Saturday saw Everton follow up on their convincing 4-0 victory over Manchester City with a late win at Crystal Palace. Whilst it’s always satisfying to get the three points with a last minute winner, there looked to be a subtle change about the way this Everton side went about their business. Bearing the lions share of the match stats, they were much the better team on the day, and had they not got a goal you could argue they’d have been somewhat unlucky in the final third.
The Everton of old could be described as, ‘nice,’ or, ‘sporting,’ I recall a rallying cry from captain Phil Jagielka midway last season for the players to be more in the face of all they meet on the field if they’re going to have any success that season – feelings perhaps not shared by the previous manager, Roberto Martinez.
When Martinez finally lost his job at the helm of Everton last year, many were describing him fondly (performances aside), as a nice character in a role too big for him to take on. Feelings I too shared, as did many around me, “nice, but no thanks.” Evertonian’s are a passionate, fiery bunch, who know their football, and yes it’s nice to be looked on fondly by other clubs, but ultimately it’s about winning.
Initially from the performances at the start of the season I would have agreed that the new gaffer at Goodison shares a similar trait as Martinez, seemingly a friendly character in his press conferences and widely respected for both his work on the pitch as a player and on the sidelines as a manager. However after a few games we started to see a cutthroat rotation of players – simply put, if you weren’t on form, you weren’t on the team sheet. A rarity in the modern game and something I personally welcome back with open arms.
From what we saw on Saturday, Koeman’s mentality overhaul hadn’t stopped there. With less than ten minutes to go Everton were pushing hard for their breakthrough. Crystal Palace’s Jeff Schlupp fell to the floor near the Everton goalkeeping area seemingly in pain, to which the Everton of old would have put the ball out of play without hesitation. However instead, they played the ball up field and worked their attack. You could almost hear the gasps of surprise from the away end of Selhurst Park. With a flawless ball from Tom Davies to Seamus Coleman beating the offside trap, the ball found itself in the back of the net and the three points were travelling up the M6 with the jubilant Evertonians.
Regardless of whether you think the ball should have been played out by either side, the rules clearly state that it is the referee’s responsibility to stop play if he deems the player to be severely injured. In this case, Schlupp was suffering with cramp – hence the play continuing. It’s worth noting that by the time the Crystal Palace physio had reached him, he was on his feet and on the pitch.
This more aggressive side to Koeman’s men, simply put, is the reason they took the three points. The, ‘nicey nicey,’ Everton of old would have put the ball out of play, and likely walked away with a draw. Koeman has his side playing with real heart and fearlessness to the tune he sets, his willingness to drop a player of any stature in order to encourage the very best out the squad is to be admired, would we be seeing the likes of Davies and Mason Holgate in such fine form under another managerial style?
There is always a transitional period to be expected when a new manager comes into a football club and the change in mentality we witnessed by Everton during the lead up to their goal on Saturday will split opinions, however I’m sure if you ask the blue side of the Mersey they’d take a win over being liked for many seasons to come.