Do not let word of an own goal and half-time bust-up in a match between two of European football’s more decorated managers fool you into thinking this game had it all. That was pretty much it.
Michael Keane’s unlucky deflection past his own goalkeeper after 24 minutes was enough for a 1-0 home win, but the game’s major talking point was a flashpoint between Tottenham duo Son Heung-Min and Hugo Lloris. The latter raced at the former as the respective sides left the field and had to be separated by five of their teammates. That it did not change the momentum of the game was more down to the fact there was little of anything to shift.
As unwelcome an incident as it was to close out a first-half that had Spurs a goal ahead despite not registering a shot on target, it was at least indicative of the more positive aspects of their performance throughout. This was a scrappy affair that suited the hosts more, despite their greater ball-playing quality on paper.
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Toby Alderweireld’s first start since the restart gave the XI a more robust look about it, but the other 10 did their bit to throw themselves in harm’s way. Even Harry Winks, more Artful Dodger than Backstreet Brawler put himself about, notably against Everton’s Richarlison who was treated with particular disdain.
Granted, it was not what you would expect from a duel between Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti. They are football royalty, even if this lacked any sense of a royal engagement. As immaculately turned out as they were on the sidelines, there can be no denying that their respective stars have dimmed, even if this fixture carried a notoriety that it hadn’t before.
Here were De Niro and Pacino sharing a stage once more. Not Heat – those days of Champions League clashes are beyond these two for now – but Righteous Kill: both trying to do the best they can with what’s at their disposal. It’s clear who is getting the most from what’s on the page.
The five European Cups between them is skewed in Ancelotti’s favour and likewise PR battle. Everton’s surge in form since the Italian took over from Boxing Day of 25 points from 14 matches has been intrinsically linked to his charisma as a winner. By contrast, Spurs’ 19 in that time, along with some backhanded man-management has painted Mourinho as the villain of this piece.
But following a humbling at Sheffield United, a positive result of any means was necessary to bring Spurs back into faint European contention.
It looked like Giovanni Lo Celso had bagged his first Premier League goal for Spurs in the immediacy of the opener. But closer inspection saw the deflection off the midriff of Keane not only sent Jordan Pickford the wrong way but redirected it from going wide of the far post.
His wait to get off the mark continues, but it won’t be long before he makes the net ripple of his own accord. Especially if he is to feature regularly in the role he occupied here tonight – the more advanced of the three central midfielders.
That starting point meant that when Son had brought the ball into the box and Harry Kane failed to break through a bunch of blue shirts with an optimistic shot, Lo Celso was there to feed on the scraps.
Just as vital for Spurs was his positioning at the half-time whistle. Who knows how badly Son v Lloris would have escalated if the Argentine was not a buffer between both as they came together.
What issues there were looked to have been settled at the break with both coming out and starting the second-half. Perhaps buoyed by the internal disagreement, they were the quickest out of the blocks. Son’s performance in particular carried an extra verve, finally getting someone in the “shots on target” column with a couple of efforts that Pickford did well to not just keep out but push away from anyone in white following up.
At the other end, threats were kept to a minimum. Everton will rue a first Project Restart defeat in which their three shots on target were straight at Lloris. The last of which, from second-half substitute Moises Keane from just outside the box, was the closest effort.
It’s not a game anyone will remember fondly, maybe even at all. And it does little to inform or alter the opinion that Ancelotti is onto something and Mourinho is not.