After defeat to Manchester United last weekend, Everton travel to the Tottenham Stadium this Saturday afternoon needing to try and bounce back following that loss.
On Sunday against United, Everton were undone by a team that was more clinical and took full advantage of the home side’s mistakes.
The Toffees’ had been on a unbeaten run of seven games when they hosted United at Goodison Park last weekend.
That momentum though was broken by the visitors as they came from behind winning 2-1 to cast doubts on the strength of the Blues’ revival since the start of the season.
This revival was based on the much-improved defensive solidity which Frank Lampard had built over the summer and the strengthening of the midfield, for so long a major weakness in this Everton team.
However, some of the old flaws we have come to expect from Toffees’ sides over the past few years seemed to return last Sunday with misplaced passes and a lack of sharpness, particularly in the first half, proving very costly in the end.
While one defeat doesn’t mean the improvement we’ve seen since the start of the campaign is an illusion, it did raise questions about how strong that improvement really is.
A bad day is a bad day and it can happen to any team. But, one thing that I think was significant was the difference in the quality of the two team’s attacks.
United’s was creative, sharp and clinical in front of goal. The Blues’ own front three struggled to make a consistent impact and looked sluggish in contrast.
This problem is the consequence of the only real failure in the transfer market this summer, which was the fact the club only recruited one forward in Neal Maupay before the window shut.
Without Dominic Calvert-Lewin since the start of the campaign, Lampard has been forced to mix and match his forward players to try and find enough creativity and goals.
In truth, apart from sporadic moments it hasn’t really worked and Everton have got by for most of this season by ultimately relying on their defensive resiliance to secure points.
But, when that defensive solidity is compromised, then the lack of punch up front is brought into greater contrast.
Calvert-Lewin did return at last on Sunday and made an impact as a sub but proper match-fitness is still a fair way off as Lampard underlined in his pre-match press conference.
This means he almost certainly won’t start against Spurs on Saturday afternoon. So, Lampard will once more have to shuffle his pack to try and offer a potent threat to the home team.
Given Anthony Gordon’s poor performance at Goodison Park last weekend, his place might well have been most under threat.
However, he has been much better away from home so he might well still have played. That though is a moot point now as his five yellow cards mean he is banned from Saturday’s match.
All this means it’s very likely that Dwight McNeil will join Demarai Gray and Maupay as the starting front three.
As for other absences from the squad, Lampard gave updates on the fitness of Yerry Mina, Mason Holgate and Nathan Patterson.
Not suprisingly given his record, Mina has suffered a setback in his recovery while Holgate is training again and will be ready to return to the team soon, but Saturday is too early.
Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that Scottish starlet Patterson, who impressed so much earlier in the season, could be back even earlier than expected from his latest injury.
In his absence though Seamus Coleman continues at right-back and he and the rest of the Everton back four will have to be on their mettle against Tottenham’s star-studded attack.
In contrast to the visitors, Spurs have an embarrasment of riches up front. As well as Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min, Antonio Conte’s side now have Dejan Kulusevski, Ivan Perisic and of course former Everton favourite Richarlison to pick from.
The Brazilian striker has had an up and down start to his career in North London, but no doubt despite his affection for the Blues’ he will want to impress against his former employers.
Who would bet against him scoring a goal or given the Blues’ luck, even the winner this weekend?
Tottenham are making solid progress under Conte and the Italian is a clever and very experienced coach with an outstanding track record, who given time will surely have a good chance of bringing success back to that club.
The Toffees’ have a very poor record in London overall, although they did win at Spurs’ two seasons ago when Calvert-Lewin headed in the only goal of the game.
However, I can’t see a repeat of that scoreline and I think the best Everton can hope for, if they defend well, work hard and don’t make mistakes, is a point this weekend.