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Everton 1 Tottenham 1: Fitness issues cost Toffees

Three Thoughts from Everton’s Season Opener

Everton v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

With a subpar pre-season in the books, Everton appeared less than ready to start their season at 100% against a dangerous Tottenham Hotspur team. Even with injuries to key players and a number of healthy players out of position, the Toffees dominated the first half and were unlucky not to have been up two or three goals. However, Ronald Koeman’s concerns about his team’s fitness became apparent and in the end, Everton were lucky to leave Goodison Park with a point.

Lack of fitness nearly cost Everton

Earlier in the week Ronald Koeman took a dig at his predecessor Roberto Martinez when he said that his squad’s fitness level was only at“70%” of what it needed to be. With fresh legs in the first half, those comments seemed overblown for a brief time with Everton’s front three running at the Tottenham defense and the team as a whole pressing with great vigor.

The second half was a different story altogether. Gerard Deulofeu was the first to succumb to heavy legs and from that moment on Everton’s attack seemed lacking. Shortly after the midfield duo of Gareth Barry and Idrissa Gueye began to labor, the teams touches got heavier and the pressing style employed in the first half appeared to fall apart. By the time the last ten minutes of the game rolled around, the team’s shape was dreadful, the defense was constantly under duress and the ability to make runs behind a struggling Tottenham defense seemed to disappear completely.

Clearly Koeman’s concerns were legitimate as Everton looked more like a team in their second pre-season game as opposed to a team ready to start the Premier League season. Everton need to get their legs under them quickly or they face the possibility of falling behind in points early in the season.

Tactical flexibility was apparent

One of the many things lacking in Roberto Martinez’s system was the ability to adapt to the changing circumstances of a game while it was still going on. Martinez was stubborn to a fault when it came to his pass-heavy possession based football. Under Koeman there was a possession based style apparent, but we also saw a constant change in tactics throughout the match.

The play early on was somewhat familiar to Everton fans, quick passing, constant movement with the players always having an outlet if they were pressed. However, instead of sticking with this style of play throughout the match, allowing Tottenham to figure out their plan, they switched things up and constantly kept Spurs off-balance. They balled balls over the top to some success, played balls down the wing looking for a cross, and counter-attacked aggressively when the opportunity arose.

So many times in the Martinez era we saw the former manager employ a style of play that worked, then ride it until it was no longer successful and then continue to use it for another two to three games after that after it was clear to everyone that a change was needed. It was impressive to watch the front three constantly switching positions, looking for runs behind the defense and being much more quick to pick up on the tendencies of Spurs.

New players were solid, reinforcements still needed

Aside from Mason Holgate’s poor marking of Erik Lamela on Spurs only goal, the new additions to Everton’s squad looked solid. Holgate had a nervy start to the match, making a few desperate tackles to keep the ball out of the penalty area, but quieted down nicely and was surprisingly composed for a player of his age. I would expect Ashley Williams to fill that spot when he’s able but Holgate looked to have the skills to be a capable defender for this squad.

With all the talk around Everton needing a better keeper, Maarten Steklenburg certainly looked capable today. Though rarely tested in the first half, he made the necessary saves and provided excellent distribution, something sorely lacking during the past few years of Tim Howard. Steklenburg was even more impressive in the second half, making two massive saves that kept Everton in the game and allowed them to escape with a point. Time will tell if he can continue to perform well for the squad, but today was certainly an impressive showing.