Life comes at you fast, and in Ronald Koeman’s case quicker than one of his freight train-like free-kicks he used to leather during his playing days with Barcelona and the Netherlands.
In early May, as a positive season wound down with Everton comfortably planted in seventh in the Premier League, Koeman was confident enough to reveal his ambition to coach the Blaugrana.
His honesty is refreshing in a world of rebuttals, denials and outright lies but it revealed a certain assurance of his own abilities, given it was said in the context of Luis Enrique announcing his intentions to step down at Barca.
That self-confidence is nothing to be sneered at, considering it’s probably a necessity for any manager but, unfortunately those comments are beginning to look drastically misplaced.
Because when the Premier League resumes after the international break, Koeman will be feeling fortunate to be in a job full stop, let alone dreaming of a triumphant return to the Camp Nou.
An awful start to the season has seen the Toffees win just two of their seven Premier League games and struggle to a draw and a defeat in the Europa League against Atalanta and Apollon Limassol.
A mini-crisis, even if we are less than 20 per cent into the season, but against the £149 million (Dh726m) spent on transfers in the summer, the pressure has been heightened even further.
Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat to Burnley was the latest confirmation of his struggles. An extremely taxing start to the season gave the Dutchman some breathing space but a 2-1 win over Bournemouth and defeat to the Clarets has significantly reduced any such respite.
— Ronald Koeman (@RonaldKoeman) October 1, 2017
Koeman is widely considered the next favourite for the axe in the Premier League after a summer in which money was spent and expectation was raised.
Except, within the nine figures released by majority stakeholder Farhad Moshiri, lies an eternal contradiction in football. On the one hand, spending so much means you should improve as a team, almost instantly in some people’s eyes. But when introducing so many new faces, it takes time to blend them into the squad and team. Koeman has been provided little of the latter against overly excessive demands of the former.
Sunday’s starting XI contained four new signings, plus Oumar Niasse, his sixth Premier League start in two-and-half seasons, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin who has just 17 top-flight appearances to his name. Further new additions emerged off the bench in Wayne Rooney, Sandro Ramirez and 19-year-old Tom Davies.
It’s no surprise such a discordant display ensued.
Maybe it’s an indictment of Koeman’s coaching abilities that he can’t draw a performance out of that team, or maybe, just maybe, it’s far too early to judge.
Added to this is the departure of Romelu Lukaku. The £75m certainly helped provide Moshiri with greater insurance against his summer outlay, but on the field it’s had a considerable impact.
Everton have scored just four Premier League goals – five fewer than Lukaku at Manchester United. Little wonder when no obvious replacement was signed for the Belgian, but why isn’t any kind of finger being pointed at Director of Football Steve Walsh?
Koeman has a degree of control over transfers but the entire point of having a master market strategist like Walsh is to ensure a seamless transition in the squad. Everton were well aware of Lukaku’s intentions to leave for a long time, yet have entrusted Sandro, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin and, by accident, Niasse to make up the difference.
Perception can be everything and while Moshiri’s demands are undoubtedly high as he looks to back up his talk of turning Everton into a consistent Champions League club, somewhere along the lines expectation among supporters, media and former players, has been raised beyond the realistic.
The mere act of spending £149m plus the romance of Rooney resulted in bizarre giddiness over what could be achieved, while ignoring the faults that remained: a lack of pace in an ageing defence, a log-jam in attacking midfield, precious width and that Lukaku-sized hole up front.
Everton’s squad is nowhere near the quality of depth of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, let alone the Manchester clubs. Years of minimal investment emphasises that. Ambition should exist but needs to be tempered with realism.
Moshiri, to his credit, delivered a vote of confidence on Monday – naturally prefixed with the tried-and-tested “dreaded” – but key was his line, “these are early days”.
Koeman, thankfully, has some time then to correct a horrible start, for him and for Everton. Perhaps if he does, Barcelona may take notice.
Nemanja Matic says Manchester United fans have not yet seen the best of him as he has been forced to play catch-up following a disrupted pre-season.
Matic joined United from Premier League title rivals Chelsea in the summer transfer window for £40 million in a move that raised eyebrows, with many questioning the Stamford Bridge club’s decision to part with the player.
The defensive midfielder, who won the title with Chelsea last season, is staying level-headed despite United’s flying start to the season, and says he has more to give.
“I didn’t have pre-season,” Matic said. “I trained alone. I can feel it in some parts of the game.
“My body is not ready yet and I have some difficulty, of course, but I try to hide that and to play simple. I will be better.”
United’s trip to Liverpool in a fortnight will be a better yardstick by which to measure United’s quality than their 4-0 drubbing of struggling Crystal Palace on Saturday that leaves them second in the Premier League table, behind Manchester City on goal difference.
However, United’s sixth successive win at Old Trafford this season in all competitions cannot be overlooked after poor home form cost them so dearly last term.
“As you know, we’ve won almost every game, we only drew at Stoke – in the Premier League it is very hard to do this,” Matic said.
“This can only be done by big teams, so we showed that we are a big team and we have to continue like this.”
United’s challenge has been made tougher by what manager Jose Mourinho calls a “long-term” injury to Paul Pogba, whose excellent start to the season came thanks partly to Matic’s contribution.
“Everyone knows that Paul is very important for Manchester United but we also have great players to play instead of him,” said Matic.
“We showed in the last few games that everyone in Manchester is ready to play and everyone can help us.”
Philippe Coutinho’s reintegration at Liverpool yielded a third goal in as many games but Joselu benefitted from more dubious defending to hand Newcastle a 1-1 draw at St James’ Park.
Coutinho, firmly back on track after Barcelona’s overtures, added a trademark effort from 20 yards to follow strikes against Leicester and Spartak Moscow, but the Reds could not hang on and have now won just three of their seven Premier League matches.
Joselu was the Newcastle goalscorer and though Joel Matip was a tad unlucky to see his challenge rebound back off the striker and squirm over the line, the ease with which Jonjo Shelvey’s pass cut open his former side spoke volumes.
Joselu summoning the spirit of Shola Ameobi for that goal
— Nick Wells (@nickwellsy) October 1, 2017
– Canadian journalist Nick Wells (@nickwellsy) knows his Newcastle history.
Philippe Coutinho: On a day short on high-class attacking football, Coutinho offered another reminder that he has a dash of the remarkable in his boots. His favoured trick of cutting in and aiming for the corner shows no signs of getting old and he was, by a distance, the most accomplished creative presence on show.
Coutinho has now scored 17 Premier League goals from outside the area since he made his debut in January 2013, the most of any player in the period.
In a crowd of over 52,000 it would be hard to find any with a bad word to say about Rafael Benitez, and he received plenty of adulation from all four corners. The Spaniard was relatively relaxed, dipping in and out of his dugout and only occasionally breaking into a bellow. Jurgen Klopp, on the other hand, never left his technical area. He flung his arms around in apparent dissatisfaction frequently, summoned several players to the touchline for a lecture and bent the ear of fourth official Bobby Madley.
Rob Elliot: 7 (out of 10)
DeAndre Yedlin: 7
Jamaal Lascelles: 7
Ciaran Clark: 6
Javier Manquillo: 6
Mikel Merino: 6
Jonjo Shelvey: 7
Matt Ritchie: 6
Ayoze Perez: 5
Christian Atsu: 5
Isaac Hayden (for Merino): 5
Dwight Gayle (for Joselu): 6
Mohamed Diame (for Perez): 5
Simon Mignolet: 6
Joe Gomez: 6
Dejan Lovren: 6
Joel Matip: 7
Alberto Moreno: 6
Jordan Henderson: 6
Georginio Wijnaldum: 5
Mohamed Salah: 7
Philippe Coutinho: 8
Sadio Mane: 6
Daniel Sturridge: 5
Roberto Firmino (for Sturridge): 6
Dominic Solanke (for Mane): 6
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (for Salah): 5
Southampton v Newcastle (Premier League, Sunday, October 15)
Liverpool v Manchester United (Premier League, Saturday, October 14)