Leicester City lost to Everton by a score of 2-0 at the King Power on Wednesday evening. A first half strike by Richarlison and a second half goal by Mason Holgate doomed the toothless Foxes to their fourth home defeat of the season and fifth over.
As empty as the back of the Everton net.
Brendan Rodgers’ named a somewhat-makeshift starting XI to cover for the absence of Jonny Evans through suspension. Kasper Schmeichel retained his place in goal behind a back four of James Justin, Wesley Fofana, Wilfred Ndidi, and Christian Fuchs. Youri Tielemans and Nampalys Mendy partnered in defensive midfield behind an attacking trio of Cengiz Ünder, James Maddison, and Harvey Barnes. Jamie Vardy started as the lone striker, giving him the record for most Premier League appearances of any City player.
The opening minutes were what one might generously describe as “cagey.” Both sides managed a single shot, neither of them on goal. The run of play was largely defined by both sides working the ball quickly through the midfield and then losing it in the final third.
That all changed on 21’ as the Foxes went down a goal out of nothing. Richarlison received the ball some distance out on the Everton left. His body language said “I’m going to shoot.” Everyone in the stadium (admittedly, a low number) knew it. He worked the ball inside and unleashed a low drive from outside the box. It looked for all the world like Schmeichel would save it, but it went through his hand and into the back of the net.
It should have been level just a minute later. Justin did his man on the right and stood up a perfect cross into the six yard box. It was Vardy who met it and his header was on target, but only if you consider Everton keeper Robin Olsen the “target.” It was directly into the keeper’s chest when he had the entire goalmouth to aim for.
While it looked as though City would respond quickly, as time wore on, it was the Toffees who were applying most of the pressure. They won a series of free kicks and corners, and while the makeshift back line held firm, there was an air of menace every time Sigurdsson whipped the ball into the box.
The Foxes mustered a few more half-chances, some quarter-chances, and maybe even an eighth of a chance here and there, but nothing that looked likely to go in. Meanwhile, outside of the set pieces, the visitors weren’t creating anything at all. City were on top of the run of play when the whistle blew for the half, but the scoreboard told a different story.
There were no changes to the Leicester side to start the second half, which was understandable given that the shape and personnel seemed to be working reasonably well. The Foxes were certainly on the front foot to start the half, but they were still struggling to get the ball into truly dangerous positions.
On the hour mark, Rodgers decided to change things up, introducing Ayoze Perez for Ünder. Nothing much changed for good or bad as the run of play remained approximately the same: A lot of possession, some of it quite attractive, but no end product from the Foxes.
The visitors doubled the lead on 70’ and it was just as unlikely as the first. Fuchs was adjudged to have fouled Richarlison just outside the area after the Brazil man stood on Fuchs foot and landed badly on his wrist. Fofana put the free kick out for a corner when he could have let it go. From the corner, Keane rose highest to glance the ball on goal. Schmeichel did well to save it, but parried it only as far as Calvert-Lewin. Schmeichel’s second save was even better when he turned the effort off the crossbar, but it fell to Holgate and the fullback smashed home from close range.
Rodgers responded by sending Kelechi Iheanacho on for Mendy. The play opened up as the Foxes now were playing with four attackers and looking vulnerable. They perhaps should have pulled one back on 80’ when Ayoze got around Andre Gomes and had ages to pick out Vardy in the box, but Keane did well to block.
Referee Lee Mason handed the Foxes a route back into the game when he blew for a foul by Gomes on Ayoze in the box. It looked as though Gomes stood on Ayoze’s foot, but it was overruled after Mason took a look at it on the monitor. Was it a penalty? I honestly have no clue, but I do have to question whether or not it qualified as a clear and obvious error.
The Foxes had the ball in the back of the net two minutes later, but it didn’t count. Vardy rose at the near post to head the ball across goal. Ayoze reacted first to smash it home, but he and about four other Foxes were in an offside position.
The game just sort of petered out from there. There was no way back against the disciplined Everton defense and there were simply too many bodies in front of the goal. The Toffees saw it out through the four minutes of time added on and that was that.
It wasn’t a dreadful performance by any means, but it certainly lacked spark. There’s a fine line between rushing things and moving the ball quickly and I think at times we tried to be a little too swift and wound up giving the ball away cheaply. Neither goal we surrendered was a thing of beauty, but credit to the Toffees for taking their chances.
I know it's not this simple, but I don't see us being the consistent team we want until there's a settled defence involving Ricardo, Evans, Soyuncu, Justin, Castagne regularly. With Ndidi also doing what he does.— Jason Bourne (@JasonBourne1986) December 16, 2020
Worth noting that we were trying to go top of the table with a back four of Justin, Fofana, Ndidi, and Fuchs. If I’d told you that at the start of the season, you’d have called me crazy. Which, while accurate, kind of misses the point.
I would like to call out one particularly disastrous performance: Referee Lee Mason was all over the place tonight, with no consistency as to what was a foul, what was a card, and what could be let go. The best example was when Mason Holgate attempted to kick a high ball and caught Mendy in the face. Somehow, this wasn’t considered worthy of a caution, even though he booked Fuchs for a high kick that caught Richarlison in the chest. The failure to book Holgate meant that he remained on the pitch after after picking up another yellow and scored the second goal.
I can’t say that better refereeing would have made any difference in the result because Everton set up very well and there was nothing at all wrong with Richarlison’s strike, but when a match is close poor refereeing is just that much more painful to live with.
The defeat leaves us on 24 points from 13 matches, dropping us to fourth on the table. It doesn’t get any easier as we travel to London to face second-place Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, and then we host Manchester United on Boxing Day at the King Power.