Leicester City topped Everton by a score of 1-0 Tuesday afternoon in a dire New Year’s Day clash at Goodison Park. Jamie Vardy’s second half goal secured all three points in a match that will almost certainly be the headliner on Match of the Day.
After using the same XI in back-to-back victories over Chelsea and Manchester City, manager Claude Puel has returned to his preferred system of rotating the lineup every week. Kasper Schmeichel started behind a back four of Danny Simpson, Jonny Evans, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. The midfield three consisted of Hamza Choudhury, Nampalys Mendy, and Wilfred Ndidi, while Richardo Pereiera and Rachid Ghezzal started on either side of Jamie Vardy in attack.
The opening exchanges might be charitably described as “scrappy”, but I’m not feeling charitable today. It was incredibly sloppy stuff. Both teams looked like they were at the end of a busy festive period, although if you wanted to say that Leicester looked like a team playing three defensive midfielders and a right back and right winger in the attack, I wouldn’t argue.
The first half-chance of the match fell to the Foxes. As the ball caromed around near the left corner flag in the hosts’ half, the ball found Vardy on the edge of the area. Alas, he managed to look both rusty and tired in one go and fired his shot well over the bar. At the other end, the Toffees worked the ball around the edge of the area nicely and looked likely to trouble Schmeichel, but Evans managed to block the shot with his shoulder despite having his arm fully-extended for some reason.
Everton nearly had the lead on 19 minutes with an attack down their left through fullback Lucas Digne. His cutback eluded everyone in the Leicester box and fell to Jonjoe Kenny rampaging down the opposite side. His first timer beat Schmeichel but not the upright and the ball cannoned behind to safety.
What followed was one an odd but ultimately inconsequential sequence of play. Evans went in for a 50-50 with Richarlison, leaving the Brasil man lying in a heap. The tackle was adjudged by referee Martin Atkinson to have been acceptable, so Leicester knocked the ball around for a couple of minutes without making any progress before finally getting frustrated with Richarlison’s rolling around and knocked it out of play.
The Toffees were immediately back on the attack with Richarlison looking none the worse for wear. He knocked the ball into the box and, attempting to follow up on the pass, went chest-to-chest with Choudhury, a matchup that went poorly for the Everton striker. He might as well have hit a brick wall for all the good it did him. Nothing came of it, but it was great to see the academy product standing his ground even if he did get whistled for obstruction.
It was also the closest thing to a highlight over the course of the half.
Everton may have just edged the run of play over the course of the first 45’, but it would be wildly optimistic to suggest either team deserved a goal. Both sides managed six shots in the first period, with the Foxes getting the only two on target. Jordan Pickford, sporting a baseball cap in the afternoon sun, wasn’t troubled by either of them. It was not a good half of football, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
4 games in 11 days.... the fans are flat, the game is flat and the players are sloppy because they are tired. But the PL won't learn. #LCFC— Rob Tanner (@RobTannerMerc) January 1, 2019
Puel made one change to start the second half, sending on Marc Albrighton in place of Ghezzal on the right wing. In truth, it did little to change the run of play. This was some very poor football on both sides of the ball. It wasn’t so much that this match needed “a moment of quality”; it just needed “a moment of decent football” to bring it to life.
That was, apparently, Jamie Vardy’s cue.
Remember when some fans wanted Michael Keane over Harry Maguire!? #LCFC— Chris Bennett (@Chris89Bennett) January 1, 2019
An exceedingly poor ball from Schmeichel only found Micheal Keane but his first touch gave the ball directly back to Ricardo. The Portugal man found Vardy between the two centrebacks and laid the ball on a platter for him. Leicester’s talisman drew Pickford out and then placed a low shot in the far corner to give Leicester the lead.
I could try to describe each of the mislaid passes, poor tackles, and strange decisions over the next half hour, but I feel like you get the idea. If not, let me give you two samples that I think adequately sum up the last half hour of the match:
Leicester won a free kick in the Everton half on the left side. Chilwell lofted a ball to the back post and it could not possibly have been more inviting for Maguire. It landed at the left foot of the former Hull City defender. With the goal mouth at his mercy, he nonchalantly tapped the ball ten yards over the crossbar from 2 yards out. Adding insult to injury, he’d mistimed his run and was offside anyway.
At the other end, Kenny, under no pressure whatsoever on the Everton right, launched what I presume was a cross towards the Leicester box. I say “presume” because he seemed to catch it with the outside of his boot and swerved the in the opposite of the intended direction. When the ball crossed the line, it was closer to the right corner flag than it was to the penalty area.
There was an awful lot of that sort of thing. Long balls pinged all over the park, seldom finding the same colour shirt as that of the player who did the initial pinging. Possession was needlessly lost both both teams, but as the Toffees grew more and more desperate, things started to look a little more comfortable for the visitors.
In injury time, Puel hauled off Vardy, who had done his job and run himself into the ground doing it, and replaced him with Demarai Gray to see the match out. There was a brief scare when the second ball from an Everton corner found Cenk Tosun played onside by Chilwell, but his header was weak and comfortably gathered by Schmeichel. That, as they say, was that.
As there are no points for style, all wins are worth three points and we just about deserved them today. We were poor, but Everton were shocking and the match was decided by what was really the only clear-cut chance over the entire 90’.
If you can get the taste of the Cardiff match out of your mouth, you’d have to say that this was a wildly successful festive period for the Foxes: 9 points out of 12, with all three wins coming against top half of the table sides is no mean feat. I doubt today’s match will win over any “Puel Out” hardliners, but they won’t be emboldened either.
What an off-ball performance from Ndidi,Mendy+Choudhury— Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) January 1, 2019
Brilliantly tracked runners. Brilliantly anticipated when to close down & also when to stand off+block passing lanes/gaps in #lcfc’s back 4
Played together 3 times vs Chelsea, Man City & Everton - won all 3
The 3 Wise Men pic.twitter.com/JHHQSz66jS
While the overall team performance wasn’t great, there were certainly some standout individual efforts. Vardy worked his socks off to provide an outlet for the defense and was rewarded for his efforts with a goal. Choudhury underlined his “midfield enforcer” credentials with some thunderous tackles, and Simpson coped well , especially in the first half when he wasn’t getting a lot of defensive help on the right. Once again, though, Ricardo’s quality was simply on another level. I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder, but he best player on the pitch.
The victory returns the Foxes to 7th on the table with 31 points from 21 matches. Our next match is on Sunday away to Newport County in the FA Cup. We resume Premier League action a week from Saturday when Southampton pay a visit to the King Power.
Finally, a word for whoever makes the schedules for the festive period: The match started at 6:30 AM on New Year’s Day where I am. This humble reporter watched the match and wrote this report in a Travelodge en suite to avoid waking up my wife. Please have a heart next year and schedule us for a later match next year.