Lack of firepower hinders Tottenham's potential at Everton

Posted by Richard Jolly

Roberto Soldado challenge Everton TottenhamPA PhotosRoberto Soldado struggled for clear-cut chances against Everton.

LIVERPOOL -- As a sterile second half neared its delayed end, fourth official Bobby Madley headed for the Goodison Park touchline, typed a figure into an electronic board and held it above his head. Nine referred to the number of minutes of additional, uneventful time, but it is a number with a particular significance for Tottenham Hotspur. Their shortcomings were being advertised in bright lights.

After a quarter of the season, they have scored nine league goals. It is one fewer than Fulham have mustered in their autumn of discontent. Manchester City have more than three times as many as Andre Villas-Boas' side and while they have made those nine goals go a long way, into the dizzy heights of fourth and above Manuel Pellegrini's insatiable attackers, it should represent a cause for concern.

Not that it does to Villas-Boas. "I can't be that worried," he said, citing a goal tally inflated by some Europa League games against mediocre opposition. "We are on 28 goals this season in 16 official games [actually 30 in 17]. I can carry on about all the good statistics and you can carry on about all the negative statistics but it is a debate that goes nowhere. We all want to bring excitement but this team is doing extremely well. The results put us in the fourth place."

A win on Merseyside would have put them in second. Yet while Tottenham were superior in the first half, Everton kept them at bay. It said something about their resilience, with Phil Jagielka making a thunderous late block to thwart Gylfi Sigurdsson, and the difficulty of conquering fortress Goodison, the place where no visiting team has taken three points in 2013. Yet it indicated rather more about Spurs' struggles.

Most of their Gareth Bale bonanza has been spent on strikers, wingers and midfielders, some 100 million of their 110 million-pound overhaul going on players designed to create or score goals. Instead, their outstanding defensive record accounts for their lofty position. Some of the newcomers are benched, others waiting for a breakthrough moment.

Roberto Soldado has established himself as White Hart Lane's resident penalty king but has a solitary league goal in open play. There was a header glanced well wide and a 20-yard shot that went nearer the upper tier of the Gwladys Street End than Tim Howard's net but the early impression is that City recruited the deadlier Spaniard when buying Alvaro Negredo.

With Villas-Boas among the many believers in one-striker systems, Jermain Defoe, deadly in the lesser competitions, was left an unused replacement. It exacerbates the importance of midfielders chipping in with goals.

Only the substitute Sigurdsson, who drew the best save from Howard, looked likely to do that. Andros Townsend was shot-happy at the start but his radar was awry. While he faded, having effected a swift transformation from fourth- to first-choice winger, the Englishman is showing up costlier creators.

This was a day to suggest Tottenham required Willian rather more than Chelsea, who snatched the Brazilian from their London rivals' clutches. Instead, Spurs signed the lesser-spotted Erik Lamela, who was overlooked both when Villas-Boas selected his side and when he brought on Sigurdsson for Aaron Lennon. It is now November, the Argentine has played only 68 minutes of league football and Tottenham have had a negligible return on a club-record investment.

Meanwhile, Christian Eriksen was only permitted a cameo, despite a desperate need for the Dane's invention. Lewis Holtby, neat and tidy without being remotely incisive, was preferred. Tottenham required someone to unlock the door, not mow the lawn. Their most impressive midfielder, as he often is, was Paulinho, who brought the physicality to force Everton back in the first half.

The question, however, is whether Villas-Boas' emphasis on power has come at the exclusion of finesse. The Portuguese argued a ferocious work rate could have delivered victory. "We pressed well with great motivation and great aggressiveness [in the first half]," he said. "Normally in situations like this you end up going 1-0 ahead."

The alternative view is that a little more ingenuity is required from an expensively assembled outfit. Their substitutes alone cost 78 million pounds and Everton manager Roberto Martinez had declared they have the most complete squad in the league.

Yet the statistics show Tottenham level on goals with an Aston Villa side in the midst of a drought and only one ahead of a West Ham team who are playing without a striker. They have been prolific against Dinamo Tbilisi and Tromso, but not against Crystal Palace and Hull, let alone Arsenal and Everton. Therein lies Villas-Boas' problem, even if he won't accept it himself.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Jan Vertonghen -- That Tottenham kept yet another clean sheet could be a sign of the Belgian defender's excellence at the day job. Instead, as an attack-minded left-back, he looked as dangerous as any of the midfielders or forwards on show, especially in the first half.

EVERTON VERDICT: Forced back in the first half, they perked up after the break and could have had a penalty when Vertonghen caught Seamus Coleman. The introduction of Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu, who almost scored a winner, were further signs Martinez can improve his team with substitutions. Yet their trademark passing game deserted them before the break and the manager was relieved they preserved parity then.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Few teams keep Everton penned into their own half at Goodison Park quite like Spurs did in the first half. Nevertheless, they need to convert pressure and possession into first chances and then goals to convince that they are in the title race, or even to retain their top-four status.

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