A Different Approach
The last time Everton rocked up at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium back in March, it was a humbling experience for Frank Lampard, who watched on helplessly as his charges were effortlessly swatted aside by the hosts. In that match, the Toffees’ relatively new boss tried once more to play in a manner true to his principles, only to realize that the side were unable to do so, certainly not over 90 minutes and probably for not more than short periods of high-tempo activity. Once Antonio Conte’s Spurs had shrugged off Everton’s initial flurry of high pressing, they were able to play through a porous midfield with ease and cut the visitors apart. No doubt, Frank and his coaching staff had gone over the tapes of that match exhaustively in order to prepare for Saturday’s return to north London.
During this campaign, the Blues have rarely looked anything like the disorganised side that took to the pitch that day, even if the number of chances they are giving up does not exactly tally with their newfound reputation as a water-tight defensive unit. So it was no surprise to see them play entirely differently; in fact the sides shared few of the personnel from that 5-0 March 7th defeat: Seamus Coleman and Jordan Pickford being the only carryovers. What did take me aback was the way Everton came out, sitting very deep in a 5-3-2, winger Dwight McNeil fielded almost as an orthodox left-back as the side where penned in by Spurs in the early going. Lampard’s team just invited attacks and I admit I could not see how they were going to lay a glove on the home side playing in this ultra-defensive manner.
But, after riding out the initial surge of pressure, it started to look as if the Blues boss had maybe alighted on - if not a winning strategy - then certainly one that could expose flaws in the way Conte set up. It is no secret that the Italian wants to play on the counter, so it made sense to cede the ball to the hosts and to challenge them to play in an unfamiliar manner. The Lilywhites struggled to make an impression and Everton appeared the more likely to score, seizing on loose possession to allow Amadou Onana a clear chance at goal and also isolating Demarai Gray one-on-one on the break. Both chances came to naught and with those missed opportunities, Everton’s game plan swiftly unravelled in the second half.
The key moments that reversed Everton’s fortunes were the injury to Richarlison in the 52nd minute, succeeded shortly thereafter by the penalty award for Pickford’s clumsy foul on Harry Kane. Before the former incident, Spurs had actually been well on top after the restart, much as they had opened the match. The Blues were once again forced back to the edge of their penalty area and unable to get out. Following the introduction of Yves Bissouma for the injured former Everton man, the pressure intensified, Conte’s men racking up five attempts at goal between the 53rd and 58th minute, the final effort being Matt Doherty’s hopeful strike that Pickford spilled, leading to the foul on Kane. For 15 minutes following the restart, the Merseysiders managed a mere 22.5% share of possession and from the 50th through to the 55th minute the ball did not enter Tottenham’s third of the pitch, which tells its own story.
Although Everton’s initial plan had succeeded during the opening 45 minutes, in terms of soaking up pressure and creating a couple of genuine scoring chances themselves, the team had struggled to consistently play through their hosts and this deficiency completely thwarted any efforts by Lampard’s charges to get back in the match after falling behind. All too often the Toffees had played it long and Neal Maupay is totally unsuited to this style: between them the Frenchman and Gray, operating as a front two, won zero of eight contested aerials. This style of play was easy pickings for the likes of Eric Dier and Cristian Romero. The addition of Bissouma, an extra man in midfield for the Londoners blocked off any possibility for the Blues to play out and through the thirds and this was exacerbated by the substitutions Lampard made.
Following the introduction of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and James Garner, Alex Iwobi was shunted out to right wing-back, as he had during the Manchester United game the previous weekend. The Nigerian has been rejuvenated in his new midfield role and whilst he is highly adaptable, playing him in a wide defensive position does him, nor the team no favours. Shorn of Iwobi’s guile in the centre, Everton had no idea how to progress the ball. Beforehand, Everton had next to nothing on the right side, as Coleman now offers little going forward and the changes in personnel left them incapable of playing through the middle also. The introduction of Salomon Rondon for Idrissa Gueye with nine minutes to go in regulation emptied the midfield and rendered the Toffees totally one-dimensional. Whereas the route-one stuff left United hanging on a bit at Goodison Park last time out, Spurs dealt with it with no problem whatsoever, as evidenced by Lampard’s outfit being unable to generate even a single attempt at goal during the second period.
Everton went too long, too early on Saturday. Pickford was the worst offender, launching it deep on 24 occasions, with a paltry 29.2% success rate. The Blues won only seven of 27 aerial duels during the match, three of those by Coleman operating in defence. All too often, the team just gifted the ball straight back to Tottenham. Even Calvert-Lewin only won one of four aerial challenges.
Poor Maupay endured an awful match. In the 66 minutes he was on the pitch, he touched the ball just 14 times. The Frenchman carried the ball a grand total of one yard towards the opposition goal and made no progressive passes. The former Brighton man can be a lively and effective contributor but this game-plan brought out none of his strengths and all his shortcomings as a forward. Never again, please.
Lampard used his bench three times on Saturday and unfortunately none of his changes improved Everton’s fortunes. Other than the obvious swapping of DCL for Maupay, it was not clear what effect the other replacements would have. Garner is probably not ready to contribute when the team is already struggling, as was the case at the weekend and it is tough to justify removing any of the team’s starting midfield to accommodate him; instead, Iwobi, Everton’s sole creative force, gets moved to a peripheral position. I’m unsure why Abdoulaye Doucoure is not being utilised. In terms of theoretical goal threat he probably offers more than any of the team’s other midfield options, which is surely of value when chasing a game?