There was a lot to like about Everton’s 2016-17 debut under Ronald Koeman. The attacking trio of Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas all had moments of brilliance that will undoubtedly result in goals later this season. But on Saturday, the Blues had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hostpur on the season’s opening day.
It was a result that, in the end, Everton have to be happy with. In the first half, the Blues looked motivated and hungry to impress their new manager. But in the second half, they were noticeably tired and showed to be only at the 70 percent fitness that their new gaffer hinted at earlier in the week.
Barkley got the scoring started early. In just the fifth minute, he sent a nice looking free kick into the Spurs box. It was begging for just a slight touch to put it into the back of the net. Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris was also looking for that touch, but it never happened. Instead, Llloris stayed on his line and made a last moment dive for the ball, but to no avail. Everton were up 1-0 early on.
The remainder of the first 45 minutes was all about the hosts. Phil Jagielka forced a big save from Lloris on another Barkley free kick. And later on, after Lloris was replaced by Michel Vorm on an injury concern, Deulofeu had just the keeper to beat, but couldn’t get it past Vorm’s right foot.
Spurs came back strong in the second half and regularly had Everton on the back foot. But were still having trouble getting shots on goal until Kyle Walker put a cross into the box. Erik Lamela beat 19-year-old Mason Holgate to the ball, putting his head on it and tying things at a goal apiece.
That is where things would remain thanks to Maarten Stekelenburg, who was fantastic between the sticks for Everton. First he made a quick reaction save off a shot from Vincent Janssen from just five yards out. And then later, made a ridiculous stop off a Lamela shot, which took a wicked deflection off a Blues defender. Sorry, Joel Robles, but Stekelenburg is the starter for the foreseeable future.
Overall, this was an impressive start to the season for Everton. They were dominated for the last 30 minutes of the match, but that showed us how capable Stekelenburg is and it came against a team that is a proven Premier League threat with pretty much the same squad they had a year ago.
In the first half, Deulofeu proved that he is a legitimate striker option and Mirallas seems to be ready to attack the top league opponents. And it’s looking like Barkley will be the go-to free kick kicker for now. Basically, there was a lot of clarity after this match.
Also, Koeman played with three at the back and two wing backs today and they did well. This was without Ashley Williams inserted into the side and Seamus Coleman nursing an injury. Once those two return, this could be an even more effective formation.
Some other players that impressed were Idrissa Gueye, Gareth Barry and Ramiro Funes Mori. Gueye is a hard worker and isn’t afraid to tackle. Barry always seems to be in the right place and, as always, makes the tough fouls when needed. And Fune Mori did a nice job intercepting passes and starting the counter attack.
On the negative side, Deulofeu flamed out again after an hour. That may be his biggest issue time and time again. Granted, he runs his heart out, but it would be great to see him playing 90 minutes week in and week out. Barkley disappeared in the second half, as did the rest of Everton’s attackers. Yes, Tottenham is an impressive side, but the Toffees were at home and those last 30 minutes felt more like how the team played under Roberto Martinez a season ago rather than under Koeman. I’m sure the manager won’t be pleased with that late performance, but he won’t be discouraged.
Next up, Everton heads to the Hawthorns to take on West Bromwich Albion, who beat Crystal Palace 1-0 on the road today. That will surely be a tough defensive side to break down. The strength of Romelu Lukaku would be a welcome addition.