Everton boss Ronald Koeman believes his side have made a better start to the season than most people expected, sitting in fifth position in the league after four wins, one draw and one loss.
Of course, that one loss was picked up in an out-of-sorts performance away at Bournemouth last weekend, a game where seemingly none of their XI was up to their usual standard. Manager Ronald Koeman has challenged his players to bounce back as quickly as Friday night, when Everton host Crystal Palace. The visitors will enter Goodison Park on the back of a three-game winning streak in the Premier League, and have interestingly played all the same league opponents as Everton so far.
“We like to see a reaction, but you’re talking about one defeat from six games in the Premier League. That’s not bad,” says Koeman. Indeed, it’s not, however injury to Leighton Baines will cause some headaches. His hamstring problem will see him miss out on Friday night, and Koeman is further frustrated by the Republic of Ireland national team’s decision to include an un-fit James McCarthy in their squad for the international break that follows this game week.
“James is close, and normally he would start to train with the team next week, but the national team matches are coming up and they called James up after six weeks of not playing,” says Koeman. McCarthy has not featured since an away victory at West Brom in late August, coming off in the 38th minute with a groin injury that would eventually require surgery.
His absence hasn’t stifled their progress, as the likes of Idrissa Gueye and Gareth Barry have provided a mixture of quality and aggression in Everton’s midfield. The former Aston Villa player, Idrissa Gueye, tops the charts as the hardest tackling midfielder in the league, averaging 5.7 tackles per game, with Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson the closest to him with 4.3. He is also seeing plenty of the ball, and using it wisely, averaging 66.3 passes per game with a passing success percentage of 89.4.
Everton also did well to hold onto star striker Romelu Lukaku; the Belgian international was creating all sorts of noise over a potential move back to the club that sold him, Chelsea. He has recently returned to lethal goal scoring form, scoring six goals in his last four games for club and country, despite some niggling injuries.
Lukaku has been told to block out the pain in his toe by his manager, with Koeman citing his own playing career as being rarely pain-free. “Rom’s problem with his toe, he’s had several times over the last few years, but it’s OK,” his manager stressed. “I cannot remember any time when I was playing that I didn’t have pain. Sometimes you have to start with a little bit of pain.”
Lukaku looks set to lead the line against Palace, a game which will see new signing Yannick Bolasie line up against his former side.