By Dave Downie
It was ultimately a scoreline that flattered Everton in the end, but more importantly the 3-2 defeat at Spurs was a comprehensive reality check in regards to the team’s aptitude of mixing it with the Premier League’s elite.
With the exception of the 4-0 drubbing of Manchester City, every one of the opponents in the Blues’ nine-game unbeaten run, ahead of the trip to White Hart Lane, was below them in the league table – with five of those results coming against the bottom six sides.
Not to dumb down a fine turnaround in form since the Merseyside derby disaster two months ago, but the trip to Spurs was the acid test for how far Ronald Koeman has taken his squad. Unfortunately their efforts were alarmingly far removed from the one which all Evertonians had hoped for.
It’s hard to think of a performance under Koeman that lacked as much defensive competence as this one, with good fortune rather than any semblance of an effective rear guard being the main reason why the hosts didn’t humiliate Everton.
Indeed, it was an embarrassing afternoon in all but the scoreline. For those of sensible reasoning, it’s usually apt to point out that knee-jerk reactions and sweeping generalisations made in the moment are little more than an afterthought after some time to reconsider. That being said, this outing provided a resounding rejection to even the staunchest of fans attempting to include Everton in a conversation about anything better than seventh place in the Premier League.
It is miles away.
However, it’s important that lessons are heeded following these setbacks in order to put them right in the summer. Wherever you stand on the club’s transfer dealings since Koeman took charge, most can agree that a substantial amount of recruits are still desperately needed – that was before a ball was kicked at White Hart Lane.
But for Koeman also, this final third of the season has to be a learning curve in which he can decide on a settled formation and preferred personnel – two facets of his management that looked some way off on this latest showing.
The inclusion of Gareth Barry was very surprising given Tottenham’s combative midfield, as was the lack of any width in the side (other than Baines and Coleman) to help push Spurs’ full backs towards their own goal.
The system and line-up didn’t appear to be one thing or the other. Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye looked to have found a positional understanding in the recent win over Sunderland. But at times both, especially Gueye, were found in positions neither of which looked particularly comfortable with in order to accommodate Barry. Tom Davies was another whose position was difficult to identify in large portions of the game.
Surely then, after a half emphatically dominated by Spurs, Koeman would try to affect the game from the bench?
It wasn’t until the 64th minute and nearly ten after Harry Kane doubled the lead that the Dutchman decided to shuffle his pack. An indictment of how Koeman got it wrong is in the fact that Everton didn’t manage a shot on target until after 70 minutes had gone.
So it was frustrating, and sadly an all too familiar feeling coming away from a top six side empty handed. But as good as Spurs were, a lot of this result is down to poor selection, even worse tactics, and a frankly abysmal centre-back and goalkeeping performance.
Let’s hope all of these problems have been duly noted and are already being addressed.
Until that point, it’s difficult to see Everton catching anyone above them.