There weren’t many home fans left in Goodison Park when Atlanta scored their fifth goal on Thursday night, but then there weren’t all that many there to begin with. Around 17,000 were present for the Europa League fixture, and about a third of those were supporting the visitors.
Indeed, it was an historic game for La Dea but a dead rubber for Everton. The home side had only pride to play for but you wouldn’t have known it from their display, devoid as it was of energy, fight, invention and organisation. Worst of all, this was not an atypically bad performance in a season that has plumbed new depths.
Everton’s Europa League group stage campaign got off to a bad start against Atalanta at Sassuolo’s Mapei Stadium. The Toffees were on that September evening three goals down before half time, but they at least managed to stem the bleeding after the interval. In light of what has transpired since, most recently on Thursday under the Goodison floodlights, the visit to Italy almost seems like halcyon days, when there was still hope that Everton’s European adventure could be saved and the season could be salvaged.
In the two-and-a-half months since, Everton have lost eight matches and a manager, winning only three times and scoring 18 goals, conceding 32. David Unsworth, a stalwart of the 1990s and 2000s and highly-thought of Coach of the club’s title-winning Under-23 team, has been thrust in to the void left by the sacking of Ronald Koeman more than a month ago. It’s become readily apparent that the Dutchman was dismissed with no clear idea of who his successor would be and with each passing game, the position becomes less and less appealing.
Unsworth inherited a woefully unbalanced squad, chock full of attacking midfielders but no actual playmaker, and defensive midfielders but no one capable of actually protecting the defence. The 10 outfield positions are all question marks - only goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is a unanimous first choice - and there is no ingrained style of play. This is an Everton too slow to be a counter-attacking team but lacking the creativity to dominate possession. Results under Unsworth have been poor, but it’s hard to see how they could have been much better under anyone else.
The sale of Romelu Lukaku and subsequent failure to sign a replacement is only the most obvious - and eminently predictable - problem Unsworth, or whoever eventually replaces Koeman, has to contend with. The masochist who takes over has to fashion a cohesive centre-back pairing out of Michael Keane and whatever is left of Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams, inject some guile and graft into a midfield that has largely shown neither all season, guide the development of Everton’s talented but floundering youngsters, introduce a clear and defined way of playing that works to whatever strengths Everton have and be a popular-enough appointment to get the supporters back on side. And that’s all while battling relegation in the most fixture-congested period of the season.
Nothing should be discounted from Atalanta’s stunning victory - they met an Everton in disarray and were brilliantly ruthless in taking advantage. The boisterous visiting fans saw a performance to remember while the few home fans in attendance had yet another evening to forget.