Week 1 didn’t quite live up to the hype. We were coming off an ego-stroking demolition of Inter and Everton spent the offseason being unimpressive against Championship and Scottish clubs. Their business dealings have been mostly selling, however they did acquire Koeman from Southampton as their new coach. On Friday, less than 24 hours before kickoff, he declared his team 70% fit. Their star striker, Lukaku, was going to be unavailable (stitches in his foot and possibly an impending sale), and their new star defender–the perpetually underwhelming Ashley Williams–wasn’t ready to start with the team. Spurs were ready to start everyone but Dembele who was on game 3 of his 6 game suspension, but new signing Wanyama was ready to start in his place. My expectations were through the roof.
We started the game playing like shit. Everton came out in a 3-5-2 which clogged up the running lanes for our pressing full backs. Strike 1. Wanyama and Dier were like mirror images instead of complimentary pieces so our double pivots never managed to move the ball from the back to the front. Strike 2. Kane was completely gobbled up by the 3 defenders and pretty much never got a second touch on any pass directed to him. Strike 3. This was Jan Vertonghen’s first game back from the ankle injury he picked up in the Euros. He was rusty and slow. Strike 4. Eriksen, Alli, and Lamela couldn’t connect any passes in the crowded midfield. Strike 5.
It was ugly. 5 mins in Everton had a free kick from 30 yards out by the edge of the box. The cross was whipped in and fell in no-man’s land. It looked like poor marking was going to let an Everton attacker get a head on it and Lloris froze. The ball bounced and slipped in at the far post, untouched. Boo.
Only our defenders were stringing together passes, and Everton was hitting hard on the counter-attack. They were good at finding the gaps behind our fullbacks and outside our center backs. It was causing headaches. 35 mins into the game Lloris subbed off. It was unclear at the time but he tweaked his hamstring. Vorm came on and played well, making a couple of key saves to keep it at 1-0 at halftime. It was ugly.
In the second half, we started better but were tactically stuck. New striker Janssen was subbed in for Dier at 55 mins and we shifted to a 4-4-2 that played more like a 4-1-3-1-1 with Janssen at the top and Kane as the #9. I was worried with Dier off, but we played much better. Janssen was a beast in hold up play and made some clever passes. Having 2 guys up top forced Everton to shift their defensive alignment and we started finding gaps in the attacking third. Lamela, who normally plays on the right, shifted to the left and spent most of the game linking up exclusively with Kane. Eriksen swapped with Lamela and played almost exclusively with Janssen. It was a new look and effective. We created a lot of chances and completely flipped the game. Walker started finding space in along the sideline and whipped in some beautiful crosses. One was inch perfect and Lamela beat out some tight defending to put in a sweet header. Lamela had another late chance that took a deflection before the keeper got a reaction save finger on it and the ball clipped the crossbar before going over. Walker had a nice sniper shot at the near post that almost snuck in. Eriksen grazed the top of the crossbar with a free kick. Janssen had the ball fall to his feet during a corner kick scrum and his reaction shot from 6 yards out was saved by the keeper. We looked potent and effective.
If there was any complaint, it was that Alli was still invisible in the middle of the pitch. All of our attacks came from the wings. We usually generate 60%+ of our chances from the wings but we’re at our best when we also have steep runs up the middle with Kane/Alli, Eriksen/Alli, and Lamela/Alli playing 1-2’s through the heart of the D. Had we managed even 3 of these we would have taken all 3 points. As it was, the draw was a fair but disappointing result.
My player ratings (1-5)
Kane – 2
Eriksen – 2
Alli – 2
Lamela – 4
Wanyama – 3
Dier – 3
Rose – 3
Vertonghen – 2
Alderweirald – 4
Walker – 4
Lloris – 3
Janssen – 4
Vorm – 4
Just imagine how long this review would have been had we played well.
Our next match is home versus Crystal Palace. Palace is difficult to quantify but a lot of pundits are picking them to finish in the bottom 6.
Look for the PL Review show on NBCSN later this week. The Arsenal-Liverpool match was crazy. 7 goals, a saved PK, and Klopp (or Kloop as Domo calls him) going nuts on the sideline next to a comatose Wenger. At one point Klopp gave new striker Sadio Mane a piggy back ride in celebration.