Tottenham 4 Everton 0: Observations from Wembley
It started as many games involving Sam Allardyce probably do: with a pass back from the kick-off and a strong, determined hack up the field. Allardyce is nothing if not attentive to detail, so will have spent the days prior to Everton’s trip to Wembley studying the fragilities Tottenham have displayed within their temporary home.
He’ll have noted that West Ham recently made hay by sitting deep and being uncomplicated in their exists and presumably, spent the week chanting that mantra at Finch Farm. He was also evidently aware of the need for nuggety pragmatism in north London, having watched Swansea, West Bromwich Albion and Burnley frustrate Spurs with a succession of delayed restarts and a string of robust tackles.
Everton weren’t quite that subversive, but they’d certainly appeared to have done their homework. Heung Min Son was chopped down cynically by Jonjoe Kenny inside three minutes and Cenk Tosun, the debutant forward signed from Besiktas, showed an intent to roughhouse Mauricio Pochettino’s centre-halves right from the start.
However, while the cult of Mourinhoism may claim otherwise, an opposition has the right to play in whatever way they wish. Tottenham have encountered this problem many times before, like dozens of other sides in similarly weighted matches, and it’s their responsibility to overcome it.
And on Saturday evening they did, quickly and efficiently melting Everton’s resolve. Pochettino has said in the past that he’s able to gauge his players’ moods within seconds of a game beginning and he will have been heartened with the way they started. The size of the Wembley pitch has been written about frequently this season and often ascribed an influence within their slightly disappointing home form, but here they used its breadth and length to their advantage, exploring its extremities and contorting an immobile defence.
Twenty-five minutes in, dynamic full-back Serge Aurier was invited into space by a rapid swift of play and, effectively unchallenged, his low cross was converted at the back-post by an unmarked Son. It was Everton at their worst and a moment which brought a furious Allardyce to his technical area, but it was also Spurs using their environment to expose an opposition’s weakness. A basic enough footballing premise, but one they’ve still neglected too often this season.
Three times they managed to spring Aurier in that 45 minutes and on each occasion Everton were at the mercy of his delivery.
For Aurier in the first-half, read Son in the second. The South Korean is at his most dangerous in broken field situations and when isolated with single defenders. Within three minutes of the restart, he had rouletted around Kenny, raced towards the edge of box, and assisted for Kane to tap-in from under the crossbar. Son was at his incendiary best, seemingly available every time Tottenham drove forward and able to widen the fractures in the visiting defence each time he took possession.
After the game, Pochettino was eager to stress the duration of the forward's form, but also to praise a player who he believes has grown more mature and who, now in his third year at Tottenham, is performing more for the team's benefit. Certainly, this is proving the richest and most rounded period of his Premier League career to date.
Just short of the hour Kane ended the contest, redirecting a fine Eric Dier cross over Jordan Pickford. Sam Allardyce may have toughened Everton’s defence, but this was a sharp reminder of their imbalance; with a game to chase rather than a draw to protect, they became horribly exposed. Exposed and defeated. By the time Eriksen finished off a move which had flowed between Kane, Aurier and Dele Alli, drilling the ball mercilessly beyond the goalkeeper, Allardyce’s players had been failing to compete for some time.
4-0 may suggest a fairly generic rout, but at times this really was hopelessly one-sided.
The travelling supporters, quite understandably, filed out long before the final whistle. Everton might have expected to be beaten here and could even have be forgiven for allowing their attention to drift towards more winnable fixtures, but this barely met the minimal standard. The absence of style is supposed to be traded off against pure achievement, but when it delivers such abject surrender it must become nearly unpalatable. Allardyce has had better days. Some of his players have had few which were worse.
Speaking to the media afterwards, he acknowledged that he might have been too bold and overly-instructed by the promising performance against Anfield eight days ago, but also conceded that he was deeply concerned by what he'd seen from his players and incapable of explaining their wild inconsistency.
For Tottenham, though, it was also a timely reminder of they can reach at their best. Manchester City have cast a dark shadow over the rest of the Premier League this season, making the distant pack all but an irrelevance, but this was still a show of great power and - at times - charming craft. Moussa Dembele returned to the midfield and exhibited the authority which had recently been absent from his game. Ahead of him, the forwards drew colourful angles all evening, playing with a lightness of spirit seen more often in the hazy spring sunshine than in the depths of midwinter.
It was impressive. It belonged within a certain context, but it was nevertheless a performance of great texture and verve.