Everton will look to continue their unbeaten run since the Premier League’s restart when they visit Tottenham Hotspur on Monday.
The Blues have won two and drawn one of their three matches since the top-flight returned, whereas José Mourinho’s Spurs have taken just four points from a possible nine.
Everton have not beaten Tottenham since December 2012, and salvaged a point in November’s reverse fixture thanks to a Cenk Tosun injury-time levelled. The game will be remembered mostly, though, for André Gomes suffering a horrific fractured dislocation to his right ankle after Son Heung-min’s challenge.
Spurs have disappointed this season and, after replacing the sacked Mauricio Pochettino in November, Mourinho has guided them to ninth, two places and one point above Everton going into this weekend’s fixtures.
Ahead of Monday’s match, we spoke to Dustin George-Miller, managing editor of SB Nation’s dedicated Spurs site, Cartilage Free Captain:
RBM: Firstly, has Mourinho done enough since replacing Pochettino to vindicate the Argentine’s sacking and his own appointment?
Dustin: Different Spurs fans will have different opinions about this, but there does seem to be a growing consensus. And that consensus is no, he hasn’t. And on present evidence, there doesn’t seem to be confidence that he will.
In the eight months since his appointment, Mourinho has managed to transform what was a swashbuckling, attacking side into a quintessential ‘Mourinho team’ with a medium-to-low block, emphasis on defence, and counter-attacking football. In the meantime he’s managed to isolate and antagonise Spurs’ record signing [Tanguy Ndombele], has thrown his players under the bus by criticising their ‘mentality’, and doesn’t look anywhere close to the manager who won so many trophies in other places.
You can certainly argue that Pochettino’s time was up based on his own antics and record at the early part of this season, but it sure doesn’t look like Mourinho is going to be the saviour that Daniel Levy thought he’d be.
RBM: Mourinho has a reputation for rigid, pragmatic, occasionally dull tactics. How would you describe Spurs’ style of play under his reign so far?
Dustin: Exactly that. To be fair, in the first couple months of ‘new manager energy’, Spurs were playing better football and achieving better results than they were in the final days of Pochettino, but rigid, pragmatic and occasionally dull pretty much sums it up perfectly. Not only that, but Mourinho seems unwilling to utilise his bench, even with nine players at his disposals and five substitutes.
It would be one thing if all this was leading to consistent wins, but it isn’t. So we’re playing anti-football, leaving talented players on the bench, and we’re also not really improving and I don’t see evidence that there’s a system that Spurs are working towards.
RBM: Do you think playing behind closed doors since the restart has had any impact, positive or negative, on Spurs’ performances in their last three games?
Dustin: I don’t think it’s made any difference whatsoever. The issue with Spurs hasn’t been related to the presence or lack of an audience, but the tactics being employed.
Spurs looked meh against Manchester United, good against West Ham, and awful against Sheffield United. But I don’t think the empty stadiums or the home/away aspect of it has had any discernible effect.
RBM: Spurs were on the end of a dubious VAR decision in their last match, a 3-1 defeat to Sheffield United, as Lucas Moura was harshly penalised for a handball in the build-up to a Harry Kane goal.
Was this result still down primarily to a poor Spurs performance, though?
Dustin: Yes, over at Carty Free Towers we’re all still super salty over that disallowed equaliser. It was a decision that, while correct by the letter of the law, was adjudicated not by the on-pitch official, but Michael Oliver, the VAR official. It was a correct enforcement of a really terrible offside rule and there is zero chance that without VAR that it would’ve been called back. It’s horseshit and I’ll never not be mad about it.
But while that goal might have changed the overall course of the match, Spurs’ problems were that they fell apart defensively in the second half. All three of Sheffield United’s goals were due to inexplicably terrible defensive breakdowns. I can’t sit here and with a straight face tell you that had Kane’s goal stood Spurs would’ve won that match. Maybe they would have! But that’s football, and they didn’t deserve to.
RBM: Kane loves facing Everton, with nine goals in as many career games against the Blues.
Having not previously played since January 1 due to injury, he has two goals since the restart (and two more disallowed at Sheffield Utd). Is he back to his best yet?
Dustin: I wouldn’t say he’s back to his best, and there’s reason to think that due to his recent string of ankle and hamstring injuries he’ll never be the dominant striker that he was from 2015-17. He looks like he’s lost a half step of pace and he’s been dropping deeper and deeper to collect the ball instead of making runs into the box. The jury’s out on whether he can regain his pre-injury form. Maybe he can – I hope he can – the evidence hasn’t shown it yet.
But even if he’s not a superstar striker anymore he can still be a very good one, and he knows where the back of the net is. Tottenham’s fortunes tend to mirror Kane’s ability to get shots away. If he has a game where he’s getting five to six shots on target, odds are he’s going to score and odds are better that Spurs are going to win.
RBM: Mourinho continues to use record signing Tanguy Ndombele sparingly; the midfielder hasn’t completed 90 minutes for Spurs since December. Where do you stand on the apparent feud between the two?
Dustin: The whole of the Carty Free masthead is emphatically Team Tanguy. Ndombele has only shown glimpses of the ability he displayed at Lyon, but he’s Spurs’ record signing for a reason. Mourinho’s decision to not give him minutes and then use that as an excuse to seemingly explain why he’s not performing well is infuriating.
Sure sounds a lot like what happened between Mourinho and Paul Pogba at Manchester United, doesn’t it? Based on that evidence it’s getting harder to see Ndombele making a significant impact at Spurs, and that’s even more infuriating. I like it when Spurs play their best players. They’re not doing that right now.
RBM: How do you expect Tottenham to set up on Monday?
Dustin: Mourinho has already said that he expects to rotate the side slightly with the match coming so soon after Sheffield United. He seems to have settled on a back line of Serge Aurier, Davinson Sanchez, Eric Dier, and Ben Davies and I expect that to continue. Central midfield is likely where we’ll see the most change, and considering his comments I’m expecting Harry Winks to start alongside Moussa Sissoko.
Dele Alli is rumoured to have a knock, so he may miss or start on the bench. Son and Kane are locks up top, but we will probably see two of Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso, Lucas Moura, and Steven Bergwijn in the starting XI. Could be any combination, honestly.
RBM: Kane aside, who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Dustin: Bar Kane, Tottenham’s two biggest goal threats lately have been Son and Bergwijn.
Bergwijn has been a revelation, and you can make an argument that he’s been Spurs’ best player since the restart. Both Son and Bergwijn are wide attackers that love to cut inside; if Everton allow them to drift inside the lines or get a step off the back shoulder of an attacker, they’re going to get into trouble.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Monday’s game?
Dustin: I’m terrible at predictions, but I know that this is a Spurs side that isn’t playing very well at the moment, going up against an Everton team that seems to be finding its feet under Carlo Ancelotti.
To say I’m not confident is an understatement, but I’ll go with a 1-1 draw.