Bill Kenwright and Daniel Levy go back a long way. On Monday night they will share a director’s box, and perhaps even a sigh. “Think you’re in a mess, Bill?”
Look at the Premier League table and only one of these clubs is in dire straits. Tottenham are still well placed to make sure they are playing Champions League football under their new manager, though a week on from sacking Antonio Conte nobody is any the wiser who that will be. With Graham Potter sacked on Sunday night, Spurs may find themselves having to compete with Chelsea for Julian Nagelsmann.
Cristian Stellini, the man tasked with picking up the pieces, has insisted Spurs are not “in crisis”. But that assumption was stretched just a few hours later when the club confirmed director of football Fabio Paratici had been put on a leave of absence while awaiting an appeal for his ban from worldwide football.
If Paratici’s future seems unclear, spare a thought for Stellini. It was the decision of both Levy and the departing Conte that he should take charge alongside Ryan Mason until the end of the season, though nobody really expects that he will be in north London beyond that.
Throughout his career, he has leant on Conte’s advice and guidance. It is the closeness of that relationship which poses the question whether Spurs fans can expect the football to be much different.
Stellini cannot easily divert from Conte’s three at the back, which proved unpopular by the end, because Emerson Royal requires surgery and is facing a race to be fit again this season. When Conte left Stellini in charge earlier this year as he recovered from gallbladder surgery, Emerson was the biggest beneficiary, an upturn in form that makes his prolonged absence all the more unfortunate.
Matt Doherty left in January, which leaves Pedro Porro as the only recognised right-back in the squad. On the left, Ben Davies is out for at least another three weeks with a hamstring problem sustained in the 3-3 draw with Southampton. Rodrigo Bentancur and Yves Bissouma’s long-term injuries make it difficult to shift the balance in central midfield too.
Of course, Spurs have coped just fine under Stellini before, edging past Marseille when Conte was serving a touchline ban in the Champions League, and beating Manchester City, West Ham and Chelsea in the Premier League. Yet Conte had always been on hand, just a phone call away to consult on substitutions and strategy.
The main difference is that under Stellini, Spurs have typically had less possession than under Conte. That may partly be a by-product of the teams they have faced, particularly City, so Everton are welcome opposition.
Only six teams have had less of the ball than the Toffees this season, and five of them – with the exception of Brentford – are relegation candidates. Sean Dyche’s side also have the lowest total of goals scored in the league (22) – just Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest have a lower xGF (expected goals for).
The pressure is largely on the players, who have had their “attitude” and ability “to play under pressure” questioned so publicly, and with such venom, by Conte.
With that backdrop, Stellini has the chance to quietly prove that he is his own man. Starting at Goodison Park, a clearer picture will emerge as to what “Stellini-ball” looks like – and whether it is more than just Conte-ball, without the press conference histrionics.