Tottenham Hotspur: 0
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (55)
Compare the pair.
Jose Mourinho: “I didn’t like my team. In the second half after their goal we were poor and in my opinion we were not physically strong, no intensity. The team lacks in this moment many players’ physical condition.”
Carlo Ancelotti: “[The new players] adapted really well. The performance was good. It’s not easy for everyone to prepare for the start of the season. There was not a lot of time. The new signings had one week of training.”
If there was ever a snapshot of the differences between these two legendary managers, that was it: One man lamenting his team’s lack of intensity after a truncated preseason, the other praising his player’s preparation through that very same truncated preseason.
Everton’s 1-0 win away at Tottenham, of course, gives Ancelotti reason to be pleased with his team – swing when you’re winning and all that – though it’s telling that Everton’s newly assembled midfield was able to gel so readily, whereas Tottenham’s signings struggled mightily.
Tottenham and Everton played out a dour 1-0 home victory at this venue a little over two months ago, and the most notable thing about that game was the inability of either midfield to take control of the game. Neither manager had a preseason with their teams before last season, having taken over via in season sackings, so yesterday’s game would be a snapshot of each man’s ability to shape his players. To that end, Ancelotti won hands down.
The match started somewhat tentatively with both teams feeling each other out, though Everton’s superior ball retention saw them shade the contest. The deadlock should have been broken on 16 minutes when Everton forward Richarlison picked off a poor Ben Davies pass, beating Toby Alderweireld for pace before rounding Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, his composure abandoned him, blazing over an empty net from a tight angle without seeing Dominic Calvert-Lewin waiting for a tap in from six yards.
That narrow escape seemed to awaken Tottenham, who had the run of play for the rest of the half. The excellent Son Heung-Min’s driven cross narrowly evading Harry Kane’s big toe, while a crisp counter-attack led to the otherwise anonymous Dele Alli drawing a sharp save from Jordan Pickford in the Everton goal. Kane later found Spurs debutant, Matt Doherty, with a fine flick, the Irishman forcing Pickford to save with his feet.
Everton was able to regroup at the break, reestablishing a metronomic control of the contest.
The Toffees took the lead on 56 minutes. Lucas Digne swung a deep free-kick on to the head of a rampaging Calvert-Lewin – who overpowered Eric Dier in a manner that must have alarmed Mourinho – who’s thumping a header into the top corner of the net left the stationary Lloris helpless.
After Richarlison’s blown chance in the first half, Spurs responded. After Calvert-Lewin’s goal, they surrendered. Without a home crowd to urge them on, Tottenham withdrew, playing without urgency. Their pressing became non-existent, which in turn allowed Everton’s impressive midfield and full-backs to dictate the terms of the match.
Mourinho searched for answers. Moussa Sissoko came in at the half for Alli, who was just as invisible. Steven Bergwijn’s introduction saw a switch in the system, but the 4-4-2 only saw Everton’s midfield take a further stranglehold on possession.
The game eventually petered out to a conclusion that had seemed inevitable for a good half hour; Tottenham was barely landing a blow after the goal.
The Toffees first away win against a ‘big 6’ club since a December 2013 smash and grab at Old Trafford was as positive an Everton performance as there has been in the past five years. Everton did not play it’s best. However, this was a side that looked balanced and positionally disciplined.
Tottenham’s new signings Doherty and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, struggled dreadfully in contrast to Everton’s troika of debutants. Abdoulaye Doucoure was typically all-action, hurling himself about the pitch and seemed to enjoy the superb quality around him compared to his relegated Watford mates.
Allan was exactly what Everton lacked last season – a defensively disciplined holding midfielder. His reading of the game superb, although the Spurs lack of tempo undoubtedly made his task more manageable. His presence forced Spurs to all too often choose the aerial route to goal, which played into the hands of Michael Keane and the towering Yerry Mina and indirectly led to the most commanding 90 minutes that Pickford has played for his club in a long time.
James Rodriguez was worth the wait. He was a class above everybody else on the White Hart Lane pitch. His first touch and spacial awareness were magnificent. Rodriguez had at least a dozen moments in this game that was beyond any other Everton midfielder of the past 25 years: first touches into space, cross-field balls, dipping crosses that only Mikel Arteta could come close to replicating in an Everton shirt. Arteta is no James. The Colombian is already starting to form a dangerous partnership with Richarlison. On another day, the Brazilian could have had a hat-trick just from James passes.
It’s only one game, on the first weekend of the season. Still, on this evidence, Jose Mourinho has a mountain of work ahead of him on North London, while on Merseyside, Carlo Ancelotti must feel like his side has taken a huge first step in their aim of European football.
Man of the Match: Allan (Everton)