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Everton 2-2 Tottenham: Three Takeaways | Blues Bully Spurs

It wasn’t pretty but the Toffees get the job done at Goodison Park

Everton FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Calvert-Lewin ends his barren run in reality, but it’s Harrison goal officially
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

A Route to Success

It’s been apparent from the early days of Sean Dyche’s tenure as Everton boss how he intends for the team to set up and play from a defensive perspective. The boss outlined the basics himself, well before arriving on Merseyside: a narrow, compact 4-4-1-1 formation, a mid-block and a desire to push the opposition towards one flank or the other, in order to deprive them of easy passing options and to enable the Blues to press selectively.

Offensively, it’s been less clear what the plan is to enable the side to get up the pitch and into attacking positions - other than direct balls up towards Dominic Calvert-Lewin, with the aim to pick up the tall striker’s knockdowns. The Toffees squad lacks the technical qualities to consistently play through the opposition, as Frank Lampard found out to his cost, but truth be told - with the exception of a brief period at the beginning of Carlo Ancelotti’s first full season in charge - this has been the state of affairs for some time.

Not that Dyche has ever shown any genuine interest in that style of football anyway, though he seems doomed to never actually have sufficient quality available to him for us to find out whether he has any more strings to his bow than his harshest critics would believe. Theorizing aside, the ex-Burnley chief focuses his attention on what takes place at either end of the pitch, in and around each team’s penalty box. The midfield is a means to an end, with the focus on discipline, energy and defensive bite, rather than flair, creativity or carrying the ball forward. That it is typically bypassed, in favour of a direct, back-to-front as quickly as possible approach, should surprise nobody.

Consequently I cracked a wry smile listening to Ange Postecoglou’s downbeat post-match interview in the aftermath of his visiting Tottenham Hotspur side’s bruising 2-2 draw at Goodison Park. He was understandably dejected, after watching the North Londoners hauled back level in the 94th minute, Jarrad Branthwaite powering a header home from point-blank range from a free kick. His suggestion that the hosts had somehow gotten away with borderline infringements on his goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario was wide of the mark and did the Australian manager no favours in my view.

Everton FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Vicario flaps as Branthwaite levels the game for Everton in added time
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Yes, Spurs played some nice football at times and scored two good goals from open play, whereas Everton were somewhat limited in that respect, but beautiful goals count the same as ugly ones and the visitors failed to defend competently from a barrage of corners and free kicks, or to protect their goalkeeper. It was obvious from Everton’s first set piece that Vicario was uncomfortable with the close attention he was receiving and that was the signal for the hosts to dial up the pressure on him. This is no time for Toffees fans to get wistful about the great teams from the club’s past, or the School of Science aspiration: there’s too much on the line.

One plus point from Saturday was Ashley Young. Typically deployed at full back, the ultra-veteran continued on the right wing and showed some of his old skills, staying wide and looking to put in first-time deliveries into the Spurs box. Jack Harrison, who usually lines up on the right tends to cut inside onto his favoured left foot, so it was a welcome change to see Young hug the touchline and look to find Dominic Calvert-Lewin, or late-arriving runners. Some of the former England man’s eleven crosses deserved more than they got, being let down by a lack of anticipation from his teammates, but this should improve with practice and was the best service that DCL has received in quite a while.

The Engine Room

With Everton’s midfield options so reduced last week that winger Dwight McNeil was pushed into the centre, things could hardly get any worse. Accordingly, it was a relief to see Idrissa Gueye named on the team sheet at the weekend, following his return from the AFCON tournament. Paired with James Garner, the Senegalese put in possibly his strongest performance since re-joining the club in September 2022, overshadowing his midfield partner, who was also impressive.

Gana is now 34-years-old, but on Saturday’s showing there is no obvious physical deterioration. The veteran patently takes great care of himself and has been fortunate in avoiding significant injury throughout his career. Key to Everton’s strategy against Spurs was the ability to put the visitors under pressure in their own half, which the Blues accomplished. This was a team effort, but Gueye was a standout. He was all over the pitch, blocking off passing routes, pressuring high and dropping in to help out the defence.

In addition, he took good care of the ball, completing 85.3% of his passes - more than ten per cent over the team average. But it was the defensive side of the midfielder’s game that caught the eye, with Gueye posting an outstanding 13 combined tackles and interceptions, as well as coming out on top in nine of 14 ground duels. He also surprisingly won both his aerial challenges, which shows a reading of the game and good timing can sometimes be as useful as a player’s height. Gana led the Blues with an impressive 14 ball recoveries, cleaning up potentially difficult situations before any threat could develop.

Everton FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Gueye bossed the Spurs midfield
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

The former PSG man’s instincts were spot on on Saturday, with the player time and again displaying his experience by stepping in front of an opponent to pick off a pass, or making a well-judged challenge, often springing his team onto the attack. Gueye’s contract is up in the summer and much will occur before Everton will know where they stand with regard to finance and an ability to bring in reinforcements for next season, but if he can continue to perform at this level for the remainder of the campaign, then I can see him being offered a one-year extension.

Almost as eye-catching as Gueye was his partner in the Everton engine room - Garner. Energetic and combative, the 22-year-old covered a lot of ground and gave the Spurs players little time to dwell on the ball. He racked up a comparatively modest five tackles and interceptions combined, but also blocked four passes, as well as making a total of eleven ball recoveries. The ex-Manchester United academy graduate led the Blues in touches, with 68 and used the ball well, posting a 82.2 passing success rate and creating two chances for his team.

No Need to Panic (Yet)

The Toffees winless streak in the league now extends to six matches, the team picking up a mere three points over that run and with just a single victory in all competitions since mid-December. This period of poor results - if not necessarily performances - has seen Everton drop into the relegation zone.

It’s not been helpful that the Merseysiders’ slump in form has coincided with Luton Town putting together an unprecedented sequence of positive results. The Hatters have won three and drawn two of their last six Premier League fixtures, losing only to Chelsea in a game in which they rallied from three goals down to have the West London outfit hanging on grimly at the end. Two of those victories were against Newcastle United and a 4-0 thrashing of Brighton & Hove Albion and on Saturday nervous Blues watched anxiously as the plucky underdogs led the Magpies 4-2 at St. James’s Park, with 23 minutes left to play.

Newcastle United v Luton Town - Premier League
The Hatters blow a two-goal lead against Newcastle
Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Mercifully, the home side rallied and the visitors departed disappointed to take only a point, though this was still enough for them to keep their noses just in front of Everton in the league table. At the weekend, the Toffees travel to the Etihad Stadium to face defending champions Manchester City in a game even the most optimistic fan will feel is a probable loss, whereas Luton will be strongly favoured to beat the hapless Sheffield United on home turf. So, in all likelihood the gap between Everton and safety will stretch to four points, with the Hatters having played a game less.

It’s important for Everton and the club’s supporters not to get too concerned about what should prove to be a not-exactly great, but temporary situation. Luton are showing all the fight we’d seen from them during the first half of the season, but have added some surprising quality and belief. Is it sustainable? They are at least as reliant on the form and fitness of a few key players - such as Ross Barkley - as are Everton, with the likes of Abdoulaye Doucoure. The Blues appear to be emerging from a tough, injury-blighted period and should they begin to pick up momentum again there are enough winnable games left for the side to once again fight clear of the drop zone.

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