Koeman faces struggle to break glass ceiling
IF EVERTON are to break through the Premier League’s glass ceiling and move upwards into the top six at some point, they are going to have to start beating the teams likely to finish above them. There was no sign of that here. Tottenham swatted away Everton’s challenge with almost contemptuous ease, leaving Ronald Koeman to reflect that even a significant amount of summer spending does not appear to have made the job any easier.
The Everton manager had been highly complimentary about Spurs beforehand, describing them as one of the strongest teams in the Premier League. That is not much of an exclusive or an insight as it happens, Tottenham have looked the part for at least a couple of seasons now, but lest anyone underestimate Mauricio Pochettino’s players after a slowish start to their league campaign, this was an object lesson in how to control a game through application and intelligence.
Davinson Sanchez, making a solid start as the central defender in a back three and looking as comfortable as if he had been there all his life, must be wondering if all the reports about the toughness of the Premier League are correct.
Everton is supposed to be one of the more daunting venues to visit, after all, yet Spurs were so far ahead by the end of the first half, they could practically afford to take the second half off. The home supporters celebrated Goodison’s 125th birthday with an uncharacteristic 45-minute silence. Long before the end of the game, the Spurs fans were the only ones making any noise and the Gwladys Street end was half empty.
With August out of the way, Harry Kane is free to start scoring again, and his 100th goal for Spurs was certainly one to remember. At least Jordan Pickford will not forget it in a hurry, Everton’s new goalkeeper being unaccustomed to being beaten by dipping shots from a long way outside the penalty area, but whether intentionally or otherwise, Kane put the ball in the one place where no one could reach it. That included his Spurs team-mates, too, so if Kane was attempting to cross after retrieving an over-hit corner, it was a poor effort.
The fact is that Everton were slow to close down the danger, and after telling Kieran Trippier exactly where he wanted the ball, it is possible Kane decided to try his luck after spotting that Pickford was slightly off his line. If so, he was impressively accurate, and Pickford’s only possible excuse was that he, too, had been positioning himself for a cross.
In one sense, Tottenham’s opener came out of nothing, though by that point in the game, the visitors had weathered Everton’s early storm — if one brief chance for Sandro Ramirez from a glorious cross by Cuco Martina can be thus described — and begun to dictate play on their own terms. Spurs not only pressed better than Everton, they passed better than the hone side, too. Christian Eriksen’s poise and distribution was particularly notable, completely overshadowing Gylfi Sigurdsson’s contribution on his home debut.
Moussa Sissoko could have put Spurs ahead from a Davies cross even before Kane broke the deadlock, but he was unable to come up with a convincing finish in front of goal. Eriksen had no such problem in extending the Spurs lead three minutes before the interval.
Pickford had partly redeemed himself with a point-blank save from Ben Davies after Dele Alli had found space on the right, but the goalkeeper could not hold the ball and Eriksen was on hand with an emphatic follow-up. Everton fell apart a little after that and when the half-time whistle sounded it was greeted by more than just a few boos.
Koeman’s response was to send on two substitutes in Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, yet remarkably Everton made no attempt to shut down Ben Davies’s space on the left. It took less than a minute of the restart for the wing back to make the home side regret that, easily picking out Kane for the striker to register his 101st Spurs goal with a languid finish a mere 47 seconds after the restart.
The Everton manager’s side were involved in a damage-limitation exercise. Namely, trying to keep the final score more respectable than the one Liverpool ended up with at Manchester City. Thanks to a flying save from Pickford that kept out an Eriksen volley after an inspired pass by Kane, and a couple of late misses from an anonymous Wayne Rooney at the other end, the score remained unchanged.