Tottenham Hotspur vs. Everton: Tactical Preview

The difference between Everton’s past two seasons was significant, to say the least. In 2013/14, the Toffees secured a fifth place finish with 72 points. Last year, they only managed 47 points and 11th place. It’s still too early to tell which Everton will show up this season, but absence of Europa League may help their cause (my piece on the impact of Europa League determined that the competition costs Spurs roughly seven points per season). Nevertheless, the Toffees are, for the time being, a bit of a wildcard.

Going into the season, Everton looked to have a top notch defense. Captain, Phil Jagielka, and John Stones were to anchor the center while Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman would set the Premier League standard at fullback. But things haven’t quite panned out. Baines re-injured the ankle he recently had surgery on just before the Toffees’ season opener against Watford, and is out for the foreseeable future. Stones could well be on his way to Stamford Bridge before September 1st. Whether Stones will still be a Toffee on Saturday is unknown but the absence of Baines is a significant blow to Everton, in both defensive and offensive terms–Baines tallied more assists than any other Everton player last season (9), which put him at eighth in the Premier League. In his place at left back is 19-year-old, Brendan Galloway. Tim Howard will start between the sticks following a both disappointing and impressive performance against Manchester City last weekend.

The first band of midfield will feature James McCarthy and Gareth Barry. Whichever of these two plays on the right may have to provide cover for an attack-minded Coleman. All considered, the Toffees’ back six is solid, yet it is still the same back six that conceded 16 shots to Spurs at Goodison Park on the final day of last season.

Ross Barkley will feature in the #10 role, having already scored twice and assisted once this season. Barkley is both a creator and a threat from long range - I envision Eric Dier being key in managing the playmaker.

On the wings there will likely be some combination of Arouna Koné, Tom Cleverley, and Kevin Mirallas. No matter which two start, expect them to swap sides of the pitch from time to time to change the flow of attack. These wingers will not only look to cross, they’ll look to make dangerous runs when Romelu Lukaku holds up the ball.

Perhaps the most interesting matchup the game will be that of Lukaku and his two Belgian international teammates, Vertonghen and Alderweireld. The Spurs central defenders are certainly familiar with Lukaku, but Lukaku is, by the same token, familiar with them. Lukaku has two goals and one assist in the Premier League thus far, and had a brace at Barnsley in the League Cup on Wednesday. A key part of the Belgian’s chance creation is hold up play–he’ll muscle many defenders off the ball and look for the runs of teammates. Tottenham’s fullbacks will have to be on high alert when Lukaku receives the ball at the top of the box and watch the runs of the wingers. Barkley will have to be watched closely in these situations as well.

The injury to Christian Eriksen is doing Spurs no favors. Assuming he is still unavailable on Saturday, we could well see Dele Alli make his first Premier League start. Eric Lamela started in the #10 role against Leicester, but I wouldn’t rule out the Argentine being moved out to the right in place of Dembélé. If Leighton Baines were available for Everton, Dembélé might seem the obvious option because of his more defensive presence, but Spurs are in a position to take defensive risks against a less experienced left back. That being said, Lamela has hardly earned his place, so the pair that occupy the #10 and #7 positions is anyone’s guess.

Spurs have taken all three points the last two times Everton visited the Lane, and the Spurs Projected Goal Difference model is predicting more of the same - the projected goal difference is +.73 in favor of the Lilywhites. A first win of the season would indeed be welcome.