Identity is a throwaway term in modern football parlance. But it’s important.
It can be a crutch for managers who are toiling in the nascent stages of their spell with a new club. If supporters can see a methodology forming, poor results are more tolerable.
For Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp in their respective positions at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, fans were contented during indifferent starts, as both men were clearly putting the wheels in motion for a significant overhaul in terms of style and personnel.
When Everton appointed Ronald Koeman in the summer, it was evident a similar scale refurbishment was needed. Yet after a positive start to the season, results nosedived, agricultural tactics were implemented and any sense of progress was lost. The manager was still rummaging round in the wardrobe deciding what to pack before even beginning the long journey ahead.
Now, after the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday, the Toffees are out of the drive and on their way at least. Indeed, since the 2-1 win over Arsenal in December, Everton have looked a lot more like Koeman’s Everton.
The Dutchman’s Southampton side were synonymous with dynamic football. In possession and out of possession, there was a vim and urgency to Saints’ work, making them one of the most entertaining and effective teams in the Premier League. During a run of one win in 10 games prior to the Gunners triumph, those physical traits were scarce in Everton.
In fairness to the manager, the Everton squad he inherited was built with flair rather than forcefulness in mind—the talented but tepid Gerard Deulofeu, now of AC Milan, epitomized the desired attributes under Roberto Martinez. The summer signings of Idrissa Gueye, Yannick Bolasie and Ashley Williams—hard-working, powerful footballers—offered an insight into what Koeman felt this side was lacking.
Energy, intensity and aggression have been prioritized during a positive recent run. Against Arsenal, James McCarthy and Aaron Lennon, enlivened the side, and since then, Tom Davies’ introduction and Mason Holgate’s reintegration into the XI have refreshed those in blue. The extra zip in the play of Ross Barkley, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman has also not gone unnoticed.
The benefits to that hard work have been clear. In home Premier League games against Manchester City and Southampton early in 2017, the Toffees trampled over their opponents late in games, while against Palace, they were composed and collected against a creaking defensive structure. Netting 10 goals in the last 10 minutes of matches this season is no coincidence.