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The Pep Guardiola lesson behind Everton’s comeback against Tottenham

Everton 2-2 Tottenham: Richarlison’s double was erased by two set-pieces to salvage a valuable point for the Toffees

Richard Jolly
Goodison Park
Saturday 03 February 2024 16:10 GMT
Postecoglou urges Spurs stars to focus on football after fiesty Brentford win

Just when it seemed as though Everton’s past would cost them on the pitch as well as off it, they illustrated the spirit they will require to extricate themselves from their latest perilous position. Once Richarlison was their saviour, a hero of the late surge to safety in 2022. When he marked his first return to Goodison Park with a double, it appeared as though he was pushing them towards relegation two years later.

Yet Tottenham left disappointed for the second time in as many seasons, denied by another injury-time goal from a centre-back. It was Michael Keane with a spectacular strike in April, Jarrad Branthwaite with a close-range header now. Behind twice, without a league win since December, Everton nevertheless claimed a point that could be pivotal.

They did so in a manner that should prove worrying for Tottenham. Both of Everton’s goals came from dead-ball situations, with the unconvincing Guglielmo Vicario providing the first evidence of frailty he has shown in English football. Having conceded 27 times in 14 games, Spurs may have a soft underbelly, brilliantly as Micky van de Ven played. They certainly squandered the winning position Richarlison gave them.

Branthwaite’s first strike of the season was touched in from close range after James Garner’s free-kick flicked off the head of Cristian Romero. Ange Postecoglou had made defensive substitutions, introducing Radu Dragusin as a third centre-back, but arguably his changes weakened his side.

And Sean Dyche, whose frustrations were apparent in a caution he collected just before Branthwaite struck, may have done something he never previously contemplated in his managerial career: copy Pep Guardiola. They can seem stylistic opposites but Manchester City were the first team to realise Vicario could be troubled at corners when hassled by an opponent. It led to Nathan Ake’s winner in the FA Cup and Jack Harrison’s strike here.

Everton’s set-piece specialists and battery of six-footers spent much of their afternoon trying to capitalise. They targeted the Italian. With Harrison irritating – obstructing, in Vicario’s opinion – the goalkeeper with his presence, Dwight McNeil’s deep corner was headed back by James Tarkowski for Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Yet if it seemed he had applied the final touch, the ball brushed Harrison on its way in; a goal initially given to the striker was reallocated to the winger. It made for an eclectic afternoon for Harrison, who had inadvertently blocked a potentially goalbound shot from McNeil earlier. For Calvert-Lewin, however, the frustration goes on; he had not scored in his previous 27 attempts and his drought now spans 17 matches.

It felt all the crueller that his old sidekick should score within four minutes of his first return to Goodison Park. Richarlison now has twice as many goals on Everton territory as Calvert-Lewin this season. His tally of nine in eight league games is a dramatic turnaround after only mustering two in his first 39 outings. An unsuccessful understudy to Harry Kane, he is now proving a fine successor. The theory had been that Tottenham needed a striker, but they bought one a year before their record scorer left.

Richarlison with teammate James Maddison (Getty)

The price irritated Everton. They had valued Richarlison at £80m in their accounts and had to accept a £60m offer before the end of their financial year. It was not enough to prevent them from failing financial fair play, but formed one of their grounds for mitigation that the Premier League’s independent commission rejected. But Richarlison had rarely looked a £60m player for Spurs, let alone an £80m one. Now he does.

He set the tone on an action-packed afternoon. Both sides can keep clean sheets in Everton’s matches and neither in Tottenham’s so something had to give. Something soon did, with Everton conceding.

Jarrad Branthwaite celebrates scoring Everton’s equaliser (Reuters)

Dyche had double-teamed his right-backs, fielding Ashley Young in front of Ben Godfrey. Yet neither tracked Destiny Udogie as he played a one-two with Timo Werner and sped to the byline to cut the ball back for the Brazilian to whip in a shot. Richarlison’s second was curled in beautifully from the edge of the box after James Maddison nudged a pass to him. Once again, Everton afforded him too much room.

Seamus Coleman celebrates after the VAR confirms Everton’s equaliser (AP)

A streetfighter with a touch of quality, Richarlison has much of what Everton want. Yet even as Dyche’s team struggled to create in open play, they showed their own battling qualities. Without a league goal in 2024, they conjured two. It was just a third point in six games for them, but it had an impact at each end of the table. Spurs, denied a sixth victory in eight games, missing the chance to go level on points with City and Arsenal, had only themselves to blame. But if Richarlison once epitomised the spirit of the Blues, now he could curse it.

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