Ronald Koeman’s first season at Goodison Park has, for the opening four months at least, been a promising one for the former Southampton manager.
Respectable draws against both Manchester sides, along with comfortable victories over West Ham, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, have seen the Toffees rise to as high as sixth in the table, and they currently sit comfortably inside the top half of the table in the early mix for the Europa League spots.
However, the Dutchman could be set to face his first real test as Everton manager after Yannick Bolasie, the £25 million summer signing from Crystal Palace, suffered severe ligament damage during the recent 1-1 draw against Manchester United.
Bolasie, 27, injured his right cruciate ligament towards the end of the Goodison Park draw and could be facing a battle to return to Premier League action before the end of the season.
As well as looking likely that Bolasie will spend the rest of the season on the side-lines, the Everton winger is also set to miss DR Congo’s African Cup of Nations campaign, which begins next month.
After Everton missed out on European football in the last two years, finishing eleventh twice under Roberto Martinez, a lot of hope was resting on Bolasie’s shoulders to come into the side and act as a breath of fresh air – now Koeman will need to have a rethink.
Bolasie’s combination of pace, power and brute strength will leave a sizable hole on the Everton wings, and his ability to take on his man and consistently beat him has been a regular feature of the Toffee’s attacking intent over the opening months of the Premier League campaign.
His pace also lends himself as a handy defender too, and his determination to track back and help the Everton back-line hasn’t gone unnoticed in the opening 15 games of the season.
This pace also doubles up and becomes effective on the break, as he possesses the ability to turn defence into attack in a matter of seconds; it’s undeniable that this will be missed.
However, it’s not like Koeman doesn’t have options at his disposal, as the emergence of Bolasie has pushed Spanish Under-21 captain and record goal-scorer Gerard Deulofeu to a role as a substitute.
With Bolasie no longer providing competition for places, the 22-year-old Spaniard could reclaim his spot in the first team and try to re-find the form that earnt him a first-team spot during his second spell at the club in 2015.
Deulofeu, much like Bolasie himself, has a direct attacking approach on the pitch, and mirrors the Congolese international in that he’s not afraid to take on defenders; and after four years at Everton, he’s also a lot tougher and has become acclimatised to the tempo and style of the Premier League.
Yet Bolasie’s physicality is far superior to the Spanish youngster, and it’s why he’s made more of a mark on the Goodison pitch than Deulofeu has during both his spells; Bolasie is capable of battling with typically stoic Premier League defences, whilst Deulofeu struggles to compete with the stubborn likes of Ryan Shawcross and Gary Cahill.
Although Koeman does have options to replace Bolasie, the injury to the 27-year-old has come at an inopportune time – with the Christmas period fast approaching and strength in depth a key factor in maintaining results over December and January, the Dutchman wouldn’t have wanted to be forced to delve into his squad this early in the fixture calendar.
With reports increasingly flying round that Koeman is looking at a move for out-of-favour Manchester United winger Memphis Depay, the Everton manager could be wasting no time in finding a ready-made replacement for the Congolese international – yet a move for 22-year-old Depay could see Bolasie having to fight to regain his place on his return from injury.
In spite of the Bolasie set-back, Everton seem far more prepared for a European challenge this year under Koeman than under the late part of Martinez’ regime, and based on their performances against Manchester United and Manchester City respectively they seem ready for this challenge.
Bolasie will be a big miss, but Koeman has enough quality at his disposal in his squad to overcome his first speedbump and continue guiding Everton in the right direction towards Europe once again.
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