Everton always faced struggle to finish in the top four, says Ronald Koeman
• Koeman further hindered by failure to land target man • Everton manager prepares to take on team he wishes to emulate, Tottenham
Ronald Koeman, left, and Mauricio Pochettino of Spurs will be in opposition on Saturday, as they were in August 2016 for the Dutchman’s first game in charge of Everton. The match finished 1-1.
Ronald Koeman makes no secret of his disappointment about missing out on his main striking transfer target in summer – believed to be Olivier Giroud – but is realistic enough to accept that even with a new line-leader Everton would have a tough job cracking the top four.
“Even with the best striker the top four is always going to be difficult,” the Everton manager said. “We can try but everybody else is making their squads stronger too. We brought in some good young players but we lost 25 goals through losing Romelu Lukaku and we need to replace that productivity. Players like Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Sandro Ramírez are going to get more chances because we missed out on our No1 target, but we have to understand Sandro is 21 and Dominic 20.
“Come on, this is the Premier League, not junior football. These are quality players but they need time to adapt and time to improve. It is also important for young players like that to have older players in the side who they can learn from. That’s why I am disappointed we missed out on our No1 option, particularly as at one time everybody involved thought we had him.”
Koeman refuses to name names, though he is willing to admit that the specific striker he required was one capable of operating as a target man. “That is a good option for us because that is how we like to play football,” he said. “If you are being pressed then the long ball can be a solution if you have a target man in your team. Maybe also if you are not winning and you need a goal such a player can be an effective plan B. That, I think, is why Tottenham have just signed Fernando Llorente from Swansea.”
Everton remained confident right up to the end of the window, though it appears Koeman’s demands were so specific that not just anyone would do. “Once you start looking at options two and three you have to have the right price for the right player,” he said. “Some of the prices people were asking were ridiculous, so we didn’t get what we wanted in the end. We would like to play in the same way as we did last season, but maybe now in several aspects we will need to be a little bit different. We will have to find the best way for the team. We may start looking for a striker again in January but right now I’m just happy we finally finished this transfer window. At least I was until I woke up and there was the story about Wayne Rooney.”
Rooney is expected to play on Saturday against Spurs, Jordan Pickford is fit to resume in goal but the injured Ross Barkley’s whole Everton future is in doubt after the collapse of a proposed move to Chelsea. “First we must wait until he is fit again but I don’t know if anything will change,” Koeman said. “It is a strange situation.” Spurs are thought to retain an interest in Barkley, who is not expected to stay at Everton beyond the year left on his contract, and it may be inconvenient for Koeman to rehabilitate a player simply to put him in the shop window.
Koeman is very much an admirer of Spurs, citing them as an example Everton could usefully follow in their quest to move up the table. “They have done what we need to do,” he said. “They are genuine title contenders now. They might not have had quite the start they expected but I like the way they play football. They are one of the strongest teams in the Premier League, in my opinion.”