It is a godsend that Antonio Conte’s forte is fixing a mess, because he has found himself in charge of an almighty one at Tottenham. They were outmuscled by an Everton side low on confidence and missing core parts of their spine, being quite fortunate to exit Goodison Park with a point.
Conte had won all three of his first league tests in charge of Juventus, Chelsea and Inter by an aggregate score of 10-2, but Spurs couldn’t even muster a shot on target.
The showdown pitted the tactical wits of a manager already adored before having the chance to get his feet warm, against one that wasn’t wanted by a sea of supporters and was under increasing pressure after three straight defeats, especially as ’tis the season to be sacked.
Naturally then, in the upside-down world that football can be, it was Rafael Benitez who went into the interval happier with Everton stronger in the duels, more aggressive in possession but short of requisite quality in the final third.
A terribly uninspired opening 45 saw neither goalkeeper be in any bother, with Tottenham not having a shot on target for the fourth half in a row.
New, world-class manager but it was the same old problems for Spurs. Conte was incensed in the technical area, screaming instructions almost every second before turning around to curse his players’ lack of application.
He demanded they transition quicker, they didn’t. He kept calling for rapid switches of play, but watched the ball float out instead. There was no consistent build-up and creation from midfield was a myth.
Tottenham’s best chance arrived on 45 minutes, when Harry Kane shifted out to the right and delivered a stellar ball for Sergio Reguilon, who slid in from eight yards out but couldn’t keep his effort down.
That was a rare showcase of brilliance from the England captain, who was more involved than he had been under Nuno Espirito Santo, but is struggling to mask and shake off serious fading of his force.
Everton, meanwhile, were fiery in the first half. Fabian Delph, making just his third Premier League start since the beginning of last season, set the tone with snappy early tackles.
They thieved possession well, but couldn’t apply any gloss on their attacking work. The home side were furious at not being awarded a penalty when Demarai Gray’s fine feet drew attention from Lucas Moura and then Oliver Skipp, who impeded him, but referee Chris Kavanagh waved the game on.
The decisive moment of the match also featured a spot-kick that wasn’t given. On the hour-mark, Richarlison sped into the area to attack a loose ball with just Hugo Lloris to beat.
The Spurs goalkeeper rushed out and clipped the Brazilian, but did he get a touch on the ball? Kavanagh awarded a penalty, but was advised by the VAR to review the incident on the pitchside monitor.
Having seen several replays, he reversed his decision, which antagonised Everton but also then drew the best period from them and enlivened the crowd.
The encounter devolved into despairing defending for Spurs, with Tom Davies and Gray both threatening. Giovani Lo Celso thundered against the woodwork in a rare attack from the visitors.
Mason Holgate, on for shy of 10 minutes, went studs in on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and was sent off on review.
There were to be no goals, no shot on target for Tottenham, nor a happy welcome back to the Premier League for Conte.
He has much to do – and fast.
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