Well, that was exciting wasn’t it? I was lucky enough to be in a hotel room in Rome watching the game on Fox, with two Italian commentators getting themselves in a lather at the breathlessness of the game, especially the second half. My Italian is woeful, so can’t tell you what they said, but at the end there were plenty of Italian ‘phews’. I watched a bit of Italian league whilst there, so the contrast was obvious!
One thing Lennon didn’t appear to be when he scored, was breathless. Which is a bit surprising when you reflect on the fact that the Manager has said players like him, Mirallas, Gibson and Naismith are critical over this busy period to spread the workload – and yet most have been used sparingly, or not at all. Mirallas’ glum face on the bench said all it needed to say. Perhaps they’ll get a run out against Dagenham and Redbridge!
Anyway, that curiosity apart, the game was indeed exciting, and once again we’re told that watching Everton is great for the neutral, should such a person exist in the ground, or indeed if any such person watches on TV, in Italy or perhaps in Swindon (random town selection, sorry). It was great for any neutral to watch Everton in the first half, by and large being dismantled by an impressive Spurs side – a side that is likely to be serious title contenders if they continue to play like this and escape an injury curse like their North London rivals. Alli was just one player whose movement was astonishing, Davies and Walker were support acts frequently found in acres of space on the flanks, and that was without our full backs bombing forward as they normally do. In fact, this looked like an Everton side trying to be tighter, but actually not knowing how to do it, as Baines was often sucked inside (ooh Matron) to support a beleaguered midfield, leaving the right side desperately under-manned, especially as Koné seemed to be on a festive go-slow most of the time. It took the second half, and in particular the substitutions with Geri and Mo appearing, the latter with teeth snarling from the bench let alone on the field of play, to transform the Everton defensive display. Cleverley seemed inspired by Besic, as they both tore in to tackles, and unsettled the previously largely unruffled Spurs midfield. Barry remained a constant amongst all this – how has he only managed 3 yellow cards all season? – and this may be one of the reasons why this season we have looked a bit ropey down the middle as he’s lost a bit of his snide. Doesn’t explain an inability to stop and defend crosses by the rest of the side though.
But this isn’t about Barry. In Stones and Funes Mori we had two of our best players, after being shell-shocked in the first half, when Spurs had 13 attempts (albeit only 3 on target, although this doesn’t include the woodwork!), they came in to their own in the second half, and perhaps RM has just stumbled on a formula that might work for the rest of the season. Besic and Cleverley can work effectively with Barry, but it only seems possible if Lukaku’s sidekick is binned. We’ll see.
A goalless second half was somewhat surprising given the first 45 minutes, and given the tempo, but Spurs hardly looked like scoring, and Everton had the better chances, but in Vertonghen and Alderweireld, plus the dependable Dier, they had the better players on the day.
What I liked about Everton in the second half was that it was controlled aggression, controlled expansion play, and we controlled the game as a result. Yes, our final ball too often disappointed, but you have to give the Spurs backline some credit, these are not easily opened up in the same way as a Villa or Sunderland, these are a team at the top of their game at the moment, and we can be pleased that we took them so close. That’s not an inferiority complex coming out, that’s just current reality – they are playing like Champions for 90 minutes, and we’re doing it for 19. It can and will change.
Crisis? No, but also not all problems solved, but a significant move in the right direction. A second half to dwell on, and move on to one of the most important games we’ve had in recent years.
The message? Calm down…