Tuesday 17 July 2018

Hope draining as Everton's glaring flaws laid bare

Everton 0 Burnley 1

Everton manager Ronald Koeman. Photo: Reuters
Everton manager Ronald Koeman. Photo: Reuters

Chris Bascombe

There is no more harrowing noise in a football stadium than the sound of disillusionment.

It is worse than fury, although there was also plenty of that inside Goodison Park after this defeat.

Jeff Hendrick of Burnley scores his sides' goal. Photo: Getty Images
Jeff Hendrick of Burnley scores his sides' goal. Photo: Getty Images

Disenchantment represents the draining of hope, the sapping of all positive energy, made worse because, while Everton supporters knew not all was perfect after their £150m summer restructure, no-one - not even Ronald Koeman - thought it would be as insipid as this.

Seven league games into a campaign seems premature for desperation - Koeman's side were booed off having succumbed to Jeff Hendrick's first-half strike - but this venue is in its grip.

We see it in Koeman's team-sheet and some of his substitutions; we see it in the sight of midfielders blasting the ball high and wide from 30 yards; and we see it when Ashley Williams ends the games as makeshift centre-forward, Everton's glaring weakness again laid bare.

Everton's big sell over the summer was not just Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United; it was the idea his departure would facilitate the strengthening of a squad capable of challenging the top four.

Burnley's Irish midfielder Robbie Brady celebrates on the pitch with Jack Cork and Stephen Ward. Photo: Getty Images
Burnley's Irish midfielder Robbie Brady celebrates on the pitch with Jack Cork and Stephen Ward. Photo: Getty Images

To hear Koeman declare this unrealistic, while spinning finances and fending off doubts about his long-term position adds to the depression, even if there is sympathy for the view that gelling so many new personnel takes time.

The worry is it is not the moulding of the side that is the only problem; it is whether those signed have the quality to make this season anything more than a torturous grind.

Everton have a team of promising young players a few years from being consistently rather than occasionally good, and elder statesmen past their best.

The biggest capture for the here and now, Gylfi Sigurdsson, has been poor. He snatched at Everton's first two opportunities in the opening 10 minutes, and disappeared for the next 80. For £45m, you demand more.

There is another concern for Koeman. Of the starting line-up here, six have been involved in relegation fights in the past three years.

Things are not so bad to start fearing this will be a campaign focused on survival, but it hardly breeds confidence that this squad are equipped for progress.

Koeman has already adopted extreme measures to provoke a response.

Recalling Oumar Niasse worked last week, but the striker's limitations were more obvious here - his lack of movement especially bad and his first touch tending to force him 10 yards backwards.

Koeman also dropped Wayne Rooney, a decision he said the former England captain accepted.

"The reason was to change and bring a second striker in and I had to make a decision about one or two midfielders," said Koeman. "He took the news positively. He is committed to the team. He showed that."

Rooney did finally appear just after an hour, but to no avail.

Only a couple of late penalty claims threatened Burnley's ascendancy, but Koeman stood by his players.


"They did everything," he said. "There are situations in our ball possession that maybe we can create more but it is not so easy against Burnley.

"They are a defensive-minded team but well organised, physical. You need to be lucky in second balls, maybe everything. The commitment and spirit of the players was really positive."

The focus on Everton's shortcomings is a disservice to Burnley. This victory means Sean Dyche's side have taken eight points from a possible 12 at Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and now Everton.

His formula is working, and the manager will take particular satisfaction from the style of the winning goal.

Dyche insists there is more to his side than chasing second balls, an argument vindicated on 21 minutes.

The move began with a sumptuous cross-field pass from Robbie Brady to Stephen Ward and, after more neat exchanges on the edge of Everton's penalty area, Hendrick side-stepped a woeful attempt to tackle from Morgan Schneiderlin before finishing past Jordan Pickford. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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