Against Tottenham, Ronald Koeman was missing Romelu Lukaku, Seamus Coleman and new signing Ashley Williams and yet somehow – largely thanks to the ridiculously impressive Idrissa Gueye – Everton held on for a point against Tottenham.
Against West Brom, it took 38 minutes for Koeman to sacrifice James McCarthy and his original 3-5-2 formation, changing the game with the introduction of the now-fit Lukaku.
Against Stoke, he integrated new signings Williams and Yannick Bolasie and produced a dominant performance not reflected in the 1-0 scoreline.
Against Sunderland, he took off the wasteful Ross Barkley after 45 frustrating minutes and brought on Gerard Deulofeu; Lukaku then scored three times in 11 minutes.
Proactive, decisive, adaptable. You cannot imagine Koeman watching Wayne Rooney drop deeper and deeper before throwing up his hands and saying ‘what can I do?’. He would change something, make a decision, manage. After all, that should be the least anybody should expect from a manager; the clue is in the job title.
Throw in some sensible words to the complaining and previously over-indulged Barkley (“You can’t point your finger at somebody else”), first-team opportunities for teenagers Mason Holgate and Tom Davies and the rejuvenation of Gareth Barry against all expectations, and there is an awful lot to admire about the Dutchman’s first months at Everton.
‘What is Gareth Barry’s Everton role under Ronald Koeman?’ asked the Liverpool Echo in July, worried about the likely arrival of Gueye; three weeks later they were carrying quotes from a smitten Koeman saying that Barry was one of the cleverest players he had ever managed. We may never know whether Koeman initially saw the 35-year-old Barry as integral to his Everton side, but having seen him in partnership with Gueye when his hand was forced by injuries, he was happy to mount this particular horse and get comfortable.
Right now the results are outstanding. Everton have ten points from their first four games for the first time since 2006/07, when Lee Carsley, Phil Neville, Mikel Arteta and Leon Osman played in the most central of midfields. He has somehow managed to square the circle, increasing both pass completion and tackle rates; the pragmatic David Moyes and idealistic Roberto Martinez would have him burned as a witch.
There will be darker days, largely due to an over-reliance on Lukaku that means they are only one injury away from Enner Valencia or Arouna Kone, but Everton fans can face those darker days with an optimism that had ebbed away under Martinez. As I wrote in January, ‘it takes a rare and excellent manager to find a way to solve problems of his own making’, and Koeman did exactly that time and again at Southampton. While others floundered or simply preached “more work on the training ground”, he looked for solutions and found solutions in changed formations, fringe players, more direct tactics.
We have already seen a snapshot of that flexibility at Everton and it has been equally as impressive as Guardiola’s transformation of Manchester City. Jurgen and Jose might make more headlines but Ronald and Pep are quietly doing a rather excellent job.