The first fifteen minutes of Everton’s season opener against Tottenham felt different. Maybe it was the empty stadium. Perhaps it was Richarlison’s platinum blonde hair. Or it could have been that Everton seemed to dominate throughout the affair. To say that Everton has struggled in recent years against Spurs is an understatement — the Toffees haven’t won away since 2008 and haven’t won since 2012. It was no surprise that the Blues had the ball for about 70% of the first quarter hour.
Simply looking at the final statistics may belie the result. Tottenham held the advantage in terms of possession (52%/48%) and shots on goal (5/4). This makes the game seem closer than it was. It’s not that Spurs didn’t have their chances, they did, but Everton won the defensive and offensive matchups. Spurs really only had two chances. The first was a Matt Doherty shot inside the six-yard box that Jordan Pickford deftly saved with his right foot, and the second was a Dele Alli shot that grazed Pickford’s glove on its way over the crossbar.
Other than that, Everton looked in control of the game. Spurs applied pressure late in the second half but failed to trouble Pickford. For a team that, in the past, has had trouble closing games, Everton made life difficult for Spurs on Sunday.
The threat of Richarlison
Saying he was the “worst” player in the game is more a reflection of how well the rest of the team played and less of an indictment of the Brazilian. Richarlison grew into the game against Tottenham, as his touch was poor, and he seemed a bit sluggish early on.
He squandered a golden opportunity in the early stages of the first when he beat Toby Alderweireld to a poor back-pass from Ben Davies. He not only beat Spurs’ central defender, he also glided past Hugo Lloris before shooting the ball wide of the net. Perhaps he was a little bit off-balance or maybe he had too much time on the ball, but a player of his quality should certainly do better.
As the game wore on, though, Richarlison was a constant threat on the left flank. He gave Doherty fits, so much so that the left back was subbed off in the 76’. He blew by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in midfield on one run and saw several shots glance wide. A player who thrives when he moves up the pitch, the fact that Richarlison was Everton’s “worst” player on Sunday bodes well for future fixtures.
Everton’s new-look midfield
When Everton signed the likes of Allan, Abdoulaye Doucouré and James Rodríguez, expectations were understandably lifted. All three summer acquisitions looked well-adjusted to life in the Premier League on Sunday and have Everton looking a threatening squad.
After leading Serie A in tackles over the last three seasons, Allan linked up with Carlo Ancelotti, for whom he played at Napoli. A true defensive midfielder, Allan is a tireless worker and is known for his grit, determination and tackling abilities. Against Spurs, he was strong on the ball and displayed his tackling prowess. Other than one moment of miscommunication with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Allan had an exemplary Everton debut. He does the dirty work on defense and doesn’t go to ground often, limiting the number of fouls he commits. He operates as a shield for the backline and even demonstrated some crisp passing against Spurs. Whenever the camera found Allan, he was talking with his teammates, a good sign for a new player, as his constant communication is evidence that he is nicely settling in.
Doucouré’s experience with Watford means that he has a much smaller learning curve than his fellow midfielders. The French international was all over the place on Sunday, owning the middle of the pitch, moving the ball forwards and disrupting Spurs offensive movement — he even operated in the right back position several times when Seamus Coleman went forward. A composed player, Doucouré’s timing was flawless, most notably a challenge against Lucas Moura who was streaking forward on a counter. His passing was reliable as well; he played a pass to Calvert-Lewin who was in stride and sent the ball out to James, who proceeded to cut in and shoot. Capable of playing a more defensive role, he provides James the opportunity to fill more of a ‘ten’ role and move up the field.
A world-class player who has spent time with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, James’ arrival at Goodison Park had Toffees giddy. Like Allan, James has prior experience working with Ancelotti — the two worked together at Bayern. Against Tottenham, James’ silken touch was on full display. He very rarely was wasteful and was always looking to move forward, putting the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch. His expansive style play coupled with his vision and progressive passing made him a constant danger on the right side of the field. The right wing is an ideal spot for the Colombian due to his desire to cut in and shoot with his favored left foot. He made several clever passes against Spurs and looked comfortable on the ball, scuffing one shot in the box, but as he adapts to the physicality of the EPL, he’ll only become more lethal.