High hopes were dashed at White Hart Lane in what was a sobering reality check really for Everton and the notion that they could yet sneak into the top four.
Stuck in seventh for weeks now, the Blues have been frustrated by Manchester United’s 17-match unbeaten which has kept them continually at arm’s length while the teams between the Red Devils and Chelsea have taken turns to slip without any one of them truly melting down… yet.
United’s 1-1 draw at home to Bournemouth and Arsenal’s threatening implosion following another defeat, this time at Liverpool, set the table nicely for Ronald Koeman’s side to make up ground with a win over Spurs but it proved the be fanciful in the end because the North Londoners were too strong and Everton’s rearguard faltered.
The game was billed by Evertonians as an opportunity to see how far the Blues have come since the draw with Spurs on the opening day and by the end the answer was fairly definitive, even if the final score didn't underline the size of the gulf that exists between second place and seventh.
The epitome of strength, Tottenham were superior in almost all departments on the day and they could have been three up by half time after Harry Kane had hammered them into a 20th minute lead, Joel Robles had foiled the England striker on the next attack, and Victor Wanyama had seen a shot bounce back off the upright.
Everton, meanwhile, failed to register a shot on target in the first period, a symptom of the home side’s relentless pressing, Koeman’s decision to pack the midfield in an attempt to limit Spurs’s ability to play through them, and Romelu Lukaku’s subsequent isolation. As a tactic it had merits, even if there was an argument for bringing back the central defensive three that was so successful against the likes of Manchester City, but it was undermined by the selection of the one-paced Gareth Barry ahead of James McCarthy.
The veteran looked all of his 36 years shoe-horned in alongside Morgan Schneiderlin, Tom Davies and Idrissa Gueye and McCarthy’s comparative energy after he finally replaced Barry in the second half merely served to strengthen the argument that the latter’s days as a starter are behind him.
Nevertheless, having set up to defend and contain, it behooved Everton to be flawless in both respects but they let themselves down critically for all three of Tottenham’s goals. They were undone for the first when Gueye gave up on tracking Kane and Barry backed off as the England striker turned and advanced towards the visitors’ penalty area. Kane accepted the invitation to line up a shot and, benefitting from Robles’s slow reactions, he found the corner of the goal from almost 30 yards out.
The second came from suicidal play at the back from a team that had, ironically, been by far the more direct of the two. If there’s a given about Spurs (apart from Kane’s ability to conjure a goal out of nowhere) it’s that they press feverishly high up the pitch so when Robles elected to roll the ball to Schneiderlin in a central position outside his own area, it was asking for trouble. Moussa Dembele and Dele Alli collapsed around the Frenchman and when his attempt to knock the ball to Ashley Williams rebounded off the latter and into the path of Kane, there was only going to be one result.
Koeman’s belated changes brought Kevin Mirallas and McCarthy into the fray in place of Tom Davies and Barry and the Blues began to enjoy arguably their best spell of the game. Mirallas had a shot charged down by Ross Barkley — as the indefatigable heart of the Everton side, the 23-year-old that never stopped wanting the ball in a desperate attempt to engineer a way for the Blues back into the game — soon after he was introduced but it wasn’t until 10 minutes from time that Everton finally made a breakthrough.
Mirallas picked out Lukaku in a central area with a great ball from the flank and when Jan Vergtonghen lost his balance in front of him, the Belgian striker seized the chance to advance and cut an unerring shot into the far corner past Hugo Lloris’s glove.
Another error from the erratic Ramiro Funes Mori almost let Kane in for his hat-trick but Robles read his attempt to clip the ball over him well and made the save 10 minutes before more calamity in Everton’s defence allowed Alli to plunder Tottenham’s third in stoppage time. Harry Winks dinked a quick free kick into space between the static Leighton Baines and Schneiderlin and Alli just had to help it on its way past Robles.
There was still time for one more consolation for Everton as Barkley swung a free kick into the box and Enner Valencia, an 81st-minute substitute for Gueye, swept home an impressive first-time finish but there wasn’t enough time for a dramatic equaliser.
On balance, Everton didn’t deserve anything from the match and yet they could have got something with better defending. That, in essence, is life in the Premier League — a lead can quickly be erased but you have to be your best defensively to remain in with a chance of snatching something at the end.
While he didn’t show it on camera afterwards, Koeman should be fuming at the manner in which his players gift-wrapped goals for their hosts but he will also be mindful that this was his charges’ first League defeat for well over two months. If nothing else, he is continuing to learn where the weak spots reside in his team and that will be very valuable in itself in the context of planning for next season.
Ronald Koeman brought back Gareth Barry to take on Tottenham Hotspur in Sunday's early afternoon game. Romelu Lukaku was supported by Ross Barkley and Tom Davies in attack, with Ademola Lookman on the bench.
Proceedings commenced in bright sunshine, with the home side kicking off but Everton getting forward early, the ball evading Davies. Things were rather scrappy in midfield, Barry clipping Dele Alli's ankle for a threatening free-kick that Eriksen powered off the Blue wall.
Baines and Walker had a fine tussle, Walker throwing himself down but only getting a corner. Spurs were a little more aggressive into the ball than Everton, Barry needing to block a shot from Ben Davies.
Tom Davies had a chance to run onto a nice pass but Eric Dier was live to it. Everton, however, were looking better and moving the ball quicker through the tight midfield but Barkley's turn was blocked. Robles launched a massive hoof for Lukaku to chase that bounced on the Spurs 18-yard line.
Schneiderlin gave away a needless free-kick for minor pressure on Alli but Barkley headed the danger away. Out of nothing, though, a rocket from Kane opened the scoring, the ball somehow evading Robles completely despite him having it seemingly well covered.
Kane then powered in and almost got a second as Everton could not contain him, the Blues rocking back on that shocker of a give-up goal. Barkley tried to set up Lukaku but Baines could not wrap his foot around the shot and Spurs attacked again down their right, this time Robles gathering Kane's narrow-angle shot.
Eriksen got free but hooked his shot wide as the game became more open. But the Blues were rattled and Funes Mori was lucky not to get a yellow card, the ball fired in well by Eriksen, Kane claiming a drag by Williams. Everton were all at sea as Wanyama hit the post but Kane was offside as the rain swept in. Gana was called for a foul on Ben Davies and he saw yellow after a series of Everton players had not been punished.
The Blues were given zero time on the ball, every contact a challenge, but Tom Davies got them forward and Barkley's cross was palmed away by Lloris. Davies was brilliant dispossessing Spurs and breaking up another attack but Spurs were in buoyant mood. Finally, Everton strung a few passes together and finally got a foul called in their favour. Barkley, however, was hesitant each time he needed to be decisive, as Lukaku almost got his foot to a good ball in over the top from Barry.
Everton won a corner that Barkley drove in low and Funes Mori got a clip on it but it was defended away. Everton were able to take the bite out of Spurs play, slowing things down in the 5 minutes before half-time, Tom Davies called for a very marginal offside decision.
No changes at the break, his Everton side with a daunting task to turn things around... not with the pointless hoof that started the second half, conceded possession and saw Spurs attacking. Coleman and Ben Davies collided heavily and Spurs rough stuff on Barkley was spotted by Michael Oliver. But Everton still struggled to play their passing game against the close attention. But Lukaku back heel got Gana overlapping and he put in a good cross that Barkley could not get good contact on.
Off a Spurs corner, Alli got a header on target but it was saved by Robles. But Everton could not break out and Vertonghen ran in, Robles well-positioned to bat it behind. More pressure, Wanyama heading over. Tom Davies failed to release Lukaku. A really stupid bit of defending gifted Kane his second, Robles rolling the ball to Schneiderlin who was immediately pressed and the rest was pathetically predictable.
If the task had seemed difficult, it was now impossible, two soft goals given up far too easily. Lukaku did cross in well to Barkley but he needed too much time and was closed down.
Barry overhit his cross after some better Blues play but Koeman decided on a double switch, Mirallas and McCarthy in for Davies and Barry. Vertonghen ran in again and needed a good block from Funes Mori. Mirallas got the ball but could not dig out the shot. They won a free-kick wide right but Vertonghen headed away Barkley's effort. Coleman overlapped well but his cross was horribly overhit.
Another good run by Coleman ended up with a foul and a yellow card for Dembele. Barkley cut the ball back behind Mirallas and he was immediately closed down. At the other end, Kane was keen to get his third successive hat-trick off a series of Spurs corners.
Everton's first decent chance came when the ball was finally played to Lukaku's feet, Vertonghen slipped and the big man did brilliantly to draw Lloris and fire past him into the corner. At the other end, Kane got free again and tried to chip it past Robles, who was not having that. But Everton were finally showing some intent to get forward, Barkley weaving and twisting before firing in a good cross to win a corner, but Lloris punched it clear and Everton were on the back foot again.
A bouncing ball almost saw Lukaku force the ball beyond the advancing Lloris, but he had no luck with the rebound as Kane went off. Williams was fooled by Janssen, giving away a free-kick that was cheekily buried by Alli running through everyone. Game over.
Or not. A brilliant free-kick was swept home by Valencia but it would make no real difference. A very poor result for Everton, ending their unbeaten streak and showing they are sadly no match for the top sides just yet.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Walker, Dier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, B Davies, Wanyama, Dembele [Y:76'] (78' Winks), Eriksen (87' Sissoko), Dele, Kane (90' Janssen).
Subs not Used: Vorm, Trippier, Wimmer, Son.
Subs not used: Stekelenburg, Jagielka, Holgate, Lookman.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Everton head south this weekend for what promises to be their toughest assignment since the trip to Stamford Bridge in early November.
That day, Chelsea, who are now the Champions-elect, demolished a Blues outfit that was still coming to terms with the new demands of Ronald Koeman's management and which was in the middle of a poor sequence of results that would end at one win in 11 games in all competitions.
It was a chastening evening for the Blues as the defensive solidity that Koeman appeared to have restored to the back line evaporated but, while it would take a further five weeks and another dreadful result back in the southeast at Watford, the Dutchman began to turn to the tide.
What's more, since the turn of the year, Everton are unbeaten in nine in the Premier League and among the form teams in the division. They travel to the Capital in buoyant mood and as a very different proposition to the one that was steam-rollered by Antonio Conte's seemingly unstoppable machine.
On this occasion, they meet a team every bit as indomitable on home turf. Spurs may have struggled in their nominal home games at Wembley in European competition but at a transforming White Hart Lane, they have won eight matches in a row and are unbeaten, the only club able to boast such a record in the Premier League.
As if those portents weren't bad enough, Mauricio Pochettino's men trounced Stoke City 4-0 last weekend behind a Harry Kane hat-trick, a victory that kept Chelsea's lead at the summit to 10 points and ensured that the north Londoners remained in second place.
This is, then, just the sort of match where Everton can come in and play spoilers and it's the anticipation of being the first team Premier League team to win at White Hart Lane and thereby press further the potential for a late run at the top four that is so tantalising.
Koeman certainly has the tools to spring such a surprise: a goalkeeper enjoying his best form since arriving at the club three-and-a-half years ago; a defence that has let in just four league goals in 2017 (three of those in one match, of course, against Bournemouth); one of the tastiest midfields in the country now that Morgan Schneiderlin is gliding around the pitch alongside the stubborn Idrissa Gueye, the precocious talents of Tom Davies and the mercurial Ross Barkley; and the league's joint-top scorer in Romelu Lukaku.
If this team can muster the kind of fast start they made against the Cherries, and combine it with the bristling intensity that showed at home against Manchester City in January, then anything is possible. And, as Spurs showed in Europe and at Anfield, for example, they can crumble with the best of them.
“This week is not more of a test than it was last week [against Sunderland] or than it will be in two weeks,” Koeman said in his pre-match press conference yesterday. “Every weekend it's important to be at your best level.
“We know that Tottenham is one of the best teams. They are really strong at home. But, okay, it's a challenge to play against a strong team at [their] home. But be yourself and you can get a good result.
“We will defend differently than they did,” Koeman continued after being asked to comment on Stoke boss Mark Hughes's assessment that Spurs are the best attacking team the Potters had faced this season. “You need to stop the strengths of Tottenham — they have really good offensive football in the team and you need to stop that.”
The Everton boss specifically name-checked Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli as the men his charges would need to shut down as well as Tottenham's marauding full backs so that the supply lines to Kane are restricted (although first-choice left back, Danny Rose, is ruled out).
Pochettino also has minor injury doubts over Kane and Jan Vertonghen while Toby Alderweireld will undergo a late fitness test but it would not be surprising to see the first two or even all three play. Any possibility that they won't be operating at full capacity will work in Everton's favour though.
Koeman, meanwhile, has a virtually fit squad from which to choose and will likely make at least one change to the XI that started the 2-0 win over Sunderland last Saturday. Ademola Lookman's inexperience was evident in that game (it was, nevertheless, an ideal match for him to play and get more top-flight experience) and he probably won't be included in the starting line-up this time around. Past experience would point to Koeman reverting to a back three, possibly with Mason Holgate coming back into the side to replace the 19-year-old forward.
It promises to be a fascinating match-up and indicator of the progress Everton had made under Koeman since the two sides last met on the opening day of the season. That day, the Toffees struggled to maintain their fire longer than an hour but the team that takes the field in N17 this Sunday will be an altogether fitter one.
That ability to last the pace and grab late goals will be vital if the scores are level or close heading into the closing stages and, if Everton can hustle Spurs out of their stride and match them head-to-head, then there's every opportunity they can come away from this ground with three points for the first time in eight seasons.
Kick-off: 1:30pm, Sunday 5th March, 2017
Referee: Michael Oliver
Last Time: Tottenham Hotspur 0 - 0 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Robles, Holgate, Williams, Funes Mori, Coleman, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Davies, Barkley, Lukaku