Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Everton dreaming again under Ronald Koeman

Published:Friday | September 23, 2016 | 9:00 AM
File Everton's Gareth Barry (left) and Romelu Lukaku.

MANCHESTER, England (AP):

With his 'headteacher' aura and astute offseason recruitment, Ronald Koeman is making an immediate impact at Everton and getting the best out of the club's strongest squad in a generation.

It might be time for the blue half of Merseyside to start dreaming again, three decades after their trophy-laden heyday.

Koeman, a highly respected ex-Netherlands and Barcelona defender, was lured from Southampton in June and has guided Everton to their best five-game start to a league campaign in 38 years. With a draw and four consecutive wins, Everton are in second place, behind Manchester City, in the English Premier League standings going into a game at 17th-place Bournemouth tomorrow.

English football is already looking for the next team to "do a Leicester" and rise from nowhere to win the Premier League. Maybe it's Everton's turn, although Koeman has warned against any comparisons with the current champions.

"Normally, we can't win the title. I think what Leicester did last season was an exception," Koeman said. "I am realistic. If I tell you we will fight for the title, I think most people will say, 'That man is crazy.'"

That winning the title is even in the conversation around Goodison Park is testament to work being done by Koeman, who appears to be at a club going places after their disappointing 11th-place finish last season.

 

HEIGHTENED AMBITION

 

Ambition has soared at Everton since Iranian-British businessman Farhad Moshiri became majority shareholder in February. With greater financial power under Moshiri, Everton spent around $50 million on explosive winger Yannick Bolasie and Wales captain Ashley Williams in August, and almost broke their club record to sign Moussa Sissoko on deadline day before the France midfielder had a late change of heart and joined Tottenham.

To top it all off, Koeman looks to be the real deal after replacing Roberto Martinez, fired in May after running out of ideas and patience among fans after three years in charge.

Standards have suddenly risen at Everton. While the relaxed Martinez used overstatements and cringe worthy hyperbole to laud under performing players, Koeman has no issue in calling out players whose level drops. Rising star Ross Barkley was substituted at halftime in one match this season, for example.

"Yes, there is a fear, definitely," Everton captain Phil Jagielka said. "It is like being back at school with a new headteacher who is trying to be a little bit stricter."

Gareth Barry, Everton's 35-year-old midfielder, has opened up about the difference between the Martinez and Koeman regimes.

"The standards of the players were, for me, slightly slipping last season, on and off the pitch," Barry said. "It was things like time-keeping, dress codes, training, everything really.

"The confidence and everything had gone."

Now it's back.

Everton have beaten West Bromwich Albion, Stoke, Sunderland and Middlesbrough after opening with a draw against Tottenham, and the team looks stronger in every department. A leaky defence seems tighter with the presence of Williams at center back and energetic midfielder Idrissa Gueye - another summer signing - just in front, while Romelu Lukaku has returned to form with four goals in his last two games and, when at his best, is among the Premier League's most dangerous and prolific strikers.

 

Tomorrow's matches

 

- 6:30 a.m: Manchester United vs Leicester

- 9 a.m: Bournemouth vs Everton

- 9 a.m: Liverpool vs Hull City

- 9 a.m: Middlesbrough vs Tottenham

- 9 a.m: Stoke City vs West Brom

- 9 a.m: Sunderland vs Crystal Palace

- 9 a.m: Swansea vs Manchester City

- 11:30 a.m: Arsenal vs Chelsea