When the highlights reel of a game consists of a scruffy own goal and a bit of a barney between two players on the same team you know it has not been a classic. However, even that brief summation goes someway to underselling a snooze-fest of epic proportions on Monday night between two struggling teams with lofty ambitions.
In years gone by Spurs v Everton has been something of an enticing fixture in the calendar. Two teams with top six pedigree and a yearning to join the elite; they have often contested entertaining bouts and good adverts for the Premier League. Monday’s drab match, however, was about as far away from that as it’s possible to get.
Yes, there is the obvious excuse of post-restart rustiness but this was a truly drab affair between two sides sorely lacking in ideas and in dire need of an awful lot of work.
Watching the ponderous, meandering clash unfold, you could be forgiven entirely for forgetting that between them, the two managers in the dugouts on Monday had won five Champions Leagues and 12 domestic league titles. And yet neither Jose Mourinho nor Carlo Ancelotti looked capable of rousing their sides or inspiring their players to find another gear on the field. On the surface, it looked for all intents and purposes, like a contest between two very average sides trapped in mid-table mediocrity.
It is surreal to see two old managerial gladiators who have dominated with some of the continents biggest clubs over the past two decades, now finding themselves with arguably their most difficult challenges at clubs locked in such mediocrity.
That may sound harsh, but that is exactly were Spurs and Everton now find themselves after years of promise and some progress have failed to reverse the overall fortunes at two of English football’s proudest football clubs. Both have remained ambitious, their cross-hairs focused solely on genuine success and European football in the long-term. Each has made a bold statement with their latest managerial incumbent as well, but you cannot help but feel they have opted for yesterday’s men in an age where truly sustained success on a football pitch depends on constant innovation and ferocious tempos.
Ancelotti and Mourinho are names that carry true authority and respect. They are not, of course, to be written-off entirely. Their methods of disciplined football, rigid back lines and tenacious counter-attacks can be a nightmare to deal with when executed with total command and discipline. It is a methodology that gets results if given time and there have been some green shoots of recovery at either club under their respective new managers.
Going into Monday’s fixture in North London, only Liverpool, and the two Manchester clubs had taken more Premier League points than Everton since Ancelotti’s first game in charge back on Boxing Day. Spurs have also kept their European hopes alive since Mourinho was parachuted in to replace Mauricio Pochettino back in November. The clean sheet they managed against the Toffees on Monday was their second since the restart, which is as many as they have managed in their previous 14 league matches, hinting at an adaption to the new manager’s methods due to time spent on the training ground.
The experienced duo’s presence at the helm of such famous English clubs could well boost recruitment plans for the summer, something which should not be undervalued in what could well be the most testing transfer window in modern times.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a conservative approach to winning football matches, however, you cannot help but feel that both managers may be somewhat leaning on analogue methods in a digital age.
The vast majority of Premier League teams pushing for Europe and winning honours in recent seasons have all had that extra gear of velocity and intensity that was sorely lacking from Monday night’s clash. The likes of Liverpool, Man City, Man United, Wolves and Chelsea are all capable of those blitzkrieg moments that simply overwhelm sides trying to encamp in their own final third with a fabled low block.
Yes, Spurs and Everton may win a fair few wars of attrition but over 38 games in the modern era that simply does not get you enough points. In the long run, it may also be an approach that alienates star players who thrive in a more adventurous set up.
On Monday, Harry Kane looked lost in a system that deprived him of steady service. The star striker has been linked with a move in the recent past and his morale may be further damaged if he lingers too long in this current formation, despite his public comments to the contrary.
You also had to wonder whether Ancelotti was relying too heavily on a moment of inspiration from his talented Brazilian forward Richarlison. It would certainly be interesting to see how long players of this ilk stick around in a rigid system.
One dire match is too narrow a view to totally dismiss both men in their respective hot seats, however, they are managing clubs with fans who possess an appetite for a certain brand of football. Pochettino’s pressing game went down a treat with the Spurs fans and it came oh so close to delivering the kind of success craved on the white side of North London. On the opposite end of the spectrum though, neither Marco Silva nor Sam Allardyce won many admirers at Goodison Park with their drab and dreary tactics.
Results will ultimately determine the fates of these two previously feted managers in their new roles in North London and Merseyside. Patience is no longer a currency that is traded in the Premier League though, and on the evidence of Monday’s game their brand of football could be a hard sell to a pair of fanbases that crave not only a rapid restoration to their former glories, but for it to happen in unison with an attractive style of play on the field.