In the build-up to Everton’s game at Wembley, Sam Allardyce was at pains to point out both that his team were facing the best centre-forward in the world, and that Tottenham had other players besides Harry Kane who could hurt them. It might have been nice to tell his players.
If Everton were embarrassed by Arsenal and Atalanta under Ronald Koeman, Allardyce’s team were humbled just the same by Tottenham. Mauricio Pochettino’s shift in formation to include Kane, Christian Eriksen, Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli in a front four has worked a charm. Everton’s defenders and central midfield were barely able to stick in the same postcode as this fluid band of attacking brothers.
Allardyce has received flak from Everton supporters for the way in which he has discarded all ambition against their toughest opponents, but this is now becoming a parody. Everton failed to have a shot on target against Chelsea. Everton failed to have a shot on target against Manchester United. Everton failed to have a shot on target against Tottenham.
There is nothing wrong with defensive security, and against Tottenham it actually looked a viable plan. Pochettino’s team have struggled most this season against teams who sit back and look for opportunities on the counter-attack and from set-pieces. West Ham, West Brom, Burnley and Swansea have all earned draws at Wembley this season with that same tactic.
Yet on Saturday, Everton were neither speculative nor secure. They allowed Tottenham to create chances at will, conceded four times and barely mustered a chance of note. Wayne Rooney had a goal correctly ruled out for offside with the game still goalless. When non-goals are the height of celebration, the journey back north promises to be long.
“So what are Everton now?” may be the question asked in cars and on trains. Everton have failed to have shots on target in three of their last five league games. Pre-Allardyce, they had failed to have shots on target in three of their last 222 league games.
Allardyce’s reasonable defence for Everton’s previous lack of ambition was a lack of resources. “Our attacking powers are limited,” he said after the home defeat to Manchester United. “I knew that before I got here, that’s why I’ve focused on us going for clean sheets.”
Yet at Wembley, Everton started their new £27m striker Cenk Tosun. Nobody was expecting too much of Tosun on debut, but the Turkey international was still left worrying isolated. The only Everton starter to have fewer touches of the ball was the player intended to be his creative force. Yannick Bolasie managed 25 touches in 57 miserable minutes.
Everton may well win both of their next two league games, at home to West Brom and Leicester, and will end the season in mid-table. Yet it is not the results that will cause Allardyce most problems, and it never has been. The accusation is that he has provided a big club with a small-club mentality, and it’s starting to stick.