Lads, it’s Tottenham. Again. Time to phone it in and let the inferiority complex rear its ugly head once more.
What is it about those men in white shirts that leaves Evertonians aplenty longing for men in white coats? It was more forgivable, at least, when Spurs were legitimately good, offering up semi-interesting underdog stories which always lasted about two chapters too long. Less so when their moody football mirrors their manager’s own disposition, trading places with Burnley and Sheffield United all the while.
Spurs have crushed Everton before without really breaking a sweat. The pair of Goodison shellackings at the peak of Pochettino. The Dean Marney-inspired New Year’s Day evisceration. The 4-0 thumping that wasn’t quite ‘boring’ enough for Sam Allardyce’s liking.
And in some ways, perhaps this groggy 1-0 win sealed by an aptly ragged Michael Keane own goal is another such example, but only because Everton never demanded any more of Tottenham than the bare minimum. Indeed, perhaps Carlo Ancelotti’s side were simply beaten at their own game here: Spurs got by on just about doing enough.
There is, though, a more fundamental, deep-seated issue in all of this. Everton’s last victory over Tottenham, itself a smash-and-grab 2-1 win secured by two injury-time strikes, was in December 2012. A simpler time, when Fergie was still Manchester United manager, Obama was still president and One Direction and Gangnam Style were still mildly relevant. Only Liverpool (obviously) have faced the Blues similarly frequently and been undefeated for longer. It is a pitiful record spanning 15 matches and seven managers which draws an entirely fair conclusion that Everton appear beaten before a ball is even kicked. Conductors have changed in that time, but the song remains the same.
What’s also telling from these Spurs encounters since that last victory is how rapidly Everton have surrendered the advantage after establishing it in a handful of them. They led at some point in six of those 15 and had their lead relinquished within no more than six minutes later in three of them. It’s as if Everton players suddenly feel in over their heads when the dream of smashing this hoodoo becomes a little more tangible, that they do not feel worthy of having the curse lifted, that the dizzy heights of leading often the Premier League’s third-best team in recent years has led to a nasty bout of altitude sickness.
This terribly self-defeating attitude is exacerbated by two main factors, though. The first being that it extends far further than solely Tottenham. They and Liverpool may be the most pertinent examples, but Everton’s away record to ‘top six clubs’ since their win at David Moyes’ Man Utd in December 2013 reads: played 40, lost 30, drawn ten, won zero. Meanwhile, Ancelotti’s only defeats as Everton boss have came at the homes of a fallible Manchester City, a Liverpool C-team, an Arsenal in transition, a depleted Chelsea and a decaffeinated Tottenham. If nothing else, at least the mental defects have been asterisked and underlined in red for him early doors.
The second and far more concerning element of it all is that this is a cancer that has transcended Everton managers and teams already. It did not arrive and leave with Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman, Allardyce or Marco Silva, just as it was never going to vanish at the mere sight of Ancelotti turning up on Merseyside. Players have come and gone, empires have crumbled, millions have been haemorrhaged, yet at a club of few constants these days, a meek surrender to the big boys feels almost perpetual by now.
Ancelotti has to be the game-changer in that regard. The Italian doesn’t need a headline victory over one of England’s elite to reiterate his credentials as Everton manager, and this latest debacle certainly isn’t on him, but it would certainly lend the belief that the Blues are finally on their way back a little more credence. Solid evidence that this is a battle-hardened Everton; a far cry from the brittle shambles of yesteryear.
But factory resets like this require plenty of both time and care, precious commodities which have been desperately sparse at Goodison since, well, not long after that last triumph over Tottenham. What they do not demand in any capacity is sentimentality - another harsh lesson Ancelotti and director of football Marcel Brands must teach Everton this summer.
Exiling the pariahs will be easier, even if they may have trouble finding takers for the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, pathetic again here. Yet can there even be a place for certain fan favourites like Bernard, who failed to add to a meagre three goals and two assists with a desperately ineffective cameo appearance here? What even for André Gomes, who many Evertonians are besotted with but who won no tackles and conceded four fouls at Spurs as he continues to toil following that lengthy layoff?
A slow-burner of a road must be the path Everton now take, but rest assured the destination will make the slog feel worthwhile. It has to be like this. Otherwise, facsimiles of Monday’s supine performance will lie ahead, where a 19-year-old substitute shows up his far more learned colleagues, harebrained goal kicks are aimed at the smallest man in royal blue, and Gary Neville earns himself the man of the match accolade just for relentlessly calling out this ghastly performance on Sky’s co-commentary.
You could almost forgive José Mourinho had his Spurs team-talk been simply ‘Lads, it’s Everton’ on Monday. The day that finally feels less plausible will be the greatest indication yet of progress at Goodison on Ancelotti’s watch.