The mentality of a sports team is one of the great unknowns. Fans and psychologists alike have long struggled to work it out. How did Leicester City do what they did last season? What changed so much this season? But, Everton fans after this weekend are thinking: Why do we always choke at Anfield?
It’s not just Anfield either, it has been the performances vs all the big teams away from home. Given how poor the side were in the 90’s and early 00’s, wins at these grounds were not expected. Given our increase in player quality over the last decade, you’d have thought our record would have improved, but it barely has.
I recently wrote how all the changes off the pitch is hopefully bringing a better mentality on the pitch for Everton, and Koeman’s comments in the week saying there was no reason to be scared of Anfield were promising. In reality though, it looked like the same old Everton.
It wasn’t just a loss, it was a repetition of what we have seen before. Everton players suddenly turning bad for a game, it’s so frustrating to watch. The likes of Idrissa Gueye has been one of our players of the season, but he had a poor game. The same can be said for Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, both were in from and firing heading into the derby, but showed none of that form in the match.
For Everton fans it’s endlessly frustrating as to why this happens. Lukaku is ambitious and has dreams of playing in the Champions League on the biggest stage, I think he needs to focus on how to perform in big games for Everton before he can do that. It’s Manchester United away next and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a repeat performance.
Against the big sides at home we are a different animal, but that elite mentality of believing you can win away is nowhere to be seen at Everton. The Anfield derby always feels like the players are under immense pressure and don’t know how to deal with it. We somehow got a draw at Man City thanks to two penalty saves, got annihilated at Chelsea, outclassed at Tottenham and fell apart at Liverpool.
If we want to be among the teams above us, we need to learn how to play against them and stop being scared to believe we can win. Getting this message across to a team and a club that got so accustomed to losing is clearly difficult. A lot of our current squad have been scarred by that failure, and maybe a few more players in would help change some attitudes. One player who feels like he belongs on that stage is Morgan Schneiderlin, I think it was a lot more than his football ability that was missed on Saturday.
Ronald Koeman is a man who does not suffer with lack of belief. 19 trophies as a players and 8 as a manager, it feels like he is the right man to make this change. We don’t want to be a flash-in-the-pan Leicester, we need a long-term change of mentality to compete with the biggest teams, the kind of change that Pochettino has brought to Tottenham. To expect such a change so quickly after such an awful last season was a bridge too far, but it’s clear what needs to change if Everton are to join the elite.