All good things must come to an end, and so too mildly encouraging things such as Everton’s unbeaten run which was surrendered away at Tottenham. The 3-2 scoreline flattered the defensive Toffees who were thoroughly outplayed following Ronald Koeman’s cautionary blunder in overloading his defensive midfield.

Dele Alli seals the points from Tottenham against Everton by glancing past Joel Robles.

Three months ago, Koeman allowed Chelsea’s attack to dictate a reshuffled, defensive lineup. It failed. A similar thought process undermined his side’s efforts at White Hart Lane. Granted Harry Kane had scored 13 in 12 games, and Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli are in menacing form, but this was Moyesian apprehension from Koeman. All worrying about opponents, no confidence in his own side. Confidence corrupted by fear.

To the destructive pairing of Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye, Koeman added Gareth Barry who was 36 a few days ago. James McCarthy’s energy or Tom Davies’ play-making seemed much better bets. If the intention was for Barry to drop back and form a back three, that’s precisely what Schneiderlin did last week. The decision was baffling and within 20 minutes it contributed significantly to Everton’s downfall.

As Kane advanced, Gueye ambled back casually enough to suggest a challenge was with his remit leading Barry to back off to cover the space. With none forthcoming, Kane was allowed a free strike 25 yards. To nobody’s surprise, he lashed home with a fine strike. Joel Robles could have done better. Tottenham suddenly upped the gears and started creating chances at will with Eriksen and Kane particularly guilty of squandering.

Naturally, the defensive midfield overload inhibited Everton’s attack. Davies and Ross Barkley have shown plenty of creative flair but burdening them with two thirds of the attacking responsibility against the league’s best defence seemed a little hasty. Barkley, it must be said, coped well. With frustrating inevitability, Romelu Lukaku was isolated and failed to stamp his authority on proceedings.

The real flaw in Koeman’s approach was apparent immediately after Kane’s goal. If the plan was just to prevent, that plan’s immediate failure resulted in the loss of all confidence. Everton’s players seemed to doubt their ability to get back into the game which ought not to be a problem for a side nine games unbeaten. Changes of personnel and formation were essential at the break to give the side a boost.

From bad to worse for Everton

Koeman’s decision to make no alterations seemed risky as the second-half kicked off, and foolish 10 minutes later when Robles, Williams and Schneiderlin catastrophically presented Kane with an easy opening for 2-0. It took eight minutes for Koeman to begin undoing his errors. On came James McCarthy for Barry to liven the midfield, and Kevin Mirallas for Davies to bolster the attack.

Former Southampton bosses Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino stand side by side as Everton take on Tottenham.

A quarter of an hour later, the switch paid off as Lukaku gathered Mirallas’ pass and, via a pretty funny Jan Vertonghen slip, fired into the corner. The suggestion of a draw that briefly enveloped proceedings was quelled late on when Schneiderlin and Leighton Baines fell asleep from a free-kick. It was a nice chip from Harry Winks, a neat flick from Dele Alli but a dreadful goal to concede from Everton’s perspective, especially so as Enner Valencia grabbed a consolation.

This was an odd sort of contest for Koeman and his rejigged side. While there is no shame in losing away at Spurs, there certainly is the manner Everton did. Though 3-2 is hardly the worst scoreline, 5-1 would have been more fitting. Managers will always make mistakes but this one was revealing.

The selection confirmed Koeman’s go-to plan for top sides: squeeze the centre, sacrifice attack. This approach will work for some managers, Tony Pulis and Diego Simeone for example, but Koeman simply hasn’t shown himself to be any good at it. Everton were trounced away at Chelsea, ground down at home to Liverpool and chasing shadows at Spurs. This setup isn’t achieving what it’s supposed to.

There is a worrying lack of sophistication in Koeman’s method. Shape, width and all impetus are essentially disregarded in a trade-off for extra central midfielders. The full-backs mainly venture forward in doomed, isolated bursts. Lukaku, at the very least, has to contend with both centre-backs alone. A fundamental rethink is required to keep Everton competitive.

Everton's under-performing centre-backs Ramiro Funes Mori and Ashley Williams look on dejected following Tottenham's opener at White Hart Lane.After the game, Koeman rightly pointed out the years Pochettino has spent drilling the same players. Though Everton’s attempt to follow Spurs’ lead will take time, persistent issues such as the Toffees’ dreadful centre-half pairing should be addressed immediately. Koeman’s experimental tendency must be underpinned by a process of learning and development. After playing it far too safe away at another top six side, it’s time Koeman showed he’s learning lessons from this failing approach.
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By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 

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