A Koeman Philosophy [Part 1]: Predicting an Everton side under Ronald Koeman

When you go into a new job, it is always good to make a great first impression. You got to make sure that your boss is delighted by the way you have presented yourself, and the rest of the office as well. From an Everton perspective Koeman has, in the early stages, been impressive. We can at last breathe fresh air, listening to a man that has worked under and with the best in the business, rather than being deluged by waves of false positivity. It’s a massive turning point for the Everton faithful, but we haven’t seen how The Toffees perform under the Dutchman. Pre-season is weeks away, here is what, I believe, we could see from the new Everton.

Current situation of the squad

Source: evertonfc.com

Source: evertonfc.com

The team’s present situation isn’t really a good one. Fitness was a huge problem previously, the constant lack of rotation and not giving youth a chance in a few games, led to a noticeable drop in hunger and appeared to completely drain most of the first team.

Not just the Everton faithful but also many analysts suggested Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku, James McCarthy and seemingly the entire defence all suffered from a result. It must off been painful for David Moyes to watch, his once tight, compact defence, two banks of four being walked past by Swansea, Sunderland, West Ham and Leicester, where previously we could look at 10 points plus last season we only saw four!

Coleman and Baines were frequently exposed time and time again, the two covering midfielders not being able to fill the full-back positions; a tactic which worked so well in the first season. Everton’s lack of organisation was horrifying to watch, being exposed every single week to set-plays and stopping opponents from creating chances.

Our possession based play was turning into an utter disaster the last couple of months under the previous reign; there was no change of ideas and no youth attempt either. Games started to feel like Groundhog Day, no shots in the opening 15 minutes and an acute vulnerability from any set piece, whilst our own staged corners and Leighton Baines Free kicks became a distant memory.

Implying a certain philosophy

Every manager has a different style of play, from Klopp’s gegenpressing (flooding the ball area with four or five players) to Guardiola’s tiki-taka (passing, but to any player to receive the ball, regardless the amount of pressure). Roberto Martinez said it took him 6 weeks to apply his passing style into the Everton team. The Spaniard would allow Coleman and Baines to press up highly, whilst Gareth Barry and James McCarthy cover the fullback’s positions. This style was completely different compared to David Moyes who was all about keeping the defence as tight as possible before overloading the wings, mainly the left side which formed the deadly “Bainaar” partnership.

We attempted to create a possession, total dominance of the ball, style at Everton. Bayern Munich were the top team in Europe doing this, not afraid to pass back to keeper Manuel Neuer and having fantastic ball-playing defenders such as Lahm and Boateng. Roberto would use this tactic, John Stones becoming a key player in this system, but it collapsed badly. We could see our own set-plays go all the way back to Howard/Robles, good keepers in general but no where near the same passing attributes contained by Neuer.

If applied correctly, we could have seen Everton become one of the best teams in Europe to contain and use the possession. However, my firm opinion is that the system only works with “world-class talent”. Arsenal used a similar sort of system under Wenger, but it worked once and that’s when Patrick Vieira, Fredrik Ljungberg and Robert Pires were part of the midfield. Barca had this system under Guardiola, but it was always going to work with Xavi and Iniesta. Bayern have this system now, but with Xabi Alonso, Philip Lahm and Thiago making the midfield, would it really go wrong? It never got going under Martinez, a great philosophy yes, but McCarthy has looked a shadow of the player he was in 2013/14.

Koeman: His Philosophy

Source: evertonfc.com

Source: evertonfc.com

A lot of philosophies are based on origins in football, what they were taught whilst playing or whom they idolised. As one of Johan Cruyff’s disciples, Koeman loves the ball in his side’s possession and when not, to work harder to get it back. It isn’t exactly “Total Football”, implied by Cruyff under the early 90s when Koeman was playing for them, but there are similarities no doubt. Fullbacks such as Nathaniel Clyne, Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares benefited massively going forward, simply because they had players covering their positions and with Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines in the Everton squad, it’s a system we will definitely see.

One factor we all admired with Koeman as Southampton boss was the ruthless aggression and stealing the ball from opposition they showed. Players such as Wanyama and Pelle were brought into bully opposition into winning the ball back. Without the ball, Koeman would force his team to counterpress as quickly as possible. Usually, teams drop back without possession in the Premier League, but Southampton press straight away which would give the opposition player very little time to play the ball. Under Ronald, the Saints would change formation frequently during a game, often the number ten player moving up to the same position as the striker. This would turn the team into a 4-4-2 when putting pressure on the opposition side. We saw against Norwich how good Everton were in pressing highly on the opposing players; Tom Davies and Kevin Mirallas ran the show that day.

Koeman teams tend to be effective at getting possession back for the team in terms off pressing; Southampton made an average of 18.6 interceptions per match and won 19.3 aerial duels per game. Compared to Everton, we made just 13.4 interceptions per match and won just 12.8 aerial duels per game.

Koeman like his teams to be confident with or without the ball, this is due to how well organised the whole team were and I am sure Koeman will drill the Everton team in the exact same way.

In terms of attacking, the Koemans teams are much show much more imaginative play than Everton. They have a wide range of different ways off scoring, whether it being from set-plays, attacking through the middle or the through the wingers. Koeman forces his side to take as many shots as possible, attempting 13.7 per game. Dead balls are a strong tactic for them, scoring 16 goals (penalties included) last campaign. Ronald usually has a few players who can take free kicks; James Ward-Prowse, Juan Mata and David Villa have all played under Ronald Koeman and the team is drilled for potiential consequences.

Counterpress maybe a huge part of Koeman’s philosophy, but counter-attacking isn’t a focal part of his arsenal. Southampton scored 3 goals from counter-attacks all season, which is mainly due to the way Ronald structures his team defensively. Nevertheless the main contribute of counter attacking is always fast players moving into space, Mirallas, Deulofeu, both underused last season, will be an interesting watch this season.

Who can benefit from Ronald Koeman?

In the current Everton side, there are a few players who you can argue already fit the picture. One of these players I think would improve is James McCarthy. We would see a new role for holding midfielders at Everton come into play next season, which could benefit him a lot. The Dutchman often likes a holding midfielder to drop in the backline against two-man pressing teams, creating a 3 versus 2 advantage. The only player I can see doing this would be James McCarthy because his defensive duties are usually very good on his day, but attacking-wise I don’t see him as a player we could use.

Another player who can benefit from the Dutchman’s arrival would be any ball playing defender… step forward John Stones. We have already talked about “Total Football”, but Stones could force Everton to turn into a similar side. Johan Cruyff used Koeman as a ball-playing centre-back during the 90s; with Ronald’s experience in the same role he could apply that function into the Everton back four.

To Conclude Part One

Having gone through different ideas Koeman has implied, we can only see a faint picture of what the Dutchman could bring to Everton. We have yet to see a ball kicked so drawing a conclusion on what we are guaranteed to see is a bit unmindful. However, Koeman’s connections with Johan Cruyff and analysing Southampton over the last two seasons have given us a future we can look forward too. There is still much to talk about, I will stick my neck out and say that we may see an end off the 4231, which Cruyff never liked. Despite Koeman having a few difficult seasons managing in Spain and Holland he certainly found his feet in the premiership, and like all good managers adapted when things were not going right, his last poor run at Southampton (just one point in six games) ended with a 4-0 home victory vs Arsenal, I expect a few moments but unlike the past few years I anticipate far more fun.

Stay tuned.

Up the Toffees.

Thanks to WhoScored.

Joel Parker

Joel Parker

Evertonian and love writing about The Toffees.
Joel Parker