There was a moment early in the second-half when a ball was played up to James Rodriguez. It was not, to be fair, a good ball. It was the kind of ball that has been seen too often from Everton in recent years.
A little sloppy. Mid-air, pinged in at pace, difficult to control. And the type of player Everton have previously purchased may well have made it look as lousy as it was. Sent it spinning into touch, or diverting it to the opposition.
Rodriguez did neither. He flattered the passer by plucking the fast-moving object out of his general vicinity, bringing it down, turning, and in one swift motion striking a sublime pass which took Tottenham by surprise and put Richarlison in at the far post. He missed, as he did all afternoon, but that does not matter for now.
James Rodriguez produced a fantastic display in his first game since joining Everton
Allan impressed on debut as he won possession eight times and won man of the match award
This was progress. This was the rise in standards Carlo Ancelotti was engaged to promote. And while it was just one game, just a single victory, it felt like a leap forward for Everton, more than a step.
It was December 4, 2013, when the club last recorded an away victory over what we now perceive as English football’s big six. The very use of that term invariably provokes angry missives from one half of Merseyside, Evertonians wondering why their team is not included – yet their recent league record at Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea provides the answer.
Going into Sunday’s match, Everton had made 40 trips without winning. So Ancelotti has changed the narrative. This was also Everton’s first win against Tottenham, home or away, in 17 meetings dating back to March 10, 2012. So Ancelotti has changed that form line, too.
Carlo Ancelotti signed Rodriguez in the summer after working with him at two different clubs
Managers are employed to rewrite stories at their clubs. Jose Mourinho is supposed to deliver the first trophy of the Daniel Levy era at Tottenham, and Ancelotti is meant to elevate Everton into the group that start each season looking at the stars, not the void below.
Mourinho would no doubt tetchily debate comparative expectations but on the sole evidence of Sunday’s 90 minutes, Ancelotti has made the more promising start.
Both men threw their summer signings into the fray but, undoubtedly, Ancelotti’s worked better.
Abdoulaye Doucoure was useful, while Rodriguez is the type of player that Tottenham used to buy when they were considered the great creatives. He is, in many ways, an old-fashioned number ten, making the play, linking, pulling strings, so will drift out of games occasionally as such players do.
Rodriguez showed class on the ball and looks like he could be a very effective signing
His first-half was markedly more influential than his second, but Tottenham had to be constantly on their guard against him and it was an impressive debut given the very singular demands of the Premier League.
‘If I was worried about physicality I would have signed Usain Bolt,’ deadpanned Ancelotti – and with him in charge, Bolt would probably have come, too.
Everton’s other signing of significance, Allan, meanwhile is the polar opposite: from Rio De Janeiro but a gritty, competitive, central midfielder who adapted to English conditions as if brought up on Hackney Marshes.
He won possession eight times and was voted man of the match. By contrast, Tottenham’s recruit in a similar midfield role, Pierre-Emile Hojberg, had an afternoon to forget, despite this being his 135th game in English football, many as captain of Southampton. Matt Doherty, bought from Wolves, was substituted after 76 minutes.
In many ways, just by being able to field players of the calibre of Rodriguez and Allan, Everton are on their way under Ancelotti.
Everton produced a slick performance getting the win thanks to a Dominic Calvert-Lewin goal
He is the reason they have come. His presence is proof of ambition, which a club needs to get through the first stage of agent negotiations.
Whether fair or not, Rodriguez would not be taken with the thought of signing for the same club under Sam Allardyce. And while Sam would love a player like Allan, the Brazilian’s representative may feel better options exist in Serie A.
So, straight away, Everton have been rewarded for thinking big. Last year, the appointment was debated, considered a poor fit by some.
Ancelotti would soon tire of his inferior status, the club could never deliver the calibre of players he wanted – yet perhaps football’s great depression has worked in Everton’s favour.
Ancelotti’s stature in the game has helped improve the quality of players Everton can sign
Rodriguez and Allan might have had wider options had covid-19 not impacted so spectacularly on recruitment budgets.
So while Everton are not Real Madrid or Juventus, Bayern Munich or Chelsea, they are one of this summer’s bolder investors. They have come through for Ancelotti, in their way.
Options were what Mourinho said he had, before the game. He had choices to make, at last, in positions that had previously been limited.
By the end, though, it looked rather like Hobson’s choice. Tottenham did not chase, did not press, did not react as they should once Everton took a deserved lead.
Jose Mourinho talked about poor fitness and laziness as his team lacked sharpness in defeat
Tottenham had 35 minutes of normal time, plus additional, to level the score, but never looked remotely capable.
Mourinho talked about poor fitness, about laziness, he said his team lacked sharpness, creativity, aggression. Then he had a pop at the chap from the radio, so at least we know the season has officially begun.
But it is not going to get any easier from here. Tottenham play in the Europa League in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv on Thursday.
Mourinho has complained of that already, but there are plenty of managers who would gladly replace him. Indeed, he has just played one, and lost.