Why Koeman was wrong
Rather surprisingly, I wasn’t that upset by Monday’s predictable loss to Liverpool. From the moment the second half started, we looked devoid of energy, dropped back and welcomed pressure on. Holding out until the 95th minute was impressive.
Honestly, I thought Mane had a great game and thoroughly deserved to score the winner. Does that make it any easier? Of course not!
I don’t buy into the blame culture. A loss is a loss at the end of the day, and a loss in the Premier League only means you don’t gain any points but have opportunities to do so pretty soon after. We build football up to the point where every moment seems to somehow matter when, in reality, very little of it counts. A 95th-minute winner in a World Cup Final matters, in a league Merseyside derby? Not so much!
However, I think the finger of blame has to point squarely at Ronald Koeman for Monday’s defeat.
When we beat Arsenal last Tuesday, Gareth Barry required a rest and Koeman placed Gueye and McCarthy together. It worked a treat. McCarthy’s energy allowed Gueye to clean up at the back while the Irishman bombed up and down the middle. Gueye is a holding midfielder (and a very good one at that), McCarthy is box-to-box, which allows him to link up with Barkley, Lukaku and our wingers. It’s no surprise that, against Arsenal, Barkley and Valencia had their best games this season.
And for the first half against Liverpool, it was working again. Barkley wasn’t as good as he was before, but McCarthy was better. And then he got injured. Barry replaced him at half-time, and as Barry is also a holding player, it was why we dropped back. It’s a shame because Gareth Barry has been a wonderful player for us, but he can no longer play with Gueye – the space between the midfield and the front four becomes too large.
Quite reasonably, you’re probably thinking: “it’s not Koeman’s fault that McCarthy got injured”. Yes, you’re right. It’s not. But it is his fault for putting Barry on the bench and not Tom Davies, or not having both there. Tom Davies isn’t as energetic as McCarthy, but is more so than Barry. Davies, for those who don’t know him, is a young centre-midfielder who has made a handful of appearances over the past six months and has excelled in all of them. He’s composed on the ball, he doesn’t look lost on the field or with the pace of play and can pick a pass better than most. Before he made his Everton debut, Roy Hodgson invited him to train with the England senior side. It baffled me at the time, but I completely understand now. I’d be very surprised if Davies doesn’t become a regular England international in the next five years.
Koeman seems reluctant to use our young players. We have a particularly good crop of them at the moment. Davies is alongside Keiran Dowell, Mason Holgate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Brendon Galloway (on loan at WBA), Callum Connoly, Matthew Pennington and Jonjoe Kenny as academy players who have made their Premier League debuts in 2016. We finished third in the U21 league last season, but are leading the U23 one this. This crop of youngsters should all have Premier League careers.
And the fans have been restless about their lack of game time. So Koeman responds by bringing DCL on against Arsenal. The tall striker did well on the wing and had a decent opportunity to score. It worked once, so Koeman tried it again against Liverpool. Except, it was clearly the wrong tactic.
DCL did ok. His heading ability is clear, he batted away a corner with more authority than either of Williams or Funes Mori had all night. But apart from that, he can’t defend, and yet was utilised on the wing. Which seemed odd given that Kevin Mirallas was on the bench.
Koeman got it badly wrong. When he could have had fresh legs and someone who ran at the opposition, he instead prioritised a long ball strategy which only invited pressure. And, this is very cynical of me, but it smacks of a manager trying to prove to his fans that the youngsters aren’t ready yet.
Given what I’ve seen of our current crop, I really hope I’m wrong. His use of Davies, DCL, and the rest over the next few months is going to be very interesting.