Almost one year has passed since Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho took charge of Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively, but Sunday’s 1-0 win showed the former has done more to progress his club in a shorter span.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s header in the 55th minute was all that separated the two teams. The influence of Ancelotti's first summer signings with Everton came off to terrific effect while Mourinho’s machinations looked all too familiar and were debunked on the day:
An opening-weekend showdown between “Carletto” and “The Special One” brought together two teams and managers with similar back stories. Both ex-Chelsea coaches have entered their first full campaigns in their current employment, with a target of reaching the UEFA Champions League at clubs who have held lofty ambitions in the not-too-distant past.
It would be fair to suggest Ancelotti—who joined Everton in December 2019—looks closer to that goal after 90 minutes of Premier League football in 2020-21, having made more of the time afforded to him in upgrading the options at his disposal.
That paradigm shift and a rediscovered sense of competition is summed up best knowing this was Everton’s first victory away to a “top six” side in almost seven years. The Daily Mail’s Dominic King attested to the magnitude of the result and the signal it provided for a positive change of direction:
Individual improvements and a better understanding of Ancelotti’s vision will remain active goals through to the campaign’s close in May, but it’s clear his midfield in particular has already undergone a drastic transformation for the better.
Everton opened last season with a 0-0 stalemate away to Crystal Palace, where eight of Sunday’s XI started under then-manager Marco Silva. Morgan Schneiderlin, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bernard have been replaced by new arrivals Allan (from Napoli), Abdoulaye Doucoure (Watford) and James Rodriguez (Real Madrid); early signs suggest the Toffees have hit the sweet spot in their recruitment following several years with varying success in spending heavily on players.
Andre Gomes was the only survivor in midfield from that trip to Selhurst Park, and there’s a chance the former Barcelona playmaker could enjoy a rebirth in Everton’s plans with new, more energetic members surrounding. Doucoure's well-rounded performance earned plaudits as he had sway in attack and defence, highlighted by Everton Designs:
One fewer summer signing started in Tottenham's starting XI, but Matt Doherty and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg weren’t close to having the same impact as their Toffee counterparts. Each might be considered upgrades in their roles, but there’s a sense Mourinho hasn’t captured players with that same transformative effect, rather new cast members for a second season of the club's “All or Nothing” Amazon documentary.
Investment power at Spurs may still be weakened after the completion of their £1 billion stadium in April 2019 followed by the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, Everton chairman Farhad Moshiri has continued to help bankroll their squad additions despite the club qualifying for Europe only twice in the past decade (both in the Europa League).
The contrast in influence between each team's new player corps is relevant given the midfield has been an area of frustration for both teams in the last couple of seasons.
Everton have had misfortune integrating expensive signings like Schneiderlin (now at Nice), Davy Klaassen (now at Werder Bremen) and Jean-Philippe Gbamin, whose injuries have restricted him to two first-team appearances a year after his arrival. Spurs broke their transfer record in June 2019 to sign $68 million Tanguy Ndombele—who is now not considered a starter by Mourinho—while the lead-up to Christian Eriksen’s January departure cast a dark cloud over the club for a time.
Mourinho, 57, was quick to confess disappointment in his team after an opening-week defeat at home, via Football Daily:
He wasn’t the only one expecting more of the performance, not least of whom those Spurs supporters who felt this season would be one where Mourinho’s Premier League-winning experience would really come to play.
Instead, Spurs looked the minor threat in attack despite testing Jordan Pickford on more occasions. The hosts held a slim majority in possession but appeared less aware what to do with it, Lucas Moura losing possession seven times in total. Everton finished the game with 18 successful dribbles to Tottenham’s five, per WhoScored.com; Doherty (two) and Toby Alderweireld (one) accounted for three of those.
Any disdain for the shortened pre-season prep counts for little considering Rodriguez, Allan and Doucoure completed their moves to Merseyside in the week leading up to Sunday's curtain-raiser.
Mourinho expressed disappointment in his players falling short of expectations, while Ancelotti–who won a Premier League-FA Cup double with Chelsea in 2010—comes across more like the father figure:
The Italian joked he "would have signed Usain Bolt" if speed was his only concern in signing Rodriguez. The Colombian only had a handful of days training with his new club but took joy in cutting onto his favored left foot, with too much space often offered by deep-sitting defender Ben Davies, via Squawka:
Both managers were presented with problems when joining their current clubs, but it looks more and more like Ancelotti—four years Mourinho's senior—is the quicker to adapt to his environment. The 61-year-old has won titles in every one of Europe’s major divisions, and he looks more capable of adding another Premier League to his list of achievements than The Special One does at Spurs.
The idea of either team winning the title seems preposterous given the level of competition above them last term, but 2020 has produced bigger surprises than a manager with the surname "Ancelotti" or "Mourinho" winning a league trophy.
Everton’s savvy signings complemented by the nuanced know-how of Ancelotti have the potential to propel them to the heights the club has been seeking. Mourinho, on the other hand, resembles more so a spent force surviving on reputation, with few signs Tottenham have moved on from the team he inherited last November.