It was only a few weeks ago that Everton’s impressive transfer business was being heralded by a usually ambivalent national media and the Blues were being talked about in terms of being genuine top-four contenders.
The return of Wayne Rooney, admittedly past the peak of his powers but a world-famous name nonetheless, gave the show of ambition an added layer of legitimacy and Evertonians waited for the two or three additions to the squad that would top of an excellent transfer window.
Those signings never came, of course. Romelu Lukaku, the source of football’s most important currency — goals — departed for huge money but wasn’t replaced; 32-year-old Leighton Baines (not to mention the rest of a defence boasting a 35-year-old Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams, also 32) was left without cover; and if there was any desire on the part of the management to add pace and/or genuine creativity to the side, there was precious little evidence of it.
The product of this largely one-dimensional approach to recruitment this summer has been Everton’s uninspiring start to the new season, one which has, over the past two games, lurched from concerning into the realm of deeply demoralising.
Worse, the team looks like a collection of acquired individuals bereft of a plan, an identity, or any consistent attacking threat which means that when the wheels come off defensively you get the kind of humbling Everton suffered today at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur.
Seldom, if ever in the Premier League era, has a Spurs side enjoyed such an easy ride at Goodison Park, a venue that had become a veritable fortress for Ronald Koeman’s side since the turn of the year. By the same token, it’s hard to recall the Blues so lacking in desire or spirit in a home game against highly-fancied opposition in recent years other than the 3-0 reverse against Chelsea at the tail end of last season, the only defeat at Goodison in 2017 before today.
For the first time in the league this season Koeman abandoned the five-man defensive line he had been using, perhaps to keep one of his experienced centre halves in reserve with an eye on the upcoming trip to Italy in the Europa League or perhaps because he identified something in Tottenham’s makeup that was better tackled with a flat back four.
Cuco Martina made his first Premier League start in an Everton jersey — many will hope, probably in vain, that it’s his last — while Davy Klaassen and Morgan Schneiderlin returned to the side and Sandro Ramirez was preferred to Dominic Calvert-Lewin alongside Rooney in attack.
The opening exchanges didn’t offer much hint of the debacle to follow from the home side as Rooney and Martina combined well down the right and the latter found Sandro in the middle but the Spaniard couldn’t guide the ball on goal from a difficult position.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, making his Goodison debut, had a couple of early but unproductive set-piece opportunities, Williams was booked for pulling Harry Kane back while both Eric Dier and Christian Eriksen escaped yellow cards from erratic referee Graham Scott shortly afterwards.
The warning signs for the Blues came before the match was a quarter of an hour old. Twice Ben Davies took advantage of far too much space afforded him by Martina to whip in dangerous crosses from the Spurs right. Dele Alli chested down the first and teed up Eriksen but the Dane hooked a first-time effort uncharacteristically wide; the second fell to Moussa Sissoko whose goal-bound effort was blocked well by Williams
The opening goal would come from the other flank, though, and in annoyingly unfortunate circumstances. A corner on side eventually ended up on the Tottenham right where Kane tried to swing in a cross but ended up drifting his centre over Jordan Pickford and under the crossbar to make it 1-0 with 27 minutes gone.
Sandro saw one snapshot at the other end cannon off Toby Alderweireld’s head from close range after good work by Rooney but it was a rare opening for Everton that was swiftly followed by a second goal for the visitors.
Sucked into his six-yard box, Martina waved a leg at a cross that had been flighted over everybody in the middle which left Davies in space to force Pickford into a save but he could only push it out to Eriksen who converted the rebound from close range.
Alli should have buried Everton in stoppage time but, completely unmarked in the middle, he mis-kicked yet another delivery from wide on Tottenham’s left before Martina gifted the ball to Kane and the striker dragged his shot wide.
Kane made no mistake less than a minute into the second half, though. Laying the ball out to Davies with Martina badly exposed again, he continued his run untracked by Schneiderlin and calmly side-footed a first-time finish past Pickford to make it 3-0.
That goal ripped up whatever plan Koeman had had for the second period having thrown on Tom Davies and Calvert-Lewin for Klaassen and Sandro and for the next 20 minutes, all the chances were created by Spurs.
Kane and Eriksen combined impressively in the 53rd minute for the latter to volley towards the far corner but Pickford was equal to it. They carved their hosts open again a minute later but Alli’s attempted cross came off Schneiderlin’s heel and Pickford saved again to deny Kane.
Sissoko then tried to get in on the act as Kieran Trippier picked him out in a laughable amount of space in the middle but he made a hash of the free header which went well wide.
Lloris nearly made it mildly interesting by tying himself into all sorts of knots trying to play it out from the back and passed it straight to Idrissa Gueye but the Senegal international failed to bother his goal with a first-time shot aiming for the empty net.
Everton sputtered into a bit of life too late in the proceedings as the game ticked through the last 10 minutes after Nikola Vlasic had come on for his debut following his deadline-day move from Hajduk Split. It was a cameo that featured some neat touches and confident running that ensured he would walk off at the end as one of a very small number of Blues players to emerge with any credit from a pitiful performance.
Meanwhile, Baines despatched a fine cross to Rooney that the veteran air-kicked badly and both Calvert-Lewin and Sigurdsson had shots charged down before Rooney headed disappointingly over. In the final reckoning, Everton had just one shot on target and failed to trouble Lloris with a shot all game… as damning a statistic as you can imagine for a team supposedly challenging today’s opponents for a place in the top four.
Let’s get the supposedly mitigating circumstances out the way first. Yes, this is a team featuring a number of new faces, some of them who are new to the Premier League, who will take time to bed in and gel. And, yes, Everton were handed a brutal start to the new league season — few fans were wild with expectation over the number of points that might be gleaned from a run of games against four of last season’s top six in the first five fixtures.
It’s not the fact that we have picked up a solitary point from those difficult games so far that is the problem, however. It’s how poor, how toothless and how utterly directionless they have looked in all but the game at Manchester City when there at least appeared to be a game plan and they wanted to have a go. Two shots on target in that match, zero at Chelsea and just one today… obviously you can’t hope to win football matches like that.
Koeman, a man steeped in the Total Football of Holland’s finest era and a Barcelona legend in his own right, is presiding over some awful yard-dog football that is, on the evidence of today, marrying the worst elements of his three predecessors’ reigns: the striker-less days of Walter Smith, the defensive and cowing disposition of some of David Moyes’s teams, and the spineless and defensively shambolic performances in the worst days under Roberto Martinez.
Tactically, he looks to be a novice despite his lengthy CV. His team has no width, no pace, no creativity and too many like-minded players stuffed into the same line-up. Sigurdsson, deployed out on the left, might as well have sat on the bench and only come on to take set-pieces such was has anonymity on the day. Klaassen, clearly an intelligent player who could be a great asset in a functioning team, played a similar role to the Icelandic international but offered little when the side was crying out for a consistent link between midfield and attack.
So, too, Gueye and Schneiderlin — the Frenchman was abysmal, it has to be said — who perform the same disruptive function in front of the back four but leave Everton short when defence turns to attack. That left Sandro once again chasing lost causes, not helped by Rooney’s lacklustre (bordering on disinterested) distribution in forward areas, and Martina to take the wooden spoon as a glaringly ill-considered addition to a supposedly top-seven team full stop, let alone a starter ahead of Mason Holgate who, playing as a makeshift fullback, at least has the positional awareness to do it justice even if it’s clearly not his best position. Moreover, it’s hard to see how even an inexperienced Jonjoe Kenny could have been any worse.
If those early forays into Europe could be chalked up to pre-season rustiness and a lack of peak fitness, what can explain away the abject displays at Stamford Bridge and at Goodison this afternoon? Performances characterised by aimless hit-and-hope fare that was epitomised by the kick-off to the second half: Everton restarted the match with a backwards pass and a hopeful punt forward to a hopelessly out-matched Rooney and less than 60 seconds later, Tottenham scored their third. School of Science it most definitely wasn’t.
Everton under Koeman have no answer to the high press, they go backwards far too often and they have no focal point up front which means the ball keeps coming back. Again, this isn’t just a question of us having played last season’s top three and lost; we look lost at the moment and it’s difficult to see where the progress has been made with an outlay of £140m on new players.
There is plenty of time, of course, and it was only a few short months ago that this looked like an Everton team that could go places if it could just work out how to win away from home. Time for the manager to really earn his abundant corn and figure out a way to get his side playing basic football again or this is going to be a very long, frustrating season.
Everton looked a little brighter going forward until they gave up a strange goal to Kane and there was no coming back as Tottenham Hotspur scored two more easy goals with no meaningful reply from the sadly outclassed Blues.
Ronald Koeman returns to a flat back four with Phil Jagielka making way. Leighton Baines becomes the first outfield player to start 300 Premier League games for Everton. Morgan Schneiderlin and Davy Klaassen return in midfield. Sandro, and Rooney start with Calvert-Lewin, Vlasic and Davies on the bench.
Spurs kicked off with the Blues keeping the action in he visitor's half, winning a free kick and then a cross flying over Rooney's head. Williams got a really poor yellow card after holding back Kane. Alli set up Eriksen who drove his shot wide.
Things livened up with a great overlap from Martina but Sandro could not convert his excellent low cross. Spurs responded with their first decent attack. Dier went in on Gueye but no yellow card for him, as Sandro won the first Everton corner but Williams was called for pushing.
Vertonghen was doing a good job on Rooney, denying him space and time with the ball as Graham Scott gave Kane a talking to for delaying a free-kick.
The Blues were showing some good intent going forward and Sandro drew a foul and a card for Alderweireld, Baines putting the free-kick beyond the far post and beyond everyone.
But Spurs looked very dangerous in response, Ben Davies pulling the ball back for Sissoko in space and he could have easily scored. Everton were unable to play their way out of their half after Baines was blocked by Dier and Spurs ended up with a corner that Rooney headed away.
A better move saw Baines cross and the ball fell awkwardly for Sigurdsson who blazed well high and wide. Martina and Sandro combined down the right but Rooney's cross was wayward. Spurs looked more intent and Martina did well to thwart Eriksen without giving up a penalty.
Martina got called for a challenge and Eriksen could not get his shot beyond the Everton wall. But it was increasingly Spurs asking the questions, and Kane fired in a wicked cross-shot from wide right that flew beyond Pickford into the Park End net.
Spurs surged forward down the right after that fillip but Sissoko had moved offside as the Blues rather too predictably faltered. But the ball did fall for Rooney, then Sandro whose shot was blocked by Alderweireld.
Everton's attempts to build attacks were woefully poor with Spurs easily able to rebuff them. A better move saw Martina swing in a cross that Rooney could not reach but earned a corner that Keane could not get on target and it ended up as a Spurs attack, Sissoko again offside.
Trippier should have been booked for a cynical foul on Sandro. Williams wasted the free-kick, however, letting Spurs build again. Davies fired in and Pickford saved the first but not the parry, that Eriksen lashed home. Really poor capitulation from the Blues in terms of utter failure to use the ball from Williams's free-kick.
Pickford's inability to find anyone showed up how poor Everton's options were and it turned into another chance for Spurs, Alli contriving to miss an open goal as the Blues crumbled into a pathetic heap of nothingness before break, Kane being the next to spurn another clear chance as he passed his shot beyond the post. A massive task for Ronald Koeman to change the direction off this one...
Davies replaced Klaassen, who had been poor in the first half, and Calvert-Lewin replaced Sandro but it was chaos at the back for the Blues, Keane and Pickford messing up before Kane was allowed to run through and score with consummate ease.
Calvert-Lewin showed some desire to fight for the ball, which roused the crowd breifly, but it was now a massive mountain to climb. Pickford pulled off an excellent reaction save from a clever Eriksen attempt. Kane was next for shooting practices as Spurs waltzed through on Pickford.
Gueye was booked for holding back Kane. Trippier in acres on the Spurs right delivered a brilliant cross for Sissoko that he incredibly headed over when it seemed easier to score. Rooney's frustration started to show with a poor challenge on Trippier.
The game was pretty much over as a contest, Spurs relaxing after the hour-mark, comfortable in the knowledge that Everton could not even come close to harming them.
Calvert-Lewin's pressure won a corner and Davies swung the cleared ball back in but the whistle blew for offside.
Nikola Vlasic was given his Premier League debut in place of Gana Gueye for the last 10 mins or so.
A half-decent move down the left saw Baines lay back a perfect cross for Rooney, who completely missed the ball, Calvert-Lewin unable to convert the follow-up, or get his header on target from the resulting corner.
Everton: Pickford; Martina, Keane, Williams [Y:5'], Baines; Schneiderlin, Gueye [Y:57'] (80' Vlasic); Sigurdsson, Klaassen (46' Davies); Rooney [Y:88'], Sandro (46' Calvert-Lewin).
Subs: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Jagielka, Mirallas.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld [Y:13'], Vertonghen, Davies, Dier, Sanchez, Sissoko (78' Winks), Alli, Eriksen (71' Dembele), Kane (85' Son).
Subs: Vorm, Llorente, Aurier, Walker-Peters.
Referee: Graham Scott
From My Seat: Tottenham Hotspur (H)
After that international break which seemed to take forever we were at last back at the old lady and in the room of nonsense the atmosphere was akin to the start of a new season. Transfer window closed and most thought that after a good start we dropped off alarmingly. Club manager and fans knew what was required but the only action to take place was the signing of a lad who played against us for Hadjuk Split who our manager had taken a liking to. What happened to the priorities of Striker, Left sided centre back and cover at left back? Not a clue except to say that they were nowhere in sight today and we will have the same vacancies come January. If the way we performed today is any yardstick then more vacancies will appear.
It all started so well with firstly the Rooney debate and to a person it was agreed we wanted him on the pitch and physically and mentally ready as well as making a difference on the pitch. His off the pitch problems will be resolved elsewhere.
The Barkley problem was agreed to be unfathomable as we were eating into time and with no one having the slightest idea what is going on even a few city centre clubbers had no knowledge. So leaving that behind we concentrated on choosing our preferred line up and waited for 2:00pm to find that most of us were very close but non blob on. It looked quite unbalanced to some of us.
Time for the walk up and we were delighted the rain had gone, sun was out and once around the ground we met many first timers taking pics and vids as well as some overseas Blues revelling in re-living memories of when they were younger. Those sights, smells of all that is going on in that strip between fan-zone and Gwladys street never fails to get the goose bumps started. In in plenty of time for Z-Cars and all the players got a great reception as their names were called (yep Rooney too).
Now this is where the trouble started. We were sloppy with passes if we approached the final third and if we did get it right they seemed all over us driving us back. Yes we kept the ball but they kept us from their danger area. Still for 15mins we did control the ball well but when push came to shove they started not only to repel us but built up moves that had us showing the first signs of doubt. It started with the back four as their attempts to clear were not as controlled as they should be but rather a tad hurried thus giving away the ball only for it to come back at us.
We did have some attacks, one in particular when Martina showed good pace down the line and put in an excellent cross that somehow Sandro failed to turn in. Then the same player made inroads toward goal only to be dumped to the deck by Vertonghen who got a yellow. The resultant free-kick was over hit by Baines and the danger passed and so it was a case of we strived to make inroads only to find a well drilled Spurs defence plus some shoddy passing ending promising moves which was starting to unsettle sections of the full house.
Spurs now came into it more and started to look a bigger, stronger together team than us as we witnessed more attacking and evermore scrambled defending. Apart from a few breakaways it was Spurs now calling the tune forcing a couple of corners that were cleared with difficulty and when we did get to put a move together it always seemed to end with a wayward pass or a wrong decision. The half hour mark came and we paid a price for not closing down players as the ball went to Kane on the right who from my seat put a cross in but the ball ended up going past our keeper who seemed a bit shell shocked when a ball he thought was a cross found the net over his despairing dive. Bit unlucky there I thought, I will look forward to seeing that again.
The Blues seemed to respond to going behind but poor approach play and passing kept gifting the ball back to Spurs who twice had gilt edged chances but luckily for us they were caught just offside each time. I am now thinking get in to half time and get sorted plus changes need making and most were calling for Davies and DCL to replace Klaassen and Sandro but they were not the only two not playing to expectation.
On 45 mins Williams took a poor free kick and Spurs attacked down the left with Welshman Davies who hit one on goal which Pickford parried out with a good block but Eriksen pounced and fairly hammered the ball home. Recriminations and shaking of heads greeted that. Many left for an early cuppa; those left booed on the whistle.
Half-time: 0-2... Not much complimentary chat was about.
Second half and we wondered could it get any worse. Well we didn’t have to wait long to find out and the answer was yes it could as Spurs attacked and within just one minute Pickford and Keane got in a mess resulting in Spurs being gifted the ball back and Kane strolling through unmarked and he slotted with aplomb and that was to all intents and purposes game over. A full half to go and three down and playing poorly enough to let another three in. Many had rejoiced at the score from City; now it looked like they from yonder would get the last laugh.
Luckily Spurs started to coast safe in the knowledge they had the better of us. I wasn’t that we didn’t try in some cases to hard as we gave away free kicks, over hit passes and looked sorry for ourselves. Spurs just knocked it about and got in some good positions for Ericson to fire just wide, Sissoko to miss an open goal from a superb cross from the Spurs right back. Rooney got booked for fouling whilst showing frustration.
Sigurdsson was barely noticeable as was Schneiderlin plus the two lads introduced at the break had altered nothing. It really was a hard watch now but for the last 10mins we got to welcome our new Croatian player Vlasic who looked fit and strong and ran about a lot but nowhere near long enough to make any judgement. Goodison was emptying like water through a sieve, comments were yelled as fans left. I awaited the whistle and rejoiced in the fact it was only a 3 goal beating when in truth it could have been double figures.
MotM: Eriksen of Spurs for me.
Overall a very frustrating day. We came full of hope and left quite deflated. The worrying thing for me was that we played like a bunch of strangers playing a system they did not really understand which in turn made the players look less than confident on the ball thus causing many unforced errors like over hitting passes, ball running to far from them when controlling it plus on too many occasions players not moving to create options for the man on the ball.
Time for manager and players to stand up and get themselves welded into a coherent team. It may take a little time and patience from players and fans but that is far preferable to what we saw served up today. Still things can only get better. See you next game.I
will leave the last word on the game to the words I heard again and again on the walk back. ‘Top Six? Ha – more like Bottom Six.’
UP THE BLUES
With the transfer window out the way and Ronald Koeman now cognisant of what he has to work with until January at least, Everton's Premier League programme resumes this weekend with the visit to Goodison Park of Tottenham Hotspur.
It's the third match in a stretch of particularly difficult assignments early in the league season that has pit the Blues against top-six opposition in four of their five opening games. Trips to Atalanta and Manchester United follow which would make a home win against one of the contenders for the title a big one in terms of morale.
It promises to be one of Everton's toughest home games of the campaign, however, one that should see Leighton Baines reach 300 Premier League
appearances starts for the club. The Blues haven't registered a win over this weekend's opponents home or away for five years and Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino are notoriously good travellers. Only champions Chelsea lost fewer on the road than last season and not since Nikica Jelavic's dramatic stoppage time winner capped a thrilling late comeback by David Moyes's team in 2012-13 have Spurs lost at Goodison Park.
Among the many dimensions to Saturday's encounter, two stick out like sore thumbs from Everton's perspective and both could affect them in the most important area of the pitch — up front.
The first is the glaring lack of an experienced attacking signing to replace Romelu Lukaku before last week's transfer deadline, a failing that could dog the club until the next window opens in four months' time. It means there will be a heavy reliance on the raw but increasingly influential Dominic Calvert-Lewin and newcomer Sandro Ramirez, a hope that Kevin Mirallas can somehow get his head right to work his way back into the side and to some hitherto elusive consistency, and the need for experience and leadership from Wayne Rooney.
Unfortunately, Rooney could be the second problematic facet to the game in that so much focus will be on his performance given his off-the-field drink-driving transgression and very public marital strife. The veteran has spent muc of his career under media scrutiny so the chances are he will be able to shrug it off and keep his mind on the task at hand but it's an unwanted distraction.
On a more positive note, new signing Nikola Vlasic will be part of the matchday squad for the first time since his arrival from Hajduk Split, most likely taking Mirallas's now customary spot on the bench. The Croatian could, indeed, offer a like-for-like replacement for the erratic Belgian and might be a surprise package this term despite his relatively tender years.
Sandro, meanwhile, is fit and feeling 100% along with Jordan Pickford and Morgan Schneiderlin will return to the side after missing the defeat at Chelsea through suspension. The Frenchman is likely to line up alongside Idrissa Gueye, with Koeman possibly going with a back five again with Mason Holgate in the right wingback role once more.
Tottenham have some injury problems to contend with as Erik Lamela, Georges-Kévin Nkoudou, Danny Rose and Victor Wanyama are all ruled out but Pochettino is blessed with a big enough squad to absorb any of those losses, with perhaps Rose being their biggest loss.
New signing Serge Aurier might not be involved but deadline-day buy Fernando Llorente could play, lining up this time against his old partner in goals at Swansea, Gylfi Sigurdsson, who is set to make his first appearance at Goodison Park as an Everton player.
With the Toffees having home advantage but a forward line struggling to make chances and with just two league goals so far from three games, this one is shaping up to be a tight affair dominated by two strong defences. Everton's was breached twice at Stamford Bridge before the international break but came very close to keeping Manchester City's much-vaunted attack at bay on their patch before that which bodes well when it comes to containing the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli.
Evertonian eyes will be on what, if any, tactical or formational adjustments Koeman makes given that he was not able to procure the type of No.9 striker he was after, while Sigurdsson will, perhaps, command even more attention as one of the most important components in the team.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday, 9 September, 2017
Referee: Graham Scott
Last Time: Everton 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Williams, Jagielka, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Sigurdsson, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin