Tottenham infiltrated and destroyed the Toffees’ central midfield box as it finished Spurs 3-2 Everton at White Hart Lane.
Ronald Koeman came with a very defensive set up. The Everton boss used four central midfielders to try and clog and keep Spurs out of the middle of the pitch. It didn’t work. Tottenham stretched and manipulated them to make the final score Spurs 3-2 Everton at White Hart Lane.
Everton box midfield
Everton have been highly successful playing a 4-3-3. Knowing how much we like to play through the centre of the pitch, Ronald Koeman went away from his trusted formation. Out went the exciting Ademola Lookman to be replaced by the more attritional Gareth Barry. This saw the Toffees set up with four central midfielders who sought to block this area.
With Everton playing so narrow, the space was in wide areas. In the opening half, Spurs were tremendous at moving the ball wide, away from this central trap. Play was quickly switched from side-to-side, often directly over the midfield four. Right back Kyle Walker was lofting the ball to left back Ben Davies. Centre backs Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen were pinging passes from back to front.
We created some good chances. Dier’s long pass directly to Kyle Walker running in-behind Leighton Baines saw our right back unlucky not to be awarded a penalty. On the other flank, Ben Davies was found with a 40-yard switch from Kyle Walker. He crossed for Christian Eriksen to head agonisingly just past the post.
Striker Harry Kane was also getting in on the act. Jan Vertonghen found him with a sumptuous pass from his own half over the four Everton central midfielders. Kane bought the ball down, jinked inside but saw his shot thwarted by the on-rushing Joel Robles.
Spurs get inside the midfield box
Tottenham’s manipulation of the ball in the opening twenty minutes was superb. Everton’s midfield box was being pulled both horizontally and vertically. Our play stretched it enough that seams began to appear.
Harry Kane infiltrated and exploited one of these cracks as he popped up right in the middle of Everton’s four central midfielders to give us the lead. The passage of play started by being moved out through Jan Vertonghen and Ben Davies down the left to pull Everton out. Possession then went inside to Harry Kane as he came short in to the space created.
With Kane in the centre of the four midfielders, they all hesitated. Gareth Barry backed off and the rest of the trio were slow to help. It enticed Kane in to taking on the shot and he accepted the invitation, rifling a fiercely dipping drive past Robles at his near post. Harry Kane has scored some special goals in recent weeks, but this was the best of the lot.
Opening Everton’s four midfielders up to take the lead, we then continued to prize their box midfield open. Christian Eriksen burst through it to collect the ball and roll a shot agonisingly wide of the post. The run deserved a goal, but Eriksen’s shooting woes continue.
Then Victor Wanyama rang a shot back off the post. Wanyama surprised the four central midfielders as he too popped up in the space in the middle of them.
Our play at this point deserved a second goal.
Everton struggle to create
Ronald Koeman had set his side up extremely defensively. Due to being worked over by our quick switches or long passing out to the flanks, his four central midfielders were being pulled all over the place. Ross Barkley was supposed to be operating higher up with Romelu Lukaku, but even he was being drawn in to help.
Barkley being dragged deeper left Romelu Lukaku increasingly isolated. It meant that Everton’s main route of chance creation came from trying to get Lukaku in on goal from running beyond our high defensive line.
To be fair, Lukaku coped admirably as he tried to get behind our defence. His surging runs saw him denied once by a timely tackle from Toby Alderweireld. Jan Vertonghen made an even more impressive sliding challenge to deny Lukaku in the penalty area.
Spurs get outside the midfield box
Having seen what Everton were up to, Mauricio Pochettino switched our focus of play in the second half. We saw much more attention being paid to the flanks as Pochettino sought to wear down Everton’s four central midfielders by making them run.
Ben Davies had an excellent game and he became a focal point. Davies planted a perfect cross on the head of Dele Alli, but he saw his header saved. Davies then picked out Kyle Walker’s back post run as we had the ball in the net, but Walker was adjudged offside.
The left was proving fruitful and Jan Vertonghen got in on the action. His surging runs forward caught Everton’s four central midfielders by surprise.
Firstly, Vertonghen stung Joel Robles’ palms at his near post after a mazy run and neat dribble. Then he was denied by a last ditch block as he charged through the inside left channel once again.
Both teams make Errors
With Spurs attacking the flanks, it was only apt that we added a second from here.
Joel Robles committed a massive error, but the passage of play started with Eric Dier looking to go long to Kyle Walker.
Dier’s 40-yard pass down the line was well kept in by the right back as he looked to get in-behind the Everton defence. The ball ended up with Joel Robles who then inexplicably rolled it straight out to Morgan Schneiderlin. Mousa Dembele instantly set upon him, winning possession back and starting the counter. Dele Alli nipped in to lay the loose ball off to Harry Kane to fire home, 2-0.
It was a goal that was richly deserved, but then we committed a defensive error of our own.
With Everton looking to run in-behind our high line, Ronald Koeman brought on Kevin Mirallas. The Belgian immediately caused problems as he ran beyond our defence, but saw his shot blocked by a recovering Toby Alderweireld. Mirallas then created a goal from nothing for Romelu Lukaku as Jan Vertonghen slipped at the most inopportune time.
Lukaku tried to run off Vertonghen in to the space behind him. Jan went to block his run, but with his momentum going backwards, Lukaku’s strength sent him sprawling to the floor.
Lukaku made no mistake when clean through against Hugo Lloris to get Everton back in the game.
Switching off at set pieces
With Everton back in the game, both teams then switched off at set pieces.
In the Spurs vs Everton match preview we noted that the Toffees have conceded the most chances from set pieces in 2017. With the way they switched off after fouling Vincent Janssen it was no surprise. Everton were at sixes and sevens with no wall, no player stopping the kick and very little marking.
Harry Winks executed the perfect pass as Dele Alli signalled for the ball, but Everton made it ridiculously easy for him.
With Mauricio Pochettino punching the air in delight whilst the stadium celebrated what was surely the winner, we let Everton right back in it. Dele Alli had just iced the game, but then tripped Ross Barkley.
The Everton man got straight up, and with us equally slow to sort our marking assignments, swung in a cross that was guided home by Enner Valencia. A raucous stadium was stunned in to an instant silence as everyone tried to process if what we had just witnessed had really happened? The Toffees were suddenly back in the game again at Spurs 3-2 Everton.
There was still a minute to play, but Spurs saw it out. Vincent Janssen hasn’t done much to impress in a Spurs shirt, but his hold up play has caught the eye. His ability to shield the ball not only earned the free kick for our third goal, but also won a timely foul that saw us get over the line.
Spurs 3-2 Everton overall
A massive game and a big three points earned given the state of the Premier League table and the run of fixtures we have coming up.
The first 80 minutes of this match was one of our performances of the season. Our build-up play and manipulation of a very good Everton side was superb. With Ronald Koeman trying to slow play down with four central midfielders, we moved the ball expertly around and then through them.
We then made some uncharacteristic errors that turned what should’ve been a comfortable victory in to nervy ending. Putting teams away and finishing games off has often been our problem under Mauricio Pochettino. With bottom half of the table teams to come, dispatching them and keeping the door shut until the final whistle must be at the forefront of our minds.
Final score: Spurs 3-2 Everton.
MOTM: Jan Vertonghen.