentality has worked wonders for The Toffees. They’re a tougher, more determined team and the man on the bench is a large reason for that. His hard-nosed approach has won over his locker room. It works when you’re winning, but things fall apart when the results don’t follow. If Everton can keep up the pace this year, the sky’s the limit.