Sunday 4 December 2016

Forget Rooney, Everton have to look to current squad for a lift in fortunes

Paul Wilson

Published 30/10/2016 | 02:30

Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku

Wayne Rooney heading back to Everton makes a great story but, let's face it, Ronald Koeman was only answering a question. Probably as keen as anyone else to change the subject after five winless games, the Everton manager was not about to turn down the invitation to wax lyrical about a Goodison old boy, although he has enough problems at the front of his own team without importing an extra enigma from Manchester United.

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Another Everton old boy is on Merseyside today, and Slaven Bilic returns in charge of a side unbeaten in October, with two wins and a draw in the Premier League and a place in the last eight of the League Cup at Chelsea's expense.

West Ham appear to be over their shocking start - in fact, it comes as a surprise to discover they are still hovering just above the relegation positions, though their supporters will have no difficulty remembering four heavy defeats in a row at the start of the season as the reason why. Everton, hanging on to a European position, are almost mirror opposites. They started the season most impressively, briefly hanging on to Manchester City's coat-tails, but a run of five without victory has brought back a familiar sense of perspective.

It seems a long time now since Koeman was showing his managerial firmness by withdrawing Ross Barkley at Sunderland to inspire victory through three second-half goals in 11 minutes. It seems equally hard to believe that Idrissa Gueye began the season by earning favourable comparisons with N'Golo Kante. The blue revolution appears to have stalled.

The most consistent Everton performer has been Gareth Barry, 35 years old and 600 Premier League appearances behind him. Barry was unquestionably a good acquisition by Roberto Martinez and is still worth his place, though his continued prominence points to the fact that, so far, Koeman has not achieved much of a shake-up.

Ashley Williams was a shrewd signing, especially given that Everton had to come up with something at short notice when John Stones needed replacing. At 32, his partnership with the even older Phil Jagielka is not going to last for ever but only Spurs have conceded fewer league goals.

Further forward Everton fans are still waiting for Yannick Bolasie to find the sort of form that made him such a threat in his best seasons at Crystal Palace. Everyone knows he can be unstoppable, but what Everton really need before it is too late is someone to bring the best out of Romelu Lukaku. It might be imagined that ought not to be too difficult, what with the Belgian's natural strength and talent and Everton's impressive collection of wingers, though despite sending out Gerard Deulofeu to join Kevin Mirallas and Bolasie at Burnley last Saturday the wide men toiled in vain.

It was another disappointing afternoon for Barkley, who might have been expected to provide something different through the middle, but could not manage it. Koeman sent on Enner Valencia in the last minute at Turf Moor, after Burnley had scored what proved to be the winner, which tells you all you need to know about the former West Ham striker's impact at his new club.

The only good news for Everton, Rooney's alleged availability aside, is that Lukaku always scores against West Ham. There have been eight meetings since the striker first moved to Merseyside and he has scored in every one, including on his Everton debut.

"I've had tough times in football before, but we have enough personalities in our team to turn this situation around," Koeman said of the recent disappointments. Lukaku is among them, and he remains not only a hammer of West Ham, but the Premier League's second top scorer. If his support cast can just raise their game to a similar level, Everton might find themselves back in business.

Observer

Everton v West Ham, Sky Sports 1, 1.30

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