Everton will feel unlucky not to have come away with all three points, as Spurs snatched a late equalizer in an absorbing 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
Despite soaking up pressure for long spells, the Toffees looked dangerous on the break and arguably had the better chances throughout the 90 minutes. A midfield lacking in width was eventually their downfall in this one, as Spurs had too much time in the wide positions. Both Tottenham goals came after crosses into the box from their full-backs.
Here are the main tactical talking points from an Everton perspective following an intriguing encounter.
David Moyes sprung a few surprises with his lineup. Ross Barkley came into the side in place of Nikica Jelavic, John Heitinga was moved into a defensive role and Leon Osman pushed forward to support the excellent Victor Anichebe.
Despite being caught off guard by an early goal from Emmanuel Adebayor, Everton dominated the ball early on. Osman found space between the lines, and Anichebe offered a real presence up front.
The Nigerian powerhouse has really come on this campaign, and this was his best performance of the season. His physicality was far too much for the Tottenham centre-backs to handle, and when the ball was played into him, it stuck. This gave Everton an excellent platform to start attacks.
The Toffees deserved their equalizer when it did come. Phil Jagielka nodded home Leighton Baines’ deep corner in the 15th minute. It was the second time in two games that Spurs have had trouble defending a deep ball into the box; they conceded in similar fashion against Basel in midweek. Three of Everton’s six corners were sent in deep, and it looked as though this was an area they thought they could exploit Spurs.
After the two early goals, the game settled down, and both teams cancelled each other out in midfield. Osman was the player who initially found the most space in these central areas, but he was wasteful in his passing and constantly left the ball short when trying to find teammates in dangerous areas.
Often maligned for being negative, it was encouraging to see Moyes going all out for the victory. The game continued much in the same vein following the half-time break, but Moyes’ attacking change was the catalyst for a frantic last half-hour.
The Everton manager withdrew Barkley, with the youngster having struggled to make an impact, and threw on Nikica Jelavic. Everton scored almost immediately through Kevin Mirallas, and as a result they seemed undecided on whether to go for another goal or defend what they had.
It was quite a bizarre set of circumstances. Moyes would not have anticipated a goal so quickly, and the change made mere seconds earlier left Everton with two forwards on the pitch and very open in midfield.
From this point on, Everton never really got into a solid shape. There were times when they were in a 4-4-2 system and times when Anichebe or Jelavic dropped wide or into midfield trying to make a 4-5-1.
Regardless, the Toffees didn’t look comfortable from this point on. Osman drifted across to the left in the main, but he really struggled to offer Baines any protection against the marauding runs of Kyle Walker. Andre Villas-Boas brought on Tom Huddlestone not long after Everton went ahead, and he had the time to spray passes about with Everton deep, unorganised and out-numbered in midfield.
As expected, both sides were especially narrow in the midfield. The main difference between the two sides was that Tottenham’s full-backs were willing to push forward. Baines and Seamus Coleman were noticeably reserved in their attacking ambitions, whereas Walker and Jan Vertonghen seemed to get forward at will, pinning back their opposition.
Ultimately, this is what cost Everton, with both goals coming from deep crosses from Tottenham full-backs. Mirallas was too sluggish in getting out to Vertonghen for the first goal, whereas Baines was left exposed for the second.
I cited Walker's defensive inabilities as a weak point for Tottenham in the buildup to the game, but Everton never really tested him out. He constantly bombed forward, and in the second half Baines really struggled to compete with his pace and power. When Osman moved over to the left-hand side, he was unable to protect Baines in a way comparable to the suspended Steven Pienaar.
The England midfielder looked leggy in the latter stages; the running Osman did in the first half looked to have taken its toll.
Primarily, Everton have never been a team that plays on the counter under David Moyes. This is because they have rarely had a direct, pacey threat in the side. But with Mirallas in the team, they have a completely different attacking dimension.
The second half in particular, Everton looked to spring from deep and play off Anichebe. Whilst Mirallas wasn’t directly involved with many of the Everton breaks forward, the Tottenham defense dropped off noticeably, clearly wary of the threat he offers in behind. This in turn gave space for Jelavic and Anichebe to pick the ball up on the break, turn and drive at the Spurs' back four.
It very nearly paid dividends, as Everton created numerous chances with Spurs pushed upfield. Anichebe, in particular, had a glorious chance to win the game with a breakaway in the latter stages.
This will feel like a loss for Everton, but there are plenty of positives they can take from the game.
It is clear that Kevin Mirallas is fast becoming a key player. So often Everton have looked one-dimensional without him in the side, but when he plays, the Toffees look a completely different attacking proposition. Defenders look petrified of the Belgian forward at the moment.
Victor Anichebe is also a player who deserves a lot of credit. He is quietly developing into a top-class centre-forward, and his all-action display will have certainly made many onlookers sit up and take note. Right now, he is Everton’s best striker and should retain his place.
Have any thoughts on the game? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball