Time for Everton players to grab season by the neck vs. West Ham
It is has taken a lot of money and not much time for Everton to descend into a state of complete chaos. This has been an expensive and sudden fall from grace, with over £200 million spent in two seasons to assemble a squad that excels at nothing and struggles with everything.
If the measure of a team is their response to setbacks, this group of players may be beyond saving as each defeat seems to have no impact. After shipping five goals at home to Atalanta on Thursday, Everton conceded four against Southampton just three days later. Southampton scored as many goals from open play on Sunday as they had in their previous 12 league games combined. A return of one win in the last 12 matches is not the reaction of an Everton team determined to turn their season around.
Nine goals conceded in two games has caretaker manager David Unsworth seeking a response from his squad when fellow strugglers West Ham visit Goodison Park on Wednesday night. Unsworth has called for the team to stick together and show courage and mental toughness. Unsworth is right to demand those qualities, but other than disappointing defeats and performances, these rallying cries have been ineffective thus far and are another dull staple of this campaign.
And it's not as if the Toffees are currently presenting results to other struggling squads. Atalanta had not won away from home this season before strolling into Goodison and scoring five times. Southampton had scored just nine goals all season and failed to score in 10 of their last 13 home games before Everton rolled into town.
Opposing teams must see Everton as an easy game on the fixture list. The impregnable home form of last season has evaporated; Everton have already conceded more goals and lost more games at Goodison than the whole of last season. With the potential for defeat and results elsewhere dropping Everton into the relegation zone, this trend for helping out needy opponents cannot continue against West Ham on Wednesday. Former manager David Moyes returns with a visiting team that has won just once away from home since February and one of the few squads enduring a worse season than Everton.
Unsworth has failed, along with Koeman, to formulate a style of play or setup capable of sparking a reaction among this unbalanced squad. But even if the tactics are poor or the system dysfunctional, as they have been for most of the season, basic effort and determination should be the bare minimum. The absence of those attributes is a significant reason behind Everton being so easy to beat.
The blame for conceding first in 17 of the last 19 games, or conceding two or more goals in each of the last nine matches, cannot rest solely on the coaching staff or the man in the dugout. Two clean sheets in the last 20 games in all competitions is not simply because the setup was wrong. Opposing teams create chances at will, as there is no pressure put on them when in possession. No team has faced more shots on target this season (68). Southampton traveled almost the length of the pitch in just four passes for their opening goal on Sunday. For the third Southampton goal, several Everton players simply stood and watched. Experienced defenders lost Charlie Austin for his two goals when basic marking would have seen the danger easily snuffed out on both occasions.
Injuries have added further pressure with Leighton Baines and Michael Keane expected to miss out, while top scorer Oumar Niasse serves out his two-match ban for diving. Baines, is an especially huge loss as he represents the only recognised left-back in the 25-man Premier League squad. However, Everton have been walking this tightrope ever since failing to find left-back cover in the transfer window. That misguided recruitment, or lack thereof, and confused tactics form part of the wider picture, but these players simply have to do more on the pitch. In isolated incidents, avoidable individual errors are proving as destructive as any tactical deficiencies.
One permanent manager, one caretaker boss, various formations and countless personnel changes have been unable to lift a malaise that threatens to drag the club into a relegation battle. That was the last thing on anyone's minds when the season started in July.
The hope is a new week can somehow bring about a new Everton. Successive home games against West Ham and Huddersfield offer an opportunity to begin repairing this nightmare start. For that to happen, these players need to start to show they care.
With Everton closing in on their third manager of the season, the one constant is the players and their lack of accountability for this terrible season. This squad has a lot to answer for and greatly improved performances and results are the only way to do it.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.