LONDON — In football, you can win the tactical war but still lose the game where it truly matters: the scoreboard.
This was the very much the case during Everton's 1-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday at White Hart Lane, where Roberto Martinez crafted the ideal game plan but his team failed to execute in front of goal.
The Toffees have reinvented themselves under Martinez, with the Spaniard bringing about a stylistic revolution in the blue half of Liverpool.
For 10 years, they were efficient, workman-like and cautious in their approach under David Moyes; this season, they've been free-flowing, asymmetrical and wildly entertaining.
You visit Goodison Park in 2014 and you know you'll have to relinquish the ball. They've averaged 56.3 per cent possession per game in the Premier League this season, according to WhoScored.com—the fifth-highest total in the division—and have attracted new fans thanks to their silky, attractive blend of play.
But Martinez's Toffees showed a different side to their game in North London at the weekend—a far more studious approach.
Everton set out in a cautious 4-2-3-1 formation with Steven Naismith—a central midfielder at heart—up front on his own. It wasn't a false nine or anything too fancy, but the placing of the Scot on the forward line epitomised everything about the Toffees' approach on the day.
He worked hard, closed down, ran the channels and combined with his teammates well. You can extrapolate that performance and attribute it to each of his 10 teammates.
Gareth Barry quickly became key to the containment strategy, locking down the zone just outside of Everton's penalty area and halting any form of attack. Tottenham ended up resorting to spraying passes from sideline to sideline—unable to penetrate through Mousa Dembele and Co.—and misplaced many.
Everton's high-press in the forward areas forced some panicky balls out from the back, and Christian Eriksen visibly struggled with Seamus Coleman's aggressive positioning in the second half.
But as strong as they were defensively, man-for-man and tactically, they struggled in front of goal and eventually paid the price. There's irony in the fact that the man who embodied their excellent approach on paper—Naismith—was also the cause of much frustration in the attacking third.
Michael Dawson and the returning Jan Vertonghen dealt with Naismith and Kevin Mirallas relatively easily, with the only clear-cut chance falling to the latter. The Belgian weaved his way forward and turned the centre-backs inside out—a la Stoke last season—but failed to find a finish with Naismith in reams of space.
A scintillating Emmanuel Adebayor strike following a quick free-kick settled the game; for all of Everton's planning with regard to shape and approach, they lost due to a school-boy error.
Martinez's refusal to try loan signing Lacina Traore indicated the Ivorian isn't ready just yet, a notion Martinez confirmed later. All 6'8" of Traore sat motionless on the bench for the entire 90 minutes.
The Toffees played some superb football and controlled the game from a tactical standpoint but gleaned zero points from a winnable fixture.
That, more than anything else, will grind at Roberto Martinez all week.
Martinez admitted in the post-match press conference that Everton were in "a fight with themselves" for fourth place in the Premier League, and that the club would need a little more luck in the weeks ahead if they were to realise their UEFA Champions League dream.
"To be able to say we were the better side is brilliant, but it's not enough."
All quotes were obtained first-hand.