Manchester — With his "headteacher" aura and
astute offseason recruitment, Ronald Koeman is making an immediate impact at
Everton and getting the best out of the club's strongest squad in a generation.
It might be time for the blue half of Merseyside to start
dreaming again, three decades after its trophy-laden heyday.
Koeman, a highly respected ex-Netherlands and Barcelona
defender, was lured from Southampton in June and has guided Everton to its best
five-game start to a league campaign in 38 years. With a draw and four
consecutive wins, Everton is in second place, behind Manchester City, in the
English Premier League standings going into a game at 17th-place Bournemouth on
English football is already looking for the next team to
"do a Leicester" and rise from nowhere to win the Premier League.
Maybe it's Everton's turn, although Koeman has warned against any comparisons
with the current champions.
"Normally, we can't win the title. I think what
Leicester did last season was an exception," Koeman said. "I am
realistic. If I tell you we will fight for the title, I think most people will
say, 'That man is crazy.'"
That winning the title is even in the conversation around
Goodison Park is testament to work being done by Koeman, who appears to be at a
club going places after its disappointing 11th-place finish last season.
Also read: Saints manager Koeman to hold Everton talks - reports
Ambition has soared at Everton since Iranian-British
businessman Farhad Moshiri became its majority shareholder in February. With
greater financial power under Moshiri, Everton spent around $50 million on
explosive winger Yannick Bolasie and Wales captain Ashley Williams in August,
and almost broke its club record to sign Moussa Sissoko on deadline day before
the France midfielder had a late change of heart and joined Tottenham.
To top it all off, Koeman looks to be the real deal after
replacing Roberto Martinez, fired in May after running out of ideas and
patience among fans after three years in charge.
Standards have suddenly risen at Everton. While the relaxed
Martinez used overstatements and cringeworthy hyperbole to laud underperforming
players, Koeman has no issue in calling out players whose level drops. Rising
star Ross Barkley was substituted at halftime in one match this season, for
"Yes, there is a fear, definitely," Everton
captain Phil Jagielka said. "It is like being back at school with a new
headteacher who is trying to be a little bit stricter."
Gareth Barry, Everton's 35-year-old midfielder, has opened
up about the difference between the Martinez and Koeman regimes.
"The standards of the players were, for me, slightly
slipping last season, on and off the pitch," Barry said. "It was
things like time-keeping, dress codes, training, everything really.
"The confidence and everything had gone."
Now it's back.
Everton has beaten West Bromwich Albion, Stoke, Sunderland
and Middlesbrough after opening with a draw against Tottenham, and the team
looks stronger in every department. A leaky defense seems tighter with the
presence of Williams at center back and energetic midfielder Idrissa Gueye —
another summer signing — just in front, while Romelu Lukaku has returned to
form with four goals in his last two games and, when at his best, is among the
Premier League's most dangerous and prolific strikers.
The heavyweight teams lie in wait for Koeman's side —
first-place Manchester City hosts Everton on Oct. 15, the first weekend after the
upcoming break for internationals — but suddenly there's a buzz around one of
England's most established top-flight clubs.
Before Alex Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford in 1986,
Everton had been English champions more often than Manchester United, winning
eight titles to United's seven, and was the country's major power alongside
Merseyside rival Liverpool.
There's been no silverware since the fifth of Everton's FA
Cup titles in 1995, but that may be about to change under Koeman.
Here are some other things to look out for this weekend:
Swansea is getting a second opportunity to end Manchester
City's perfect start to the season.
City made it nine wins from nine matches in all competitions
by beating Swansea 2-1 in the English League Cup on Wednesday, and the teams
meet again in Wales on Saturday, this time in the league.
It will only get harder for the Swans: Sergio Aguero is available
again after a three-game domestic suspension.
It's time for Vincent Janssen to prove there's life after
Harry Kane at Tottenham.
With Kane potentially out for two months with an ankle
injury, Janssen should get an extended run with the team for the first time
since his offseason move from AZ Alkmaar.
The Netherlands international scored his first goal for
Tottenham in the 5-0 win over Gillingham in the League Cup on Wednesday and
will lead the line at Middlesbrough on Saturday.For
the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us
on Twitter and like our Facebook page.