LIVERPOOL, England — Football doesn’t always have to be beautiful to deliver 10-out-of-10 entertainment. It can also be crazy, error strewn, infuriating and enlivened by flashes of brilliance to be as memorable as the most majestic team performance. Anyone who doubts that should just re-run the 120 minutes of Everton‘s 5-4 FA Cup win over Tottenham Hotspur.
Spurs manager Jose Mourinho won’t take much pleasure from being involved in one of the most memorable games of the season so far, having seen his team eliminated in the fifth round at Goodison Park. The defeat ended Tottenham’s hopes of a cup double, having already booked a place in April’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. But Spurs certainly played their part in an FA Cup epic that gave us a hat trick of assists (and a goal) from Everton’s former Tottenham midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, two stunning goals from Richarlison, some calamitous defending at corners by Everton and textbook displays of centre-forward craft by Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Harry Kane.
Pep Guardiola has shown at City in recent weeks that, with Sergio Aguero still sidelined due to COVID-19, the best teams can survive without a centre-forward if they deploy the right man in the false-nine position. But if anyone believed that Guardiola had consigned the classic No. 9 to the past, the performances of Calvert-Lewin and Kane, in front of the watching England manager Gareth Southgate, provided compelling evidence that an effective centre-forward can be a hugely important figure in any team.
Everton were dominant until Calvert-Lewin, who had made one and scored one in the first half, limped off with a hamstring strain on 53 minutes. At the same time, Kane was called from the substitutes’ bench by Mourinho, with instructions to save his team, who were trailing 3-2 at the time. Kane’s introduction swung the pendulum in Tottenham’s favour and he made a vital contribution with a diving header from Son Heung-Min‘s 83rd-minute cross to make it 4-4 and take game into extra-time.
But Calvert-Lewin and Kane were only participants in a spectacle that had many others playing leading roles.
How about Davinson Sanchez? The Colombia defender had scored just once in 137 games for Spurs since arriving from Ajax in 2017, but he scored two at Goodison — both after Everton made a feeble attempt to defend a set piece. Sanchez showed with his first, a towering fourth-minute header, that he really should contribute more goals for Mourinho’s team.
Both goalkeepers had nights to forget, though. Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris was unconvincing while Robin Olsen did little to suggest he can bring calmness to the Everton goal in place of the talented, but unreliable, Jordan Pickford. Spurs had clearly identified Olsen’s ability at corners as a weak link. It was panic stations in the Everton defence whenever the ball was whipped in.
It was a similar story in the Spurs defence when Sigurdsson had the ball or Richarlison was running towards goal. Both players were crucial to Everton’s win and, if Calvert-Lewin’s hamstring requires time on the sidelines, they will need to continue this form in games against City and Liverpool next week. On this performance, it will certainly be difficult for Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti to leave Sigurdsson out in favour of playmaker James Rodriguez when they return to Premier League action against Fulham this weekend.
Mourinho was not so fortunate with his deputies. Gareth Bale did not even make the squad, with Mourinho saying before the game that the on-loan Real Madrid winger was not injured, just that he had “some feelings he wasn’t happy with.” Dele Alli, meanwhile, was introduced as a 77th-minute substitute and offered little.
Mourinho once ridiculed 5-4 as a “hockey score” after Arsenal beat Spurs by that margin in 2004, but that was the scoreline he was on the wrong end of when substitute Bernard scored the ninth goal of the game, seven minutes into extra-time, after converting Sigurdsson’s pass.
“I enjoyed it — and I didn’t enjoy it,” Mourinho said after the defeat. “I enjoyed the way we played with the ball. We created, we had great movement, we scored goals, created chances, showed great character to fight against incredible mistakes, but attacking football only wins matches when you don’t make more mistakes than you create. We scored four goals and it was not enough.
“It hurts everyone. We were brave, we were the best team at 1-0 and in five minutes it was mistake, mistake, mistake, goal, goal, goal.
“We fought back again but had more mistakes. It was the mouse and the cat. The mouse was our mistakes and the cat was us trying to compensate for that.”
For Everton, the club’s desperate wait to win a first trophy since 1995 can still be ended this season after booking a place in the FA Cup quarterfinals. All the excitement of this game had clearly taken its toll on Ancelotti, though, with the Italian opting instead to send assistant Duncan Ferguson out to speak to the media at the end.
“Fantastic game, brilliant game,” Ferguson said. “Defences struggled, we struggled a bit in set plays and they struggled in corners. We went 1-0 down and then got back in the game. We played a lot of good football — I started to lose count of the goals!”
No surprise, really. There were nine altogether and they contributed to an FA Cup classic that showcased all that is good about the game — even if the defending was enough to give the managers nightmares.