For all the improvements that we’ve seen so far in the six games Frank Lampard has been in charge at Everton, we’ve yet to see a strong performance as a visiting team. However, the sample size is very small (two matches) and there were certainly good reasons why the team struggled at Newcastle United. Additionally, the Blues did at least start the match against Southampton well, even if they subsequently fell apart alarmingly in the second half. Everton are in a good position to take advantage of some decent results over the weekend, seeing as Leeds United lost again, as did all the three teams currently sitting in the relegation zone. Let’s take a look at what Lampard’s men are up against tonight, in the form of Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs of course dispensed with manager Nuno Espirito Santo early in the season, after the Portuguese lost five of his opening ten Premier League matches, appointing the very successful Antonio Conte as his replacement. There’s been a noticeable uptick in performance and results since and the north Londoner’s currently sit in seventh place, with games in hand over their immediate rivals. Still, they come into this match in erratic form, even if they have won back-to-back league matches, notably an upset win on the road against title favourites Manchester City. Since the turn of the year, Conte’s outfit has lost six matches, including home reverses in the league to Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Style of Play
Conte is very much attached to a back three, playing this wherever he has managed. After juggling his team’s formation a number of times since taking over, he has stuck with a 3-4-2-1 for the past seven matches, so it is very likely he will set up this way tonight. The team deploy a fairly low block and are unconcerned with dominating possession, even at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Italian is something of an outlier in the Premier League and does not employ a high press; in fact the team only presses selectively until the opposition enter their half. Even then, this usually is concentrated near the touchline, in order to pin the ball-carrier, or force him to turn back. It will be rare to see energetic pressing in the centre of the park, as Conte prefers to set traps, hoping to cause turnovers in possession by inviting play into those areas.
Once a turnover is achieved the team will look to spring forward with directness, not unlike the way former Blues boss Rafa Benitez attempted. The central midfielders, both of whom act as deep pivots, will be fed the ball quickly (if they are not already in possession) and try to get the ball to lone striker Harry Kane or to pacey attackers such as Son Heung-min. Wing backs are key to Conte’s system, as is typically the case with any back three formation. When out of possession, one or both will sit deep, but when Spurs have the ball, both will play high and wide, offering width. The two attacking midfielders sitting behind Kane are highly mobile and will create problems with unpredictable movement.
Clearly, as has been the case now for many seasons, Kane is the key player for Tottenham. After a poor start to the campaign, following his aborted move to Man City, the England man has rediscovered some of his usual form in recent months and has hit the back of the net seven times in his last eleven league matches. Under Conte, the striker has not been dropping deep in search of the ball, but holding his position more.
When Spurs are out of possession, Kane will not press, but drifts around in space for opportunities to receive the ball in transition, where he can utilize his outstanding passing range the build-up. Son and new signing Dejan Kulusevski will alternate dropping deep to link up with the midfield, from where they can carry the ball forward at pace. Either is also adept at getting on the end of balls over the top, presenting danger for the Everton defence if they play a high line.
Lampard wants Everton to play possession football, on the front foot, but this must be tempered tonight. Conte sets up to exploit over-aggressive teams, as witnessed by the 4-0 thrashing of Leeds United at Elland Road recently, where his side scored three in the opening 27 minutes. Teams that have employed a degree of caution, such as Wolves and Middlesbrough in their FA Cup upset, have tended to do far better. Going with a high line, or trying to force passes with too many players committed forward, should be avoided. Keeping an eye on Kane and jumping on the Spurs midfield when possession is lost is paramount. This could lead to catching the Londoners in transition and with their wingbacks out of position; the Blues could look for balls in behind spaces vacated by the likes of Ryan Sessegnon or Matt Doherty.