Unbeaten in three, Everton return following the break for international football ready to resume their grim battle against the drop. Sean Dyche has brought organisation and confidence back into a side that looked headed for the premier league trapdoor, helming three wins and two draws from eight games in charge.
Following the weekend’s action, the Blues are back in the relegation zone, in 18th place via goal difference, which should hit home that there is still much work to be done this season. Away from Goodison, the Blues are showing signs that they are no longer the pushovers they’ve been for a very long time, but it’s at home that they’ve secured those vital wins under the new boss.
Tonight, under the lights it’s time for the Toffees to carry on in that vein, as they face a Tottenham Hotspur outfit that will be taking to the pitch for the first time since shedding fiery boss Antonio Conte.
Conte guided Spurs to a fourth-placed finish last term, securing the vital prize of Champions league football for the North Londoners. The Italian is a demanding coach and was backed in the transfer market during the summer, to the tune of €131m net, including significant reinforcements in centre back Cristian Romero - secured on a permanent basis following a loan the previous year - defensive midfielder Yves Bissouma from Brighton & Hove Albion and Conte’s old player from Inter Milan, Ivan Perisic. Everton’s talismanic forward, Richarlison was brought in to add quality depth to the front line.
The Lilywhites got the new campaign started in strong fashion, going unbeaten in seven in the league, with five wins and two away draws in the capital against Chelsea and West Ham United, before suffering their first genuine setback in a 3-1 reverse at the Emirates Stadium, to fierce rivals Arsenal. Wins over Brighton and Everton followed, but momentum was stalled slightly by defeats to Liverpool and - surprisingly - a EFL Cup exit to Nottingham Forest. They needed a late rally to beat Leeds United 4-3 at home and also to come back from a two goal deficit to snatch a draw with Brentford, but then slumped to a desultory 2-0 loss against Aston Villa at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
A resounding win over Crystal Palace failed to generate momentum, as they succumbed to Arsenal again, before blowing a 2-0 halftime advantage to end up losing 4-2 against Manchester City. Victory over Fulham and revenge against City followed, before Spurs began what, in retrospect was a terminal slide which would ultimately lead to Conte’s dismissal. An awful 4-1 loss to Leicester City and abject, passive Champions League exit to AC Milan, in which the team could put up a mere 0.9 xG (Expected Goals) over both legs combined, and the writing was on the wall. Most anticipated that the Italian would probably part ways with the Londoners in the summer, but his post-match outburst after watching his side blow a 3-1 lead at lowly Southampton in the final 13 minutes did for Conte.
Spurs arrive at Goodison sitting in fifth spot in the table.
Style of Play
Long-time Conte deputy, Cristian Stellini will be taking charge of Tottenham in the interim, with Ryan Mason assisting. Stylistically, there’s little obvious difference between the two Italians, with Stellini utilising a familiar 3-4-3 formation and playing somewhat cagey, counterattacking football, though perhaps showing a little more urgency in the early part of the game.
Spurs sit fairly deep and look to draw the opponent on, being happy to play without the ball, something that hasn’t gone over too well with their fans, who traditionally like to see more attacking play. The team certainly have talent to do damage in the final third, which has no doubt added to the collective frustration. They’ve scored a highly respectable 52 goals so far this season - though with only an xG of 41.0 they are not creating a huge number of good chances, but are taking advantage courtesy of some clinical finishing.
Defensively the Londoners have hardly been watertight, as evidenced by them conceding 40 goals, though from an xGA (Expected Goals Allowed) of only 33.8, which shows they could have done better in keeping the ball out of the back of the net at times.
Structurally, the side looks to turn the ball over in midfield, or in their own third of the pitch and then to move it into their midfield pivots, who will play directly to the flanks, or into Harry Kane. The England striker is crucial to Tottenham’s style of play, as he drifts off the opposition defence when the team is out of possession, looking to find space to receive the ball. In this role he acts as an advanced playmaker, in addition to being the primary striker. Width is to be provided by roving wingbacks.
Obviously, Kane remains the team’s main man and this will be the case until he eventually departs for pastures new, which may be sooner rather than later given he is into the final 14 months of his current contract. The striker has hit 21 goals this season, from an xG of 15.6, showing he’s lost none of his lethal finishing qualities; his xG per 90 minutes is an impressive 0.56.
Hugo Loris seems likely to be back guarding the net for Spurs tonight. Whilst undoubtedly an upgrade over the deputising Fraser Forster, the 36-year-old is not what he once was, as the stats demonstrate. This season the Frenchman has a save percentage of 70.5% in the league and has underperformed, conceding 29 goals from a PSxG (Post-Shot Expected Goals) of 25.7.
Another key man, Son Heung-min also appears to be a waning force. After firing 40 goals across the previous two seasons, this campaign he’s managed only six. Whilst still pacy and dangerous, his general play has not been at previous levels. He is still getting into threatening areas, as shown by a SCA (Shot-Creating Actions) total of 4.08 per 90, second in the side.
A major danger from wide areas is ex-Inter man Perisic, playing typically as a left wing back these days. He has impeccable delivery and is generating an SCA per 90 of 2.97, 0.86 of which is from dead ball situations. The Croatian veteran has delivered 1.14 crosses into the opposition area per game, well ahead of any of his teammates.
What Everton cannot do is attack Spurs directly, as Frank Lampard famously attempted to do at their ground last season. This is what Tottenham want teams to do. When allowed plenty of the ball, they appear surprisingly devoid of many ideas as to how to construct attacks in open play. With the technical quality they possess, this deficiency must come down to what they are working on during training sessions and it is unlikely they’ll be much different under Stellini.
What we’ll see instead, I imagine is a continuation of Everton’s tactics at Goodison under Dyche to date, namely an aggressive mid-press in the first half, with plenty of attacking threat from out of an essentially balanced setup. I anticipate the same lineup that took to the field before the international break, with Demarai Gray leading the line, though Ellis Simms will surely get substantial time should the game be in the balance with half an hour to go. Defensively, it’s possible that Vitalii Mykolenko will regain his position at left back, from Ben Godfrey, but it’s probably no more than 50-50 that this will happen, as Dyche likes a stable first eleven.
Spurs have not looked a happy bunch in recent months and quite what we’ll see from them tonight largely depends on what the atmosphere in the team is like now that Conte has gone. This Everton side was able to turn over a rampant Arsenal at Goodison and the Gunners are much better than Spurs and were in a superior frame of mind, also. There’s no reason for the Blues to fear the visitors at all, whilst respecting the danger that Kane, in particular presents. This is going to be a tight match, but it’s not a must-win. There’s a lot of intangibles surrounding the game, so I’m going for a tie tonight, though a win for the Toffees would be a brilliant result.
Prediction: Everton 1-1 Spurs
Stats provided courtesy of fbref.com, transfermarkt.co.uk and whoscored.com