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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

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Everton vs Tottenham result: Five things we learned as Antonio Conte realises size of the challenge ahead

Tottenham Hotspur were held to a 0-0 draw by Everton in Antonio Conte’s first Premier League match in charge of the club.

A rather low-key first half was much more about defences being on top than any attacking play of any note being on show, with a Ben Godfrey strike from range and a late half-volley from Sergio Reguilon flying over the bar the only vaguely goalmouth related action at either end.

After the break it was far better from the home side, who were initially awarded a penalty for a foul by Hugo Lloris on Richarlison. After watching a pitchside replay, however, referee Chris Kavanagh overturned his own decision, to the fury of the home supporters.

Neither goalkeeper was called upon to make any kind of big save at all during the match, despite Everton pushing on and swinging over a succession of crosses as the match went on, and – despite Giovani Lo Celso striking the post from range late on – a point apiece was perhaps just given neither had any attacking quality on show, while Everton ended with 10 men after Mason Holgate’s late red card.

Here are five things we learned from the match on Sunday.

Conte sizes up the job

Watching on from the touchline in the first half, the Italian boss wasn’t hugely animated as his side struggled to put passes together midweek the midfield and attacking thirds, but nor would he have been hugely impressed. Lucas Moura’s individual run aside, not a whole lot connected for Spurs in that first period and it was mainly a case of watching uninspired patterns of moving the ball to the wing-backs and back infield.

Perhaps his defensive shape would have been reason for positivity, given they conceded three in the last league outing and twice against Vitesse in midweek, but largely denied the home team any easy route to goal in that first 45 minutes.

But despite an initial upturn in tempo after the restart, Spurs simply didn’t really get going in the match as an attacking force. A few fragmented counter-attacks aside and one or two crosses by Kane rather than to him quite clearly indicate how much work there is ahead to make them a regularly winning outfit.

If it needs emphasising any further, Tottenham had no shots on target again – two games in a row now, after Nuno’s final match produced the same amount against Man United.

Everton form on the up?

Coming into the fixture on the back of three straight league defeats and only one victory in the last six, Rafa Benitez would also have been feeling the heat a little.

His job wasn’t made easier by two really important ongoing absences: Abdoulaye Doucoure in midfield, who was excellent earlier in the campaign, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in attack. While his side were low-key in the first half, there was a noticeable improvement in the second half – from about the 55 minute-mark onwards until stoppage time, Everton were the only team looking likely to find the breakthrough.

Richarlison thought he had a penalty for a while, a few of the onrunning midfielders briefly saw openingson goal fall their way and, importantly, the crowd responded to the better, faster attacking play.

The boos ringing down on the final whistle appeared far more aimed in the direction of the referee than anybody blue-related; this performance can be taken as a step forward for the home side.

Michael Keane thrives at the back

He hasn’t had the best of seasons so far, but Michael Keane stood up to the task well of keeping Conte’s new-look side at bay.

In the first half he was on the front foot with several aerial challenges and made two big blocks in quick succession, denying Harry Kane time in the box for one of them, and his assured approach was just what was required after the Toffees had conceded 13 in the previous six matches, six against Watford and Wolves in the past week.

A positive showing too for Ben Godfrey alongside him, with two moments of proactive defending worthy of note before the break: with Spurs lacking numbers in the final third as they looked to counter, he was quick to step out from centre-back and push on to win the ball and drive upfield, keeping his team on the attack and leaving Spurs unable to break out of their defensive shape.

A clean sheet to build upon for the partnership.

VAR calls right?

Twice the referee made decisions which he was advised to go and check on the pitchside monitor; twice he decided he should alter his initial call.

Both of them were negative for Everton, in the end, having started in their favour.

The first looked the most subjective call; did Lloris get anything, or enough, on the ball to overrule the penalty? Was it a dubious enough call to warrant a second look and a changed mind? Spurs fans will clearly feel it was, but Everton players were livid on the pitch.

Holgate’s tackle was an easy decision, however. His clearance was fine but the follow-through on Hojbjerg was abysmal: leg extended, studs straight into the midfielder’s upper leg. Dangerous and, on inspection of the replays, with intent – that’s a red and a three-game ban for the utility man.

International break ahead

Two weeks now for Conte to get the measure of his squad players at least, and decide which of them warrant more inclusion going forward.

The likes of Dele Alli, Harry Winks and Bryan Gil, when he’s fully fit, might all hope to see a lot more game time than they have done so far this term and during the break those who are not on international duty will get the opportunity to work extra hard beneath the new boss’ watchful eye.

Relentless work rate and energy, and an ability to carry out tactical instruction, will carry far more weight with Conte than any big transfer fees, reputation or what they did three months ago – or indeed three years ago.

As for Everton, Rafa Benitez might appreciate the opportunity to reset too, after a difficult few weeks and with a busy schedule ahead.

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