Carlo Ancelotti is a man accustomed to the big stage and even given the predicament in which he found Everton when he took over in December, there must have been a part of him that felt he might be able to sneak the Blues into Europe this season.
Much of the talk coming into this “six-pointer” against Tottenham surrounded Everton’s record under the Italian which was among the best four in the Premier League since Christmas. It’s been Champions League-level form, albeit in a division littered with erratic teams that has been emerging from a three-month hiatus following the Covid-19 shutdown, but after today, it’s hard seeing this team gracing any Continental competition next season. Indeed, without some significant investment or, quite frankly, miraculous management by Ancelotti, Europe could remain elusive for a while to come.
That’s not to say that this Everton side doesn’t boast some talent. In Richarlison they have a genuine match-winner, a fact that wasn’t lost on Jose Mourinho who had clearly instructed his Tottenham charges to surround, harry and kick the Brazilian out of the game. He still almost produced a goal on the stroke of half-time at the end of what might have been the Toffees’ only incisive moment in 50 first-half minutes but he was effectively negated for the most part.
Mason Holgate and Michael Keane have formed an impressive partnership in recent weeks, conceding just once since ‘Project Restart’ got underway but it was a pairing that was broken up after half an hour when the former was forced off with an injury of his own making when he went in late on Giovani Lo Celso, not long after the latter had scored an unfortunate own goal that ultimately decided what was a dreadful contest.
Anthony Gordon, the lively, inventive and largely fearless teenager who stepped off the bench at the start of the second half and injected some much-needed life into the attack offers hope for the future but that is where the plaudits for this Everton side end because, apart from Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s ceaseless industry, there is precious little to get excited about.
At the heart of their problems is a black hole of a midfield, one devoid of guile, imagination and drive, where the first instinct is to go backwards because of an inability to play through an opposition press and the link between defence and attack is all too often a launched ball over the top, a risky flighted diagonal pass to the flanks or the safe option to lay it off to the centre-halves.
So much is expected of André Gomes but his rich pedigree and suave Iberian demeanour are increasingly deceit by way of flattery of the eye. The Portuguese continues to play within himself, seemingly frightened of trying anything riskier than a safe sideways pass and prone to stupid fouls outside his own area like the transparent challenge he left in on Son Hueng-Min as a half-hearted and ill-advised reminder of what the South Korean did to him in the reverse fixture at Goodison last November.
His long injury lay-off in between would be an obvious mitigating factor on his form but, truth be told, Gomes had become a source of frustration before his injury and if he is to remain the great hope in Everton’s midfield, he is going to need to demonstrate he can recapture his best form next season.
On today’s evidence, he isn’t worthy of even a starting role in what would, money permitting, be an entirely revamped midfield for 2020-21. Next to him, Gylfi Sigurdsson reverted to type after decent outings off the bench at Norwich and against Leicester in midweek. Slow, uncommitted and one-dimensional, the Icelander didn’t attempt a single tackle and made further mockery of his inflated price tag and six-figure monthly salary.
Tom Davies, making his 100th appearance for Everton despite being only 22, also lapsed back into the form that has raised question marks left, right and centre as to whether he is good enough to command even a regular spot on the bench let alone a routine starting role.
Then there was Alex Iwobi, a player who really only has one position — a free no. 10 role behind the strikers, one that doesn’t currently exist under Ancelotti, even in this evening’s modified system. He had adapted well to a wide-right role in recent weeks but he found himself shunted out to the left this evening and struggled before he was taken off at half-time with a hamstring problem.
That it took a teenager to come on after the break and provide some of the thrust and invention that had been sorely lacking by his more experienced team-mates rather summed up Everton’s midfield but there is a general and persistent lack of spirit, fight and cohesion about the entire team that has infected this club for years.
Players, managers and directors of football have come and gone and yet Everton’s pitiful record on the grounds of the so-called “big six” just extends, season after season with no evidence in sight that they can find the collective stones to just go out and win one of these matches.
They had actually done alright prior to the Spurs goal which had come from the hosts’ first really incisive bit of play. For the first quarter of the contest, the respective teams had been effectively cancelling each other out with their pressing game and while it was perhaps a little conservative from Ancelotti given Tottenham’s potential fragility following a 3-1 defeat to Sheffield United last time out, it at least preserved parity until Lady Luck intervened.
Son had done his best to tease a couple of Everton defenders in the penalty area before finding Harry Kane whose shot was blocked but fell to Lo Celso. He wrong-footed Lucas Digne and sliced a shot that was heading off target but it stuck Keane in the midriff and bounced past Jordan Pickford.
It was an ugly goal, fittingly enough the winner of an ugly game, and it was one that Everton proved incapable of cancelling out, not helped by the fact that they registered just six touches of the ball in Tottenham's box all game.
Richarlison’s decent strike, set up by Yerry Mina, was about as close as the Toffees came to breaching Hugo Lloris’s goal in the entire game. Gordon had the game’s first effort on target, a low drive that made for a routine save five minutes into the second half and, thanks to a late but vain flurry by the visitors towards the end, Calvert-Lewin would test Lloris himself with an improvise heel-flick off a free-kick.
There was also time for Gordon to send a rising half-volley over and substitute Djibril Sidibé to rattle a stoppage-time shot wide but in the final reckoning and despite the introduction of Moise Kean and Bernard, Everton’s attacking efforts were pretty feeble.
At the other end, Pickford beat away a couple of shots from Son while the Spurs forward curled another effort past the far post.
With this first defeat in four games, Everton remain outside the top 10 — below Burnley and barely above Newcastle in the table — and while they still have five games to go, two of them against teams above them, they can probably kiss goodbye thoughts of qualifying for the Europa League.
That’s just as well; with Marcel Brands tempering hopes of a significant influx of talent during the upcoming transfer window, it’s likely that the bulk of this team will still be around next season and, frankly, they’re not yet worthy of Continental competition.
It will be a supreme test of Brands’s ability to find two or three players to really make a difference to a squad that again looks short on depth and quality and just as big an examination of Ancelotti’s managerial savvy and expertise to fashion a side capable of winning consistently and taking big scalps away from home next season.
Some introspection on the part of the players themselves wouldn’t go amiss either because there was opportunity here with discord in Tottenham's dressing room and Mourinho's start to life in North London not going to plan. Not for the first time, Everton couldn't rise to the occasion and once again they let the supporters down just when they were daring to entertain a little optimism.
A dreadful game was settled on a fluky own-goal that came off Michael Keane but this was not a good Everton performance by any stretch of the imagination.
Tom Davies makes his 100th Premier League appearance for Everton, with Anthony Gordon moving to the bench where there is thankfully only one goalkeeper named.
Everton kicked off, the ball launched long and straight out of play! Spurs then won a very early free-kick wide left, Holgate blocking Sissoko wide right. Another free-kick for Spurs, winning a corner. Son swung it but it wasn't cleared properly until Kane was caught offside.
Everton got some possession but went nowhere until Digne fired in a cross that dropped short of Calvert-Lewin. Richarlison was fouled with a high boot from Le Celso. Digne got forward but overhit his cross wildly.
Davies was playing a strange role wide right, and firing balls backwards rather than forwards, letting Spurs organize and threaten. Richarlison was taking some punishment, Ben Davies catching his Achilles.
Calvert-Lewin was very slow to come back and was offside when Sigurdsson picked him out for a good forward ball. Spurs looked stymied by some solid Everton defending, and Richarlison was fouled again, this time by Winks. But only backwards play by Everton from the free-kick.
Another free-kick, this also going backwards, to Pickford. Everton spurned a slew of chances to play the ball into the Spurs area but were playing a very cagey game, looking far happier when defending than attacking.
It was all so inviting and Moura struck a dangerous shot a yard wide with Pickford launching to cover. A forward ball looked perfect for Iwobi to attack; he just ambled after it, and allowed Lloris to gather harmlessly.
Son was up for it and some determined Spurs play finally paid off, Le Celso with a horrible deflection in off Keane to give the home side the lead. Everton had no-one to blame but themselves for way too much negative and yes cowardly play (from Iwobi).
Coleman delivered a great cross and Iwobi just backed off, letting the defender clear. Shocking stuff from him. Spurs broke well from the back and Holgate had to take out Le Celso, picking up a yellow card for his trouble. Eric Dier fired it inches over the bar.
Holgate paid an additional price for his rash tackle, needed treatment to his right knee. Coleman did well to win Everton a corner, Digne's first earning a second, gifted to Lloris.
Spurs were moving the ball around with intent, the Everton defence having to lock into shape, Gomes giving away a pathetic foul on Son as Holgate hobbled off with Mina replacing him. Kane fired the free-kick off the top of the wall for a corner, Son delivering, Ben Davies winning another corner with a high shot deflected, headed clear by Mina.
A long throw by Digne was repelled, Sigurdsson winning a corner that he took, finding Calvert-Lewin at the far post but Lloris scrambled it behind. Another corner that Gomes lazily wafted at, a really poor attempt at a shot.
Spurs were invited to run at Everton again, Digne doing well to deflect Moura's cross behind for a Spurs corner. Pickford wafted at it, getting enough on it to deflect it behind as Spurs kept up the pressure.
Gomes had a chance to play a great outball but completely fluffed it. Everton were really disjointed going forward, playing the ball around the Spurs area until they wasted the efforts until Richarlison finally decided to shoot, hammering the ball away from rather than inside the far post.
Gordon thankfully replaced Iwobi but Spurs got an early free-kick that Son wasted. Sissoko fouled Richarlison, a nasty challenge, Sissko gets the card. Gordon got space, ran ahead and shot, but weakly, straight at Lloris. Calvert-Lewin appeared to get half a chance to shoot but Winks blocked him strongly.
Son somehow got past Mina and tested Pickford, who saved well to his right. Everton put together a better move through Calvert-Lewin but the ball would not fall for the Blues. Some more adventurous play down the right saw Calvert-Lewin cross in to Lloris from the sideline... Why?
That allowed Spurs to play a bit at the other end, Moura to Son, with Winks firing wide. Perhaps the game was opening up a little, but Everton could not keep possession.
Everton's attacking prowess was summed up by Gomes, gambling forward and, under zero pressure, wellying an awful cross beyond the goal, what a waste. Another fine move from Spurs saw Kane release Soon who curled a shot just wide. Son got through again, beating Davies, and lashing a fearsome shot at Pickford.
Gordon did well to draw a foul near the corner flag, Digne crossing in but Dier defending it well. Sigurdsson, who had also be absolutely useless, gave way to Bernard.
Davies produced a lovely probing ball that was moved forward and looke to surely create something but it fizzled with Calvert-Lewin again coming back late from an offside position. But a couple fo free kicks got them into a classic Sigurdsson position, Digne to take.
After a long pause, and lots of arguing, the Spurs wall stepping infront the foam line, Bernard put it into the wall and Davies's shot blocked behind. Nothing from the corner.
Richarlison was fouled again, this time yellow for Ben Davies. Ancelotti gambled on Sidibé and Kean on for Coleman and Davies. Ben Davies lashed a shot well over Everton's goal. Richarlison fouled again, another free-kick, fired at Calvert-Lewinwho improvised a bizarre back-heel volley that Lloris gathered with ease.
Gomes fouled Llamlea for a yellow card with Everton lacking any idea or intent of rescuing this game, ad Spurs sensing another goal. Suddenly, Everton attacked, Kean down the right while Gordon was cynically fouled by Lamella. The corner came in but Gordon could not keep his shot down. Then Gordon galloped through and set up Kean who fired it at Lloris. No guile whatsoever.
A late volley form miles out flies wide summing up the utter waste of time, effort and desire from Everton tonite. Shockingly poor fayre.
Kick-off: 8pm, Monday 6 July 2020
Referee: Graham Scott
VAR: Kevin Friend
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris, Aurier, Dier, Alderweireld [Y:84'], B Davies [Y:76'], Winks, Sissoko [Y:48'], Lo Celso (90+1' Vertonghen), Moura (82' Lamela), Son (78' Bergwijn), Kane.
Subs:Gazzaniga, Sanchez, Ndombele, Fernandes, Skipp, Cirkin.
Everton (4-4-2): Pickford; Coleman (78' Sidibé), Keane, Holgate [Y:30'] (36' Mina), Digne; Iwobi (46' Gordon), T Davies (78' Kean), Gomes [Y:87'], Sigurdsson (68' Bernard); Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison.
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Baines, Branthwaite, Baningime.
Unbeaten since the post-lockdown resumption, Everton travel to Tottenham for a difficult Monday-evening assignment knowing that they will need to keep winning in order to retain an interest in the European qualification picture.
The Blues will come into the fixture on the back of successive Premier League victories but five points adrift of Arsenal in seventh place with six games left. A first win on Spurs' turf in 12 years would lift them into ninth place and back into the thick of the race for the Europa League, with games against rivals Wolves and Sheffield United to come.
Trips to the Capital and North London, in particular, have yielded precious little for Everton for most of the Premier League era but, with Carlo Ancelotti demonstrating his savviness in each of the last three matches, there is hope that the club's fortunes in fixtures like these will soon change.
Tottenham could either be in purposeful mood, bent on rebounding from a poor performance and result at Bramall Lane in midweek, or continue to display erratic and vulnerable form under Jose Mourinho. They comfortably despatched West Ham at home on 23 June and held Manchester United in an entertaining contest before that but they haven't looked entirely convincing since the restart.
Everton, meanwhile, have been improving in parallel with their fitness and match sharpness and, having beaten Leicester last time out, they'll be looking to make it three wins on the spin for the first time this season.
Key to that will likely be a combination of the defensive resilience that has seen them conceded just once in the last three games, and Richarlison's ability to hurt teams at the other end of the pitch. The Brazilian scored his 13th goal of the season with the opener against the Foxes and his partnership with Dominic Calvert-Lewin is likely to be pivotal again provided, as is expected, he overcomes the knock to his ankle that forced him off just shy of the hour mark on Wednesday. (He was pictured training as normal at Finch Farm on Sunday.)
That solidity at the back and the return to fitness of Yerry Mina presents Ancelotti with a conundrum, albeit one that the coming glut of games in short order will afford him some leeway to address. The manager may feel that his starting central-defensive pairing of Michael Keane and Mason Holgate, both of whom have been excellent over the past three matches, will have had sufficient rest since Wednesday and will be fine to start again. He may elect to rotate one of them on Thursday but it would not be a surprise to see the back line unchanged.
The same goes for midfield, where André Gomes and Gylfi Sigurdsson were solid if unspectacular against Leicester and both Anthony Gordon and Alex Iwobi acquitted themselves well.
Spurs are dangerous when they're in the mood and, in the likes of Harry Kane and Steven Bergwijn, they have proven match-winners but they have registered just one victory in six games and are struggling to meet the expectation that they would qualify for the Champions League this season.
The assumption is that the hosts will have most of the ball but, if Everton can keep things tight and look to pounce on the break, they could prey on those doubts and frailties that appear to be dogging Mourinho's men and finally come away with three points from this part of the Capital.
Kick-off: 8pm, Monday 6 July 2020
Referee: Graham Scott
VAR: Kevin Friend
Last Time: Tottenham Hotspur 2 - 2 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Holgate, Digne, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Iwobi, Gordon, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin