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Spurs v Everton - media view with Phil McNulty of the BBC

Posted on 2 March 2017  - 15:05

Phil McNulty has years of experience reporting at the very top level of football. BBC Sport's Chief Football Writer since July, 2000, he's covered Premier League, Champions League and England, working four World Cups so far. Born in Liverpool, Phil also knows the Blue and Red halves of Merseyside inside-out...

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Phil McNulty
Chief Football Writer, BBC Sport

phil203Everton are nine unbeaten since a somewhat unfortunate defeat in the Merseyside derby - are they playing as well at that form suggests?
Phil: "There has been a huge turnaround in form which actually started with the game at Goodison Park before the loss to Liverpool, when Everton came from a goal behind to beat Arsenal. Everton had won only one of their previous 10 Premier League games prior to that but suddenly, in the second half against Arsenal, it appeared that the penny suddenly dropped about what their manager wanted and they started playing the sort of football Ronald Koeman had been demanding all season.

Below: Tom Davies on target against Manchester City

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"Koeman wants a fast, aggressive pressing style and as this unbeaten run has progressed, this is how they have played. He has been able to bring very talented youngsters like local teenager Tom Davies and Mason Holgate, a signing from Barnsley last season, through into the first-team ranks. Everton also had a very good January window, bringing in Morgan Schneiderlin from Manchester United and Ademola Lookman from Charlton Athletic. Schneiderlin has looked a class act and worth every penny of £24m in  midfield, while £11m teenager Lookman has, for now at least, displaced Kevin Mirallas. He has genuine pace and a fearless approach.

Below: Ademola Lookman

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"Koeman’s constant cajoling, and indeed very public criticism, of Ross Barkley has had the desired effect and he has been outstanding in their unbeaten run, creating and scoring goals. The game that really brought a surge of belief to the team and fans was the 4-0 demolition of Manchester City at Goodison Park on January 15th. Everton absolutely wiped the floor with Pep Guardiola’s side and now really believe in themselves and the supporters believe in Koeman and his methods. The return of Idrissa Gueye from the Africa Cup Of Nations duty with Senegal has also strengthened Everton in midfield while full-backs Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are back to their best. Everton went through a very miserable spell after a bright start but they are now starting to look a very accomplished side, helped by having a top-class goalscoring spearhead in Romelu Lukaku."

Below: Ronald Koeman

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What has been the influence of Ronald Koeman at Goodison since his arrival last summer?
Phil: "Ronald Koeman’s influence at Everton has been something of a slow-burner but he has really come into his own over the last couple of months and started to look the high-quality operator that did so well at Southampton. The biggest impact Koeman made initially was in being the complete opposite of his predecessor Roberto Martinez in just about every respect. Whereas Martinez’s habit of framing even the worst results and performances in his own brand of blue sky thinking - his over-use of the word 'phenomenal' to describe routine occurrences became a running joke among Everton fans - Koeman came as a short, sharp shock to the system with his blunt and sometimes abrasive approach. Koeman’s press conferences have occasionally been brutal when describing his own team and squad and if he is asked a question it is invariably answered with searing honesty. Everyone at Everton, inside the club and among the fanbase, are aware this is a manager who means business, does not suffer fools and is not afraid to point out flaws. The classic case in point came after the FA Cup Third Round home defeat to Leicester City. In a brief press conference, Koeman still managed to take deadly aim at the club’s transfer policy. He appeared to think they were too slow in doing deals - within days a £24m move had been agreed for Schneiderlin.He is demanding of everyone at the club.

Below: Idrissa Gueye in action

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"Koeman also has the aura of a man who has won the game's biggest prizes and carries a natural air of authority which many players have commented on. They are aware of his stellar playing record. It wins him instant respect and slowly but surely he has put his mark on Everton. He has also raised standards and ambitions. Koeman wants European football next season, wants to make the big signings that will make a difference - and isn’t afraid to say so publicly. The very public expressions of admiration for Manchester United's Wayne Rooney is evidence of a different era under Koeman. If a player he believes will improve Everton may be available, he believes Everton should be pursuing them. Everton is a very different animal with the ruthless, driven Koeman at the helm, backed by the funds of billionaire major shareholder Farhad Moshiri. Koeman has a vision, will be given the money to pursue it, and the mood around Goodison Park is more positive than it has been for years."

Below: Romelu Lukaku

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Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku are locked on 17 goals at the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts - what do you see as their respective strengths, especially Lukaku?
Phil: "Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku, both just 23, are in the bracket of two of Europe’s most outstanding young strikers. If everything goes to plan, they can both have glittering careers for club and country. Kane is the complete modern striker, with great movement and the gifts of a natural finisher. It’s not a bad asset when a striker is a hat-trick specialist. He is the key to this Spurs team and Mauricio Pochettino would never want to be without him. If anything, Lukaku is even more important to Everton because his main back-up is on-loan striker Enner Valencia. Valencia has won over Everton’s fans with his work ethic but he is not in Lukaku’s class as an all-round striker or goalscorer. Everton must dread the day Lukaku might be missing. Plenty are happy to point out Lukaku’s weakness, mentioning work-rate and the occasional games where he goes quiet - but in reality he has all the tools required of the complete striker and is well on the way to demonstrating he is the full package.

Harry Kane on target against Stoke last weekend

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"Lukaku has fearsome power, pace and is a natural finisher. Even when not at his best he scores goals and he will be a huge threat to Spurs on Sunday. He is well on his way towards moving into the upper echelon of Everton strikers. When he scored Everton’s second against Sunderland last week, it was his 60th Premier League goal in just 129 games. As a comparison, set it against the record of Duncan Ferguson, who was feted by some as an Everton legend but took 239 league games to score 60 goals. Lukaku has the lot and at a young age has so much time to become even better. As with Harry Kane, it is quite a prospect."

Below: Victor Wanyama tussles with Kevin Mirallas in our 1-1 draw at Goodison in August

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Spurs are unbeaten in eight in this fixture, including five draws. In fact, the last three have been draws. How do you see it going this time?
Phil: "I would have Spurs as favourites for this one because, despite a record of six clean sheets in those nine unbeaten league games, I just have a feeling that Everton’s defence could be vulnerable on occasions. Spurs, however, are facing a fitter, stronger and more well-organised Everton than on the opening day of the season, with a midfield trio of Idrissa Gueye, Morgan Schneiderlin and Tom Davies that looks a very formidable proposition as a supply line for Romelu Lukaku with Ross Barkley just in behind him. Mauricio Pochettino’s side also have an outstanding home record, so my money (not much of it mind you) would just go on Spurs but this Everton team is making great strides under a very good manager so must not be discounted."

Below: Morgan Schneiderlin

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Finally, we spoke to you before our recent trip to Liverpool, our only Premier League defeat in the last 11. Two weeks on from Liverpool, how do you see Spurs at the moment?
Phil: "I thought Spurs were a real disappointment at Liverpool, a view clearly shared by the manager. I felt that was an occasion perfectly set up for them to really put a marker down and they were never in the game. It should be said it was out of character given their performances this season and they looked much more like themselves when they gave Stoke City a real hammering last Sunday. I’ll stand by what I said before the Liverpool game. The title is beyond Spurs as I don’t see anyone catching Chelsea, but I do believe they are good enough to finish in the top four and will finish in the top four."