After three extremely disappointing results on the spin Everton were looking to bounce back with the visit of newly appointed Antonio Conte’s Tottenham side. With many fans expecting the worst with the classic “new manager bounce” incoming, the result was a lot better than expected. The Toffees managed a 0-0 draw in a game which saw minimal clear-cut chances but a much more resilient Everton performance.
With possession stats of 45%, Everton had a lot more of the ball than we’ve seen in the start to the season so far. Although more of the ball is something which is always an attraction for football fans, it was what we did without the ball that really impressed me. There was a small percentage of fans making noise prior to kick off due to what possibly looked on paper to be another 4-4-1-1 setup.
This was quickly shut down after kick off as it was clear Rafa had stuck with the system we ended the game in against Wolves the previous game week. Fabian Delph retained his place in the starting XI after an impressive second half display in our defeat to Wolves on Monday and Andros Townsend was tucked inside to help Allan and Delph himself in the middle. This meant we were tighter and more compact to try nullify the threat of the likes of Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane dropping in between the lines to pick up the ball like they often do.
The Delph Effect
Looking at Delph’s performance, he offered Everton a link between the defence and midfield with his willingness to get on the ball. This is something we’ve lacked a lot in recent weeks. Delph touched the ball 50 times compared to Allan’s 53, despite playing significantly less minutes than the Brazilian. He managed a pass completion rate of 86.8% including eight accurate long balls and one key pass [more stats here].
Not only was he impressive with the ball, he was without it as well. He accumulated three tackles, two interceptions and one clearance. The Englishman, whose contract is due to expire in the summer, has come under a lot of scrutiny from Everton fans for varying reasons. He was the last name on the team sheet for a lot of Evertonians but it’s now looking like he’s vital for our setup especially in the absence of Abdoulaye Doucoure.
An area which Everton have noticeably struggled this season is from defending set pieces. Tottenham managed zero shots from corners or free kicks at the weekend. Now, this was only from 2 attempted corners, but it may well have been due to instructions to not give away silly corners or fouls in and around our final third.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this message was passed onto Mason Holgate, with him committing the only foul in the final third late on, and putting the Blues under undue pressure right at the end.
We’ve seen way too many times this season the Blues just gifting the opposition a chance with a needless foul or poorly timed clearance for a corner. In our last three games we had conceded two, five and nine corners so limiting Tottenham to just two certainly helps in our battle to avoid goals from these positions. This could have also been helped by a more compact and resilient defence we saw. Players that have struggled recently, including Michael Keane, Lucas Digne and Ben Godfrey certainly showed vast improvement against Spurs.
Getting a clean sheet under the circumstances will do the Blues’ confidence a world of good.
Another performance which may have gone slightly under the radar was Demarai Gray. Of course, he’s more known for his attacking threat but defensively he was excellent for us. He managed three tackles, one interception and one clearance which shows how vital his work rate is for us in a defensive capacity too. He also completed four dribbles and one key pass but unfortunately his shooting wasn’t up to scratch.
Gray managed five shots with none of them managing to hit the target. He hasn’t scored in seven consecutive games now which is extremely disappointing after the start he had to life at Everton. This is something that needs to improve from our wide players. Anthony Gordon also hasn’t scored so far for Everton this season and Andros Townsend’s goals have dried up too in the last few weeks. With no natural number nine, our goals must come from somewhere so this an area I’d like to see Rafa Benitez working on.
Better Performance Overall
There’s no real statistics or analysis for hard work, determination and passion but if there was, we’d have seen huge improvements in this game compared to our last three. A lot has been said this season about the Goodison Park atmosphere, but they showed on Sunday, if the players give everything on the pitch, the crowd will automatically react and it was fantastic to listen to the roars of the Everton crowd on Sunday. Fans will certainly allow for a paucity of talent if a player shows hard work and real grit in their play. If you’d have told me three weeks ago that Fabian Delph would be receiving a standing ovation from the Goodison faithful I’d have laughed in your face. It just goes to show how much they appreciate someone showing resilience, character, and passion, along with some quality.
Everton face Manchester City after the international break which as optimistic as I like to be, seems like a game in which the result is inevitable. Potentially, we may see the return of Abdoulaye Doucoure but we’ve already witnessed this season it’s not always the right idea to rush players back. With City’s high pressing game and midfield dominance it’s going to be a real struggle. All I want to see is the players not roll over like we did at the Etihad at the end of last season.
Enjoy your International Break blues.