There are a few easy ways to define the worst team in the Premier League. One of them is to find the team with the least amount of talent. Another is to find the team most likely to get relegated. Everton, despite being 18th in the table after yesterday’s 5-2 loss to Arsenal, don’t (yet) fit either of those descriptions. But the fact that the club just fired manager Ronald Koeman, who was with the team for just 58 games, tells you how close they are to disaster.
If not the worst team in the league, Koeman did oversee the most embarrassing. This was always going to be a tough year in light of the team losing star striker Romelu Lukaku over the summer, but with nearly £200 million in the bank with which to reshape the team during the transfer window, Koeman had more than enough money to build a strong and stable Everton roster. And spend he did, dropping huge wads of cash on eight new first-team players in total. What he’s gotten out of those players is a 2-2-5 record with a -11 goal difference.
Koeman’s managed the team like a man lost at sea, listing aimlessly this way and that in hopes of just randomly happening upon the right course. Nearly every game brought a new formation and new starting XI, and many of those games saw Koeman forced to make a halftime substitution because the team was such a tactical mess right from kickoff. He never integrated his biggest attacking transfers—Davy Klaassen, Wayne Rooney, Sandro Ramírez, and Gylfi Sigurdsson—into a functional lineup, and the lineups he did cook up were comically slow and toothless. Everton have just 26 shots on target through nine Premier League games, and they’ve scored maybe three goals that were the result of functional, structured attacking.
It’s worth pausing to consider just how incredible Koeman’s fall from grace has been. Last year, his first at Everton, he led the Toffees to a quite impressive seventh-place finish. They were still no real threat to the top six, but the team was convincingly better than every squad below them on the table and fans weren’t totally delusional to believe the team might make that jump into the next tier. So well regarded was his inaugural Everton campaign, on the heels of a strong tenure at Southampton, that Koeman was credibly linked to with the then-open gig at his old playing club, Barcelona. Barcelona! The best team in the world! Ronald Koeman was a few steps away from the very heights of the sport mere months ago, and now he’s an embarrassment without a job.
For Everton, the task is simple now that Koeman is gone: stay up and regroup during next summer’s transfer window. The first step will be the most difficult, as not a single one of Koeman’s lineups has shown promise for the future. The new manager will have to figure out quickly what the hell to do with a bunch of players whose skills don’t really seem to complement each other. The eventual return of winger Yannick Bolasie and fullback Seamus Coleman should help, and it’s even possible that Ross Barkley will find his way back into the lineup once he returns from injury. As long as the club can find a consistent starting XI that can produce enough goals to finish above the relegation zone, Everton will be fine. The team certainly has enough raw talent to accomplish that goal. What they need now is a manager who can maximize that talent in ways Koeman was unable to. Good luck to whoever that turns out to be.