Soccer: Atalanta thrashing shows scale of Everton's problems
LONDON (Reuters) - Everton were already enduring a poor season when they welcomed Italian side Atalanta to Goodison Park in the Europa League on Thursday but they reached a new nadir in a humbling 5-1 defeat.
The match was a dead rubber for the Toffees given that they were already unable to qualify for the knockout stages, yet the manner of the loss shed fresh light on just how deep the club's problems run.
Chief among them is the absence of a manager. It is now more than a month since Everton sacked Ronald Koeman and there is still no sign of a permanent replacement being appointed.
Initial interest in Sam Allardyce petered out, attempts to prise Marcos Silva away from Watford have so far been unsuccessful and the chances of caretaker manager David Unsworth being given the job permanently have dimmed after he lost four of his six games in charge.
To illustrate the time lag, Crystal Palace took just one day to replace Frank de Boer with Roy Hodgson, West Ham United appointed David Moyes the day after sacking Slaven Bilic, and Leicester City had Claude Puel in place within eight days of sacking Craig Shakespeare.
Under-par performances in most areas of the pitch are also crippling Everton who travel to play Southampton in the Premier League on Sunday. Tipped to challenge the top six this season, Everton are languishing in 16th place with only 12 points from 12 matches.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford cannot be criticised but fellow new arrivals Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Keane and Davy Klaasen have not settled following big-money moves in the summer and Wayne Rooney has only partially been able to fill the goal-scoring void left by Romelu Lukaku, who left for Manchester United in July.
"The transfer strategy was really poor from Everton's point of view, particularly with the Lukaku money," former Everton striker Tony Cottee told Sky Sports.
"You get 75 million pounds and you lose your 25-goal-a-season goal-scorer and you buy three No 10's, but you're not buying a centre forward. Everton don't have a focal point."
The consequence is that Everton's players and fans now appear completely devoid of confidence and morale.
Everton supporters are known as some of the most loyal and passionate in the country but only 17,431 attended the Atalanta defeat, while Unsworth was forced to call his players' commitment into question in the wake of the game.
"I asked the players to make it difficult for me to leave them out of the team on Sunday, but the majority have made it very easy," he said.
What will not be easy is getting out of this crisis, which suddenly appears deeper than ever after Thursday.
(Reporting by Matt Westby; Editing by Keith Weir)