Harry Kane scores a goal during Spurs 3-2 Everton in the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Spurs 3-2 Everton: breaking the midfield box

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.

Everton's 4 central midfielder box during Spurs 3-2 Everton at White Hart Lane.

Everton’s 4 central midfielder box.

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.

Harry Kane gets inside the four midfielders to score during Spurs 3-2 Everton in the Premier League.

Harry Kane gets inside the four midfielders to score.

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.

Wanyama gets inside the 4 CMFs and hits the post during Spurs 3-2 Everton in the Premier League.

Wanyama gets inside the 4 CMFs and hits the post.

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 gets drawn in to central midfield to help during Spurs 3-2 Everton in the Premier League.

Barkley gets drawn in to central midfield 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.

Lukaku tries to get in-behind our high defensive line during Spurs 3-2 Everton in the Premier League.

Lukaku tries to get in-behind 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.

Vertonghen breaks forward outside the 4 central midfielders during Spurs 3-2 Everton in the Premier League.

Vertonghen breaks forward outside the 4 central midfielders.

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.

Mirallas looks for Lukaku's run behind our defence during Spurs 3-2 Everton in the Premier League.

Mirallas looks for Lukaku’s run behind our defence.

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.

Poor free kick coverage lets Dele in to score during Spurs 3-2 Everton at White Hart Lane.

Poor free kick coverage lets Dele in to score.

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.

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15 Responses to Spurs 3-2 Everton: breaking the midfield box

  1. Matt 7th March 2017 at 2:42 am #

    Thanks Mark, didn’t see the match as I’m abroad. Seems like we’re looking strong at the business end of the season. Having Jan and Toby in tandem makes the world of difference to us.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th March 2017 at 4:02 pm #

      It really does seem to send a wave of confidence through the team having them back together as a partnership. Ever since Jan has come back from his injury we’ve looked so much more assured in what we are trying to do. All the best wherever you are in the world. COYS!

  2. Daudi 7th March 2017 at 5:40 am #

    What a dramatic finale, was shifting from worried to delight during those last ten minutes with goals at both ends, but the danger of conceding more or the defence collapsing was not really there unlike a few seasons back, thats how far the defence has come or otherwise Pochettino has managed to fix. No desperete defending and panic looking clearances. No loose balls bouncing in our box. Also we looked very solid througout the field, against an in form Everton.
    On to the next one…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th March 2017 at 4:06 pm #

      Yes, the good old days when our defence used to frquently cave when defending a lead in the final minutes. We are so much stronger now and it appears to be an issue of focus that occasionally pops up. Poch frequently referred to the mental side of the game in his first two seasons so it has been working. Still need to maintain concentration for the full 90 though. I’m hoping the complacency we saw on Sunday was because we had a two goal lead and not one…

  3. Toby4eva 7th March 2017 at 7:25 am #

    Nice read Mark.

    Even though Koeman’s plan was pretty robust, our response was better.

    But although we again had most of the possession for the first 20 minutes, they looked hard to breakdown until Harry’s wonder goal – literally out of nothing.

    It was of astonishing quality.

    We took the game by the scruff of the neck for the next 20 minutes and should have put it to bed.

    The second goal was a gift, but great hustling by Dembele and Dele turned it from a careless but harmless mistake by the keeper to a disaster for the Toffees. Most will remember Kane’s clinical finish, but the auto-reaction of our men near the ball really demonstrated the Pochettino difference.

    That would never have happened before he came to the Lane.

    Compare that to Sissoko’s nonchalance and complete lack of desire to track and fight for any ball that he loses. He simply has no future in our plans and he must be got rid of pronto.

    Jan had been imperious in all his “one on ones” with Lukaku, until he suddenly morphed into an under 13s rugby fullback trying to stop Jonah Lomu in his prime. But agree with your MOM call nonetheless!

    Loved his marauding runs forward – long overdue!

    Davies played one of his best games in our shirt – and I think his confidence is really coming on due to his extended run in the team with Broadway out. His performance graph has investors happy.

    Our third goal was really a thing of beauty.

    If that had been a Neymar/Messi or Bale/Ronaldo offering instead of a Winks/Dele concoction, the football world would be gaping.

    Dele’s ability to time his incisive darts into the box is second to none – and that was a glorious touch to score. And Winks showed that he has what Carroll, Mason and Bentalab didn’t. An ability to transform potential to class – and deliver when it absolutey matters.

    The duo took that move straight from Enfield to the Lane and executed it with sublime precision.

    But like everyone else I went straight from beluga to cheeseburgers 60 seconds later, but we ultimately – as I hoped – eked out the win.

    3-1 would have been the correct reflection though.

    So a great three points with seven (not eight as I said last week sorry) winnable games in front of us before we host Woolwich.

    It’s hard to imagine anyone overpowering us at the Lane now – and if our home support can’t get us over the line for those last two epic fixtures at the Lane, I’ll be very surprised.

    We have easily the best run out of the chasing pack over the next seven to eight weeks and we are definitely on track for our now realistic goals (in order)….

    a) eliminate St Totteringham’s day from the annual calendar
    b) finish second or third in PL for auto CL qualification
    c) lift the FA Cup


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th March 2017 at 4:29 pm #

      I did wonder if the game would’ve been much tighter had we not scored the first goal? That bolt from the blue did loosen Everton up a lot.

      You are right that the second demonstrated just how much we’ve improved under Pochettino. The anticipation and great work of Dele and Dembele to ruthlessly punish a mistake that Everton may have got away with against previous managers.

      Dele and Winks’ combination for the the third was excellent. Nothing against Harry Winks, but I did feel that after Dembele went off we lost control of the midfield. Dembele and Wanyama were really bossing Everton’s four central midfielders. But after Dembele went off, even though Everton had reduced to a three, I felt Winks and Wanyama were overrun by them. Dembele and Wanyama can still match up with opposition midfields, even if they are outnumbered due to their strength and power. I’d like to see more of Winks in this situation to see if he can handle it or if he really needs to be in even midfield matchups.

      Achieving your A, B, C goals would make this a really great season. Just a note about finishing above Arsenal. I think this is vitally important for us this year and would have a massive boost to confidence within the squad and the fanbase. Finishing below them season after season does have its scars in spite of Pochettino’s comments that we shouldn’t focus on or think about them lot up the road. They are really having a wobble this season and to finish above them, even knock them out of the top four, would be a real body blow and signal a changing of the guard. I think it will be a ghost laid to rest and will catapult us forward to greater things.

  4. Toby4eva 7th March 2017 at 7:48 am #

    Forgot to add…

    Ronny had better hope that the Barcelona new manager recruitment panel hasn’t seen your damning expose of the Everton “defence” of that late free kick from which Dele scored.

    Great pick up.


    • you 7th March 2017 at 4:12 pm #

      that first goal was a Worldy.. something Bale would do. cutting in from the right and blasting it with phenomenal power…just the sheer power he can get behind his shots is incredible

      The remaining goals were comedic. TBF Lukaku is a strong as an ox and will knock over defenders more powerful than SuperJan…

      Carroll is showing his ability and is probably at a club which is at his level,,,Winks is showing his understanding of the “geometry” of a football match for want of a better term…he is Carrick like in his positioning and use of the ball and he is not even 21!

      Subs wise not sure what more Poch could do TBF. Winks for Dembele is pretty standard about now. Jannssen won us the free kick that resulted in the winning goal…Sissoko is being given minutes for shop window purposes?

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 8th March 2017 at 12:22 am #

        You could well be right. The only other situation Poch uses Sissoko is when the game is becoming stretched. I guess Poch figures he can use his speed and has more space to work in as he always looks so clumsy on the ball.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th March 2017 at 4:30 pm #

      Being an ex-player, I hope they court him more than Pochettino!

  5. Ilikespurs 7th March 2017 at 2:43 pm #

    Hi Mark, Great read as always. I was surprised at how much we dominated such an in form squad. If our finishing had been a little better (I’m looking at you Christian, and even Harry had a 2 more excellent chances), this could have been a laugher. And I’m more impressed with Winks every time he gets on the pitch, and even Jansen had a brief but very positive cameo.

    My only issue, and sorry to nitpick, but I keep going back to Poch’s inability to read the game and make the right subs at the right time. After we scored the second goal, there was a lull and lack of energy for about 20 minutes when Everton dominated possession and we had a hard time getting out of our half of the pitch and building any sort of attack. It seemed the perfect time to get in 2 or 3 subs to get some energy back into our side and retake possession of the game to see it out. (BTW, this period also coincided with Koeman making excellent use of his subs to change the tide of the game). So while I love everything about this team and what Poch brings to the table, I feel this is a major deficit in his game management and other top managers consistently get the best of him. The theme of his subs seems to be too little, and way too late for any type of impact. And with us relying so heavily on the same starting 11, giving key players a blow when we can will help us overall during the stretch run.

    BTW, great comments Toby4eva!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th March 2017 at 4:40 pm #

      Some good points Ilikespurs. Poch’s use of his subs bench is something that does need to improve. I’m still split between opinions on this. On the one hand i think he trusts the players he has out there to do the job aand so leaves them in the game. On the other, I think he is nervous to make changes should he need to keep subs up his sleeve to cover injuries. He knows Dembele can only really go for 70 minutes and so he needs one sub to cover this. I also think with Toby and Jan coming off last week, and when we were out of changes and unable to replace Trippier and so down to 10 men against Wycombe, have affected his thinking about making what he might see as unecessary subs that he might need to cover such eventualities.

      It is a tough one to figure out just what is going on in his mind with regards to making subs, but it does need to improve.

  6. Toby4eva 8th March 2017 at 6:50 am #

    Thanks Ilikespurs – cheers mate.

    Totally agree Mark with your Arsenal observation. The time has surely come to finally put this one to bed. They look like they maybe “doing a (2015/16) Chelsea” with this a Sanchez business. If they finally drop out of the top four it simply must spell the end for Wenger. And like Utd trying to replace Fergie, next year may not be real pretty for them.

    Also good to and fro about the Gaffer’s sub management. I love the guy to bits but some of his decisions are, um, let’s say – baffling. I personally don’t get the “bring the backup striker on at the 89 minute mark” routine, but hats off to Vinnie for making a vital contribution fresh that led to the third goal.

    Agree the “70 minute Winks for Dembele” routine appears nailed on – and looks like genius when it works like on Sunday. But totally agree with Mark that we simply can’t afford to give away midfield steel cheaply. Maybe Winks for Eriksen is the more likely play – and seeing Harry Jnr take command of such an important free kick opportunity may be a window to that eventuality.

    Dier moving up to partner Victor when Dembele takes his bow perhaps?

    Wimmer into a back three?

    Or Davies and Walker dropping back into the old back four routine?

    Whatever, the boss has shown more breadth and inventiveness this year, so this may simply be the next piece of the puzzle to evolve.

    How can we not have faith!


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 8th March 2017 at 12:23 pm #

      Yes I think now is the time to really go at Arsenal. They are really in a tough moment with the team on a downward spiral. Their best player (Sanchez) is rumoured to want out and the fanbase is split over the manager. On the other hand we have spent a few years putting a good culture in place and have a very harmonius team, dressing room and are on the up with the new stadium to come too. With the training centre, and being in London, it’ll also be a magnet to draw in top talent.

      The manager’s subs do need some work, especially the tactical ones. The 90th minute striker switch seemed to be a ploy to just waste some time for me and was maybe executed in the least threatening area. ie don’t mess with the defence and just change strikers. I have no problem with time junking subs if we are ahead, as many teams will do it to us. I think they are only dangerous when you take off a striker and add an extra defender as that naturally pushes the team deeper and draws the opponent on, which can lead to unnecessary pressure and the disaster of conceding in spite of how many players you have back defending.

  7. Toby4eva 8th March 2017 at 8:51 pm #

    Cheers Mark.

    As usual you make perfect sense on both counts!

    “Culture” is the key to our success.

    And Sissoko looks very much out of step.