2013 — the last time Everton won away at a “big six” team; 2012 — the last time Everton beat Tottenham; 2008 — the last time Everton won on Tottenham’s home turf. All three of those unwanted statistics tumbled this afternoon and while there is a discussion to be had around the extent to which the absence of fans reduces home advantage, take nothing away from this performance, the magnitude of the result and the transformation this Blues side has undergone since this same fixture just seven games ago.
This was night and day from that miserable display in early July when a pretty awful Spurs edged an utterly dreadful Everton thanks to a Michael Keane own goal. A defeat that effectively ended any notion of the Toffees sneaking into a European qualification place was attributed on these pages to “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”. Today, victory was founded on a completely revamped mid-section, with three new signings making stellar debuts in royal blue.
If Carlo Ancelotti appeared a little helpless in the run-in to 2019-20 as a number of players exhibited signs of either having lost their way or were simply “phoning it in” over the final nine games, the Italian knew exactly what he needed to strengthen this team and get it moving in the right direction again. Had he and Marcel Brands had their way, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg would have been first through the door during the close season; instead, after the Dane had unequivocally chosen North London over Merseyside, they turned to Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré. And while Højbjerg might be younger, there was strong evidence today that the two men who ended up at Everton are much better players.
Højbjerg was part of a Tottenham team made to look largely toothless and ordinary by an Everton performance that was high on octane, organisation, cohesion and which ensured that Ancelotti’s men comfortably won the battle in midfield. Indeed, the former Southampton’s only notable contribution was an ugly, borderline-red tackle on Richarlison late on that rather summed up the hosts’ frustrations.
Jose Mourinho bitched after the game about the spot from where Lucas Digne took the free-kick that led to Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s majestic headed winner and he eschewed the opportunity to give the Toffees any credit but he will know that while the visitors had Jordan Pickford to thank for two top-drawer saves in the first half, this could and should have been a heavier defeat for his Lilywhites. His Spurs side were on the whole out-played and dominated on the day.
With better finishing from Richarlison, Ancelotti would, indeed, be toasting a bigger victory but when your star attacker can still emerge from a game winning plaudits for his tenacity and his role alongside Calvert-Lewin in simply wearing the opponents down, you know it was a good day. And it was a very good day against what is normally a very good team.
From front to back, this was an Everton that looked hungry, determined but also finally confident in its own ability thanks to the new boys and they dominated the early exchanges. Mourinho admitted in his pre-match press conference that on the back of their transfer business, he now considered the Blues genuine rivals for the top six but even he might have been surprised by the way Ancelotti’s men set about controlling the ball until Spurs finally got to grips with them to a degree as the first half wore on.
Everton should have been a goal up after a quarter of an hour, though when Richarlison’s opportunism created a gilt-edged chance when he sprinted onto Ben Davies’s wayward pass, beat Toby Alderweireld to the ball and then rounded Hugo Lloris. His last touch took him a little too far wide, however, and with Calvert-Lewin free in the centre waiting to tap it in, the Brazilian went for glory and sliced an off-balance effort well off target.
Tottenham showed their own attacking threat in the 24th minute when Son Hueng-Min curled a wicked ball over the Everton defence and in front of Pickford but it just eluded the out-stretched boot of Harry Kane.
Eight minutes later, Spurs broke at speed in a two-on-two situation where Dele Alli had a chance to slip Kane in for a clear chance on goal but went for it himself and Pickford reacted brilliantly to push his shot over the crossbar.
For Everton, Allan was efficiently going about his business closing down spaces, winning the ball, and handing it off with the minimum of fuss and Doucouré was covering ground, claiming second balls, driving forward with purpose but was also alert enough to put in an excellent stretching tackle to stop Lucas Moura from racing away. James Rodriguez, meanwhile, was oozing class with every silky touch and pin-point accurate cross-field pass and he would create more chances in a game than any Everton player has for two years. After choking a shot earlier on his weaker right foot, he collected the ball following a Doucouré interception and bounced a trademark left-foot shot inches wide of Lloris’s right-hand post.
Despite the Merseysiders’ superiority, it was the Londoners who fashioned the best move of the half when their other debutant, Matt Doherty, played a one-two with Kane, latching onto the latter’s scooped ball over the top and aiming a shot for the far corner of the goal but Pickford was equal to it, making an impressive save with his foot to divert the ball away to safety.
Perhaps acknowledging that his team were being bested in midfield, Mourinho withdrew Alli and introduced Moussa Sissoko at half-time but it did little to alter the pattern of play. This Everton is a much more formidable proposition and once again it was they who had the better chances early in the half. Calvert-Lewin played an inviting ball across the area to James but he uncharacteristically scuffed his shot before the Colombian floated a teasing ball to the back stick where Richarlison had time to chest it down and perhaps bury it past Lloris but he attempted a header instead and failed to make proper contact.
The goal, when it came, was not from the cultured boot of Rodriguez or the mercurial Richarlison but emphatically from the head of a man about whom questions were raised at the tail end of last season when he failed to score at all during the nine games of “Project Restart”. When Richarlison was fouled wide on the left and Digne whipped the ball behind the defence, it was Calvert-Lewin who rose powerfully and purposefully in the image of his Finch Farm mentor, Duncan Ferguson, and despatched an unstoppable header high into Lloris’s goal. It was a thumping finish worthy of any Everton No.9 and a worthy winning goal.
Everton became a little sloppy with the ball at times after the goal and they invited a little more pressure than was necessary as a result but Tottenham would barely trouble Everton in the second half. When they tried, Pickford displayed pleasing command of his box with two fearless punches to clear his area.
Lucas Moura and Son were shackled and stymied by the imperious central defensive pairing of Yerry Mina and Michael Keane and a terrier-like, wind-back-the-clock display by captain Seamus Coleman; Kane cut a frustrated figure up front; and Doherty tired visibly before being withdrawn later in the half having failed to cause the Toffees any further grief.
Instead, it was Richarlison who would rue a couple of near misses with near-carbon-copy efforts in the 69th and 72nd minutes, both right-foot shots searching out the far post but which lacked the requisite curl to bring them inside the upright. Coleman, meanwhile, sent a speculative 25-yard volley at Lloris that the goalkeeper safely gathered.
Other than a late chance for Calvert-Lewin to double his tally off Doucouré’s smart ball forward that ended with another shot too close to the keeper, the finale was merely about Ancelotti using his substitutes’ bench to kill the game. André Gomes, who had looked much more at ease relieved of his defensive midfield duties and deployed further forward, made way for Gylfi Sigurdsson on 68 minutes before Calvert-Lewin and then Rodriguez were taken off in the final few minutes in favour of Moise Kean and Tom Davies to kill the clock.
Ancellotti promised that his Everton team would be more competitive this season and his players delivered on that pledge in spades. Combative, resilient but also confident and composed, they bossed this match at times and were more than deserving of the points despite Mourinho’s churlishness. It was notable that Rodriguez, the stand-out player on the pitch in the first 45 minutes, was largely peripheral in the second period, able to play a “Messi-esque” role of only exerting himself when needed to ping another delightful ball to the opposite flank or nonchalantly flick the ball past an opponent before gliding away from him to set up another attack.
Allan was the recipient of the man-of-the-match award from Sky Sports but, in truth, there were half a dozen or more candidates for the accolade in the Toffees’ ranks. With the addition of Allan’s bite, Doucouré’s industry and the mesmerising talent of Rodriguez, Brands and Ancelotti have completely re-made the midfield and dramatically upgraded the effectiveness of the team as a result.
Granted, this was just one match at the start of a long season and Evertonians are more than accustomed to disappointment, heartbreak and false dawns but this feels different — the effect of a top-class manager stamping his will and class on a team with targeted acquisitions and a touch of magic. If this is to be the platform from which this side gets better as the new players settle in and attain full match fitness and results like this breed confidence, then these could be the beginnings of exciting times at Everton... if so, we haven't half earned them!
Everton kicked off the new season at White Hart Lane with very welcome debuts for all three new midfield stars, who gave them a new-found confidence that finally secured a very impressive win.
Carlo Ancelotti thankfully plays all three of his new acquisitions, Allan, Doucouré and James Rodriguez, in a radically upgraded midfield, with only André Gomes keeping his place from last season, with Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin upfront.
Spurs got things going but it was a but scrappy as both sides looked to get back into the swing of things, the home side making the most of it with Spurs having more possession Son shooting at Pickford. Everton, lucky not to concede a corner, still doing that stupid playing out from the back nonsense from the goalkick.
Everton got forward for the first time and a nice ball in to Richarlison saw him fall over the ball! Not what is required. Doucoure tried a nice ball forward but it was never going to come off. Another poor touch by Richarlison in midfield this stme stopped an promising move from developing.
A spell of Everton pressure eventually moved toward the final third, James's cross-field pass worthy of some positive analysis, but Everton still struggling to penetrate the massed ranks in front of them. Ball retention, however, was definitely looking better... until Richarlison again was the guilty party, passing straight to a Spurs player.
As Everton settled into the game, ball movement and control looked more convincing. But the play was reaching the final third only to stall and turn around, without providing any threat to Lloris. Another fine spell of deep possession broke down when approaching the final third.
Richarlison found himself beating the last man but, oh goodness me, what a godawful mess he made of it, going wide around the goalkeeper and then spooning it high over the open goal. Absolutely abysmal!!!
Spurs attacked, Coleman having to block Son's cross behind for the first corner, cleared with some desperation by Allan. But Spurs persistently recycled the ball, giving the Everton backline some work to do.
A couple of throw-ins saw Everton advance down the left, a cross in to Calvert-Lewin wayward, Mina also with the follow-up shot on the clearance. Spurs almost scored at the other end, Kane coming round the back and only inches away from Son's cross.
Spurs drove forward strongly but Everton got the ball away and mounted something of their own attack that broke down with Gomes's cutback from the goalline. Everton broke quickly from a Son strike that was headed clear, the ball catching Calvert-Lewin's heel, but Rodriguez recovered it and tried to dig out a shot.
Rodriguez was delivering some lovely cross-balls out to Digne, but the play just was not developing up-front. Another fine ball, this time to Richarlison, who cut inside but saw his shot deflected behind for Everton's first corner, delivered well by James.
From the second Everton corner, Dier's header let Spurs break at pace and Pickford needed to save very well from Alli, with nothing developing for Spurs from the corner. Doucoure did nicely to set up James for a left-foot shot that bounced an inch or two wide.
Allan and Moura clashed in the tackle, but thankfully recovered, Spurs getting the free-kick in a dangerous spot, Son's kick headed clear well by Richarlison. But Everton still wanted too much time to fart about in their own half and seemed unwilling to press forward with any pace or desire, letting Spurs regain possession.
An incisive Spurs move saw a fine ball chipped over the backline for Doherty but Pickford did exceptionally well to close the angle and make himself huge, stopping the goalbound shot with his foot. Everton finally worked themselves close enough for a shot, but it was pretty lame from Richarlison, straight at Lloris.
Keane and Mina needed to make key headed clearance as Spurs mounted a final flourish to the half, Rodriguez giving away a free-kick wide left that was completely wasted by Son as Atkinson blew his whistle to end a passable half from of football Everton that will be remembered painfully for that dreadful miss which would and should have seen Everton go in one goal to the good.
Sissoko the only change for spurs at the break, Everton effectively defending an early corner conceded. Doucoure a little sloppy with the ball but Keane launched a lovely ball to Calvert-Lewin who hold up well and played in a perfect ball for Rodriguez but his finish was absolutely dreadful, screwing it well wide.
But then a fantastic ball forward to Richarlison, whose header, was also absolutely abysmal at the far post. Gomes was next with a chance that was blocked behind, but Everton should now be 3-0 up.
Finally, a piece of magic - not from any of the new players, Digne delivering a fantastic ball in and Calvert-Lewin timing his run and leap perfectly and even using his k=neck muscles to drive the ball firmly into the back of the Spurs net.
Everton had to resist something of a reply by Spurs but it didn't really cause any trouble for the Blues backline. With 30 minutes left, game management became important with Gomes showing a little more conservatism.
Everton now started to exert control over the game and really frustrate Spurs. But keeping possession is vital and at times the Blues guard was sloppy. Sigurdsson replaced Gomes.
Rodriguez produced another wonderful ball out to Richarlison who cut in and shot inches wide with Lloris well beaten. Coleman picked out Richarlison but, tired or lazy? he just kicked the ball at the legs of the defender in front of him.
A repeat for Richarlison and again he drove a glorious chance fractionally wide. Coleman tried an ambitious volley that was at least on target, forcing a save from Lloris. But Everton really should have made this game safe. Would tiredness and a lack of concentration be their downfall?
It got more and more nerve-wracking, with Mourinho making his third change. A corner won by Moura and delivered by Son was headed harmlessly behind as Everton looked to hang on to 3 hard-earned points. But the game was being played almost entirely in Everton's half now.
Pickford had to come out and make a couple of key punches but Everton just could not get the ball forward. And when it did go forward, they played it back to Pickford who promptly launched it out of play.
Doucoure fed a beautiful ball to Calvert-Lewin's feet and he controlled well, shooting with pace but straight at Lloris. Richarlison was then taken out by Højbjerg, who was booked for his recklessness.
Kean came on for Calvert-Lewin and the game drifted into 4 minutes of injury time, with Davies then replacing Rodriguez. But the Blue played out a fantastic win for Carlo Ancelotti, with the new star players who had joined the club primarily because of his presence, delivering in spades to produce a fine strong and match-winning midfield performance.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Doherty, Alderweireld, Dier, Davies; Højbjerg [Y:85'], Winks (60'Bergwijn); Moura, Alli (46' Sissoko), Son; Kane.
Substitutes: Hart, Sanchez, Aurier, Lamela ( Ndombele).
Everton (4-4-2): Pickford; Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne; Doucouré, Allan, Gomes (68' Sigurdsson); James (90+2' Davies), Richarlison; Calvert-Lewin (88' Kean).
Substitutes: Virginia, Kenny, Walcott, Bernard.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
VAR: Andre Marriner
It feels like only yesterday Everton's 2019-20 season petered out into a depressing conclusion with home defeat to a Bournemouth side whose relegation back to the Championship was confirmed despite earning those three points. With that 3-1 win, the Cherries did the league double over the Toffees for the first time in their history, achieving the feat against two different managers but against a team very much exhibiting the same problems.
Carlo Ancelotti's impact upon succeeding Marco Silva was to collect 30 points from 20 games but it was clear by the campaign's end that even one of Europe's most decorated managers wasn't able to overcome injuries to some key players or compensate for the one of the weakest midfields seen at Goodison Park in living memory.
Of course, thanks to weeks of groundwork and a whirlwind few days at Finch Farm, the Italian and Marcel Brands moved swiftly to address the squad's most glaring and pressing deficiencies with the addition of three vital midfield signings in the form of Allan, Abdoulaye Doucouré and James Rodriguez.
While those three signings alone probably won't be enough to transform Everton from mid-table mediocrity to Champions League qualifiers, their presence does make Ancelotti's side a very different proposition this coming season. As the engine room, springboard for attacks and protection for the back four, the midfield is an absolutely critical part of the team — you can't achieve much without one but you can be a hell of a lot more effective with a good one. Everton now have a very good midfield and the difference should be obvious as soon as all three new players are in their groove.
Do Evertonians sat in their armchairs or in front of screens get to see all three new acquisitions in the starting line-up when the team to face Tottenham this Sunday gets announced? Ancelotti has said that all three have trained and are fit and seeing as though most of their team-mates have barely played two pre-season friendlies, they won't be too far behind fitness-wise.
Perhaps because of James's injury record and lack of consistent playing time since last November, the assumption has been that the Colombian might start on the bench. He has certainly played a lot less football in recent months than Allan and Doucouré and with that mind, Ancelotti could opt for a touch of caution over the 29-year-old and keep him in reserve as a potentially explosive second-half option off the bench.
The other two are, you would think. much more likely starters but with André Gomes available as well, the question then revolves around what formation the manager goes for — a 4-3-3 with all three of the Portuguese, Brazilian and Frenchman in the middle behind Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin and, perhaps Theo Walcott for pace; or perhaps a 4-4-2 diamond that sacrifices one of them in favour of two wide players?
The permutations are as intriguing as the signings are exciting and it's likely that Jose Mourinho will be just as curious as Everton fans about how the Blues will line up. But it's almost certain that Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin will be leading the line in some kind of partnership and that if Yerry Mina is fit, he will play alongside Michael Keane in the absence of the injured Mason Holgate.
When the 2019-20 season was suspended over the Coronavirus pandemic, there were just four points between Everton and Spurs. Having replaced Mauricio Pochettino a few weeks before Ancelotti came on board at Goodison Park, Mourinho was himself a new boss adjusting to new surroundings and having to deal with a fair number of injuries of his own.
The shutdown came as a mixed blessing to the Portuguese, however, as it allowed Harry Kane and Son Hueng-Min to overcome injuries that would probably have kept them out for the remainder of the season had its conclusion not been delayed well into the summer. With those two key players back in the ranks, Spurs managed to move up to sixth place, secure a place in the Europa League and finish 10 points above Everton in the final table.
While they haven't added any talent to get the pulse racing — the January signing of Steven Bergwijn was more befitting of that description — the North Londoners did add a couple of very solid players in the current window in Matt Doherty from Wolves and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg from Southampton. With Serge Aurier subject to interest from the Continent and Giovanni Lo Celso a doubt with a hamstring complaint, both players could make their debuts this weekend.
It defies belief somewhat but not since the last-gasp heroics of Steve Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic way back in 2012 when David Moyes was still scowling on the touchline have Everton beaten Tottenham. (It's 12 years since they won on Spurs's home turf.) Seven draws and eight defeats have come since, yet the Blues have made Spurs look decidedly ordinary in the last three meetings between the two clubs… although the last encounter in the Capital in June, which the hosts won 1-0, did not show either team in a good light at all.
Tottenham will be very Mourinho-like — combative, organised defensively, hard to beat but also prone to mystifying lapses and if Everton can get amongst them early and ruffle their feathers, they could unsettle both the players and their manager's temper. The home side won't have their fans, of course, which theoretically evens the playing field a bit but the Everton of last season seemed lost at times without the energy created by spectators. Hopefully Ancelotti has been able to work on the mental side of their game as much as the tactical.
Worn down by too many false dawns and ephemeral promise, Evertonian expectations will very much be in check despite the optimism around the signings but it can't be ignored that what Ancelotti and Marcel Brands have added over the summer has significantly improved the team. In Doucouré and Allan, Everton now have power, tenacity and athleticism in the middle of the park and in Rodriguez, they have a genuine match-winner to go with Richarlison. It might not all come together in the first game but it should be entertaining to watch!
Kick-off: 4:30pm, Sunday 13 September, 2020
Referee: Martin Atkinson
VAR: Andre Marriner
Last Time: Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 0 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne, Allan, Gomes, Doucouré, Walcott, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin