Richarlison was the pre-match centre of attention as Spurs played Everton, but it was Harry Kane who had to break their visitors down.
There comes a point at which questions will start to be asked. The departure of Richarlison, who’d become something of a talisman at Goodison Park, from Everton to Spurs during the summer was considered a substantial blow to Frank Lampard. But it is undeniable that he has not yet caught light for Spurs, and on the evidence of Everton’s visit to north London he doesn’t really work as part of a front three, all of which raises the question of how he can be used.
Richarlison has been lowered into the Spurs team this season rather than dropped. But we’re into October and he still has just two goals, both scored in their opening Champions League game against Marseille at the start of September. Of his eight appearances, five had come from the substitutes bench, with only three starts. That’s not much of a window of opportunity, but there’s a World Cup in six weeks’ time, and it can hardly be said that there isn’t serious competition for a place in his international team.
But it should be added that Everton’s defence was impressive, noticeably better organised than it was last season. The acquisition of James Tarkowski and Conor Coady have given them solidity, shape and experience. Frank Lampard, one suspects, went into the game perfectly happy to leave the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with a point from a goalless draw and maybe more, if Spurs got a bit defensively careless in their frustration.
They sat back and absorbed, and hit on the break when they had the chance. After 23 minutes during which Spurs had dominated Everton had the best chance of the game to that point, Demarai Gray getting in behind the wing-back on the right-hand side before contracting the sudden-onset yips and firing over. Spurs had huffed and puffed, dominating possession but unable to carve the chances that their front three needed.
Half-chances did fall, but sparingly. Richarlison headed over early on, Son had a free-kick in a good position which he couldn’t get over the wall, and Harry Kane had their only shot on target of the half, charged down by Jordan Pickford, but otherwise their first half storm amounted to very little.
By the time the half-hour mark had passed frustration in the stands was starting to become clearly audible, and when there was a clear chance again it fell to Everton, again on the break, and again fired over the crossbar, this time by Amadou Onana. The last word on the first half did belong to Richarlison, who shot over from 12 yards in first-half stoppage-time, but this was his last significant involvement in the game; six minutes into the second half he was withdrawn with a calf injury, replaced by Yves Bissouma.
Spurs started the second half with considerably more energy than they’d ended the first, but they were dependent upon a little Everton generosity to edge their way into the lead. The best-laid defensive plans of mice and men can count for little when your goalkeeper has a moment, and this happened twelve minutes into the second half when Matt Doherty’s low shot was spilled by Pickford, and Kane tripped over goalkeeper’s body to pick up a penalty kick so cheap it was covered in yellow stickers. A very disappointing moment for a goalkeeper who has otherwise been excellent so far this season.
It did feel somewhat as though Everton’s tactical set up, for all its simplicity, had one fundamental flaw. If you’re sitting very deep in the knowledge that the other team will push increasingly forward as they start to feel the pressure to score, thereby allowing you to hit them on the break… what happens if your opponents do score and no longer have to push forward with such urgency? The Spurs goal seemed to settle a lot of nerves. They’d already started the half strongly before scoring, and Kane’s penalty conversion felt like a a release of pressure as much as anything else.
And even after having fallen behind, even after the introduction of Dominic Calvert-Lewin plus scaffolding, Everton seemed to have nothing to give in attacking positions once Spurs had the advantage. Indeed, they didn’t manage a shot on target all evening, which is all the remarkable considering that they were – or should have been – chasing the game for more than 35 minutes.
Everton acted as though they were still playing for the goalless draw after they went a goal behind and the result was put beyond any further doubt with four minutes to play, when Kane played the ball wide to Bentancur and he crossed for Pierre Hojbjerg, who had a few moments to get the ball under control, steady himself, and calmly place the ball into the corner of the goal.
23 – Tottenham (W7 D2 L1) have won 23 points from their 10 Premier League games this season, their highest points tally at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1963-64 (24 pts – considering 3 pts for a win). Competitive. pic.twitter.com/NL7oS0yby5
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 15, 2022
Spurs remain one of the strangest teams in the Premier League to watch. They can at times look so unimpressive, but they remain capable of moments of excellence – their second goal was a moment of excellence – and have enough players capable of summoning up those key, match-winning moments. For Kane to be in the right place at the right time so regularly is no coincidence. Years of experience and conditioning mean that this may be little more than muscle memory for him, these days.
And it turned out to be a strange night to be considering Richarlison. Spurs’ shape seem almost immediately improved when he was substituted early in the second half, with Yves Bissouma playing a deeper role and making the sort of counter-attack that almost did for them twice in the first-half look that much less likely.
But for all that, Everton’s relative inertia after Spurs did get in front seemed to betray the fact that they haven’t found an effective replacement for him. Calvert-Lewin was fairly ineffectual when he came on. It is probably to be expected that he should be a little ring-rusty. The 14 minutes plus stoppage-time that he played against Manchester United last weekend was as much as we’ve seen of him since yet another injury kept him out of the team again. He’ll take a little while to get fully back into the swing of things.
Spurs remain a curate’s egg of a team, still in touch with the top two without having shown that they look much like keeping up with them. And if Richarlison couldn’t take this opportunity to kick-start his Spurs career, well, at least they had Kane to fall back upon. Lampard, whose team managed 95 minutes without a shot on target, could be forgiven envious glances at the attacking options at Conte’s disposal. Even in defeat, Lampard’s defence is looking like a properly functioning unit, but that attack still needs work. But it feels a little at the moment as if Everton’s loss hasn’t quite yet been Spurs’ gain.