Wednesday 21 March 2018

Pressure piling up on Koeman

‘If Koeman does not give Oumar Niasse a game against Burnley, it would be an act of almost indecent ingratitude’. Photo: PA Wire
‘If Koeman does not give Oumar Niasse a game against Burnley, it would be an act of almost indecent ingratitude’. Photo: PA Wire

Paul Wilson

Ronald Koeman said last week that he was not prioritising either of his club's forthcoming fixtures in the Europa League and the Premier League; he expected to win both of them. Apollon Limassol having dealt a crushing blow to that idea at a deathly quiet Goodison Park on Thursday, the Everton manager now finds himself and his players under a certain amount of pressure to perform against Burnley this afternoon.

Burnley, as their stand-in captain Ben Mee puts it, are playing well, feeling confident and getting results - in other words, everything Everton are not doing.

Koeman's side now sit at the foot of their Europa League group with a single point after making the worst start in the competition by any English team. Everton did escape the Premier League bottom three a week ago, but only after being outplayed for much of the game by Bournemouth, who were eventually dispatched by two late goals from a substitute who was told by Koeman last season he would need to find a new club if he wanted to continue playing football.

There is no need to go over the by now well-known Oumar Niasse story again, but suffice to say that, if Koeman does not give his Senegalese saviour a game against Burnley, it would not only be an act of almost indecent ingratitude but might well turn low-level grumbling and dissatisfaction into open revolt.

Everton thought they were getting a smart operator when they recruited Koeman from Southampton, yet the manager has spent the last couple of weeks facing more criticism over his selection policy than his counterpart at Anfield, and that is saying something.

Niasse has three goals from two appearances as a substitute and might well have continued his scoring run to make life easier against Apollon, yet due to Koeman still believing he had no future at the club as late as the beginning of September, he was not given a place when the Europa League squad was registered.

Ordinarily Everton would expect to beat Burnley at home, though ordinarily Sean Dyche's side would not be sitting above them in the table. And Burnley travel to Merseyside comfortable in the knowledge that they took a point from Anfield last month to add to the one they brought home from Wembley when they played Spurs. While the real stand-out scoreline of their season to date was the sensational win at Chelsea on the opening day, which might now be put down to an aberration for their hosts - were the teams to meet again this week, it seems unlikely Burnley would be three goals to the good by half-time - the points remain in the bag.

"For us to have nine points on the board at this stage is fantastic," Mee says. "We were close to a lot of the big teams last season but kept getting narrowly beaten. We seem to have learned from that now and this season we might be able to show people how good we are. We are certainly confident we can go to Everton and give them a game because our away form has been particularly good.

"It's another tough test, because they have some good players even if they haven't been getting the results they would like. They can still punish us. We are well aware of that but, if we can be at the top of our game, we have a chance. When you have picked up a few points and good results it builds up confidence."

Koeman was saying the same thing not a week ago, yet his expected confidence boost against the side that finished third in the Cypriot league last season failed to materialise. As he was pinning his hopes on three home wins to help ensure qualification for the knock-out stage of the Europa League, the Everton manager's strategy for the season is now in tatters. As supporters have been pointing out on phone-ins and Twitter for weeks, however, strategy does not appear to be a Koeman strong point.

He was lauded at the start of the summer transfer window for moving swiftly to capture transfer targets such as Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane - the centre-half will miss the visit of Mee and his old club today through injury - though maintained all along that his main aim was to bring in a striker cum target man to replace Romelu Lukaku.

That did not happen. Everton appear to have been led to believe Olivier Giroud might join them from Arsenal and, though that hope was dashed relatively early in the transfer window, no back-up plan was put into operation, not even to the extent of registering Niasse with UEFA.

Koeman's cunning plan to rejuvenate Wayne Rooney by bringing him back to his boyhood club has not been a conspicuous success, either on or off the field, and instead of playing Gylfi Sigurdsson in the hole behind the main striker as everyone expected, the Iceland forward has found himself pushed out wide, where the record signing has been less effective. People are beginning to ask whether Koeman knows what he is doing, in the same way that Liverpool supporters were up in arms about Jurgen Klopp following the draws against Burnley and Sevilla.

The manager was frank enough after the narrow squeak against Bournemouth to admit he had been worried about losing his job but clearly thought a couple of home wins would restore confidence. That theory has yet to be proved and, if Everton end up taking lessons in confidence from Burnley, it might be a while before Koeman and his players can predict where their next back-to-back wins might come from.


Everton v Burnley

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