1) Everton played us like a fiddle
Credit to Everton because they’d done their homework and we played into their hands for the most part too. A fairly open contest before they got the opening goal, this always felt like a game where we weren’t going to keep a clean sheet. But there’s not been many matches this season where it’s felt like we aren’t capable of scoring. Carlo Ancelotti knows a thing or two about setting a team up for success and he executed his game plan perfectly.
The early game forced the Foxes out wider, and despite some good pressure at times, it wasn’t happening in the final third. Jamie Vardy saw very little of the ball and at one point in the second half, I’d forgotten Harvey Barnes was still on the pitch. It was Everton who pressed us more and more. Where Brendan Rodgers has excelled on multiple occasions this season, he got tactically beaten. There wasn’t a lack of effort from the players, so much as a lack of key, sharp passing.
Rodgers presented a line-up that seemed to test the theory, ‘attack is the best form of defence,’ but unfortunately it didn’t work. He’ll have some thinking to do ahead of Sunday to avoid falling into the inevitable similar traps Tottenham will set for us.
2) Easy to blame Kasper, but we win and lose as a team
Can guarantee that nobody is more angry or disappointed in the manner of Richarlison’s goal than Kasper Schmeichel himself. It’s easy to blame the Dane, the fact he should have done better was written all over his face. He doesn’t need us to tell him. Blaming the goalkeeper is easy, but it’s hard to be mad at Kasper. I’ve not counted the exact number of times he’s bailed us out this season in numerous games, but it’s more than this one fault.
This was a night where we generally lost possession too much and made the wrong choices on the ball and off it. Fortunately for the majority of our outfield players, a slip like this doesn’t directly lead to a goal. Goalkeepers rarely get that luxury. Even when they pull off a great save, a simple rebound can undo the good work. See Everton’s second goal!
Watching the highlights from last night, Kasper Schmeichel is desperately unlucky with that Holgate goal. The reaction save from Calvert-Lewin (after a superb initial stop) has to be one of the saves of the year. Phenomenal. #LEIEVE— Dan Ogunshakin (@DanOgunshakin) December 17, 2020
The Foxes have shown on multiple occasions that this is a united squad. So when we lose, it’s not down to just one player or one individual performance. We had an opportunity to equalize almost instantly, but we aren’t hanging Vardy out to dry for putting it straight at Robin Olsen, because we know he’s rarely so wasteful. The harsh fact is that we had quite a while to try and level the score before Everton got their second.
The even harsher fact is I think we could have had another two hours on the pitch and we weren’t scoring. It was one of those nights.
3) Perspective is key for Foxes
It’s easy to get caught up in the what ifs, the fact we could have gone second with a win. Or with the frustration of a game like this, where we struggled for penetration and to get our best creative players on the ball in the right places. Some perspective is needed, until Liverpool got their late winner, we were the only Premier League club on eight wins (we only draw or lose in the Premier League!). This with a makeshift back-line in almost every game and the additional ask of European football on this squad.
No disrespect to the back five that lined up against Everton, but if we had a fully fit squad, it’s likely the only surviving member would be Kasper Schmeichel. It’s clear that while Wesley Fofana has done an outstanding job, Rodgers and the club never intended to have to use him this often so quickly when he’s so young. The same but for his age at the opposite end of the spectrum with Christian Fuchs.
Even James Justin who’s matured quickly to put in some great performances of late, wouldn’t be preferred if Ricardo was available. That yet another put-together (and different again, I make that at least eleven different variations of a back-line now) defence had the chance to go second says that we’re generally performing well.
We’ve got knockout European football to come in February and hopefully by then we’d be in a position to line up our best eleven. All I want for Christmas in 2020 is a healthy (and not suspended) set of defenders, please? It feels we’ll only achieve the balance Rodgers seeks when we can straighten up the back-line. That’s a tantalizing prospect though.
4) Somehow, Wilfred Ndidi has only just turned 24
This match was not one that had a high number of outstanding, or terrible performances, one of the better ones came in the form of Wilfred Ndidi. Having him back in his usual place against Brighton proved to be short-term as he had to cover for the suspended Evans at centre-back. On his birthday too, good job he’s so adaptable.
The fact he slots so comfortably into a centre-back role probably shouldn’t be a surprise. His awareness of general danger and desire to win back the ball suit him for this role, even if he is slightly better further up. It’s not his first outing as a centre-back for us either, he started the season there. It was his first time partnering Wesley Fofana though, not that you’d know from watching them. Ignoring the set pieces, a much wider Leicester issue, the pair dealt with their task pretty comfortably. Ndidi’s pace was a bonus on a couple of occasions too, presumably what got him a start there ahead of Wes Morgan.
As much as his performance was good, it did highlight how much of a miss he was in his actual role. Nampalys Mendy wasn’t terrible, but he just wasn’t very effective either and an early, foolish booking didn’t help with that. Midfield was an area we really seemed to struggle with against Everton, so it’s a shame our best midfielder was watching on from defence. It’s an apt time to remind us all that Ndidi is only twenty-four. In theory, his best years remain ahead of him, yet he’s already the beating heart and engine of our side.
#Evans in defence and #Ndidi as CDM and that first goal is blocked before it even reaches #Kasper. For me it's not about 2 or 3 CB's it's losing our key players or playing them in make shift roles. Too many games too many injuries— LCFCFamily (@LCFCFamily) December 17, 2020
5) We needed a different substitution (or two)
I don’t blame Rodgers for not changing the personnel at half-time, the shape wasn’t really the issue, but on reflection, I wonder if a change could have helped us. We were crying out for some more attacking presence on the left to help Harvey Barnes. I understand we’re keen to protect Luke Thomas, but his attacking tendencies, and the budding partnership with Barnes, might have assisted us with breaking down the Toffees.
Really admire Christian Fuchs but Leicester are really missing an attacking full back on that left hand side.— John Bennett (@JohnBennettBBC) December 16, 2020
Was this one occasion we would have enjoyed a back three with Luke Thomas as a wing-back?
The first change, to bring on Ayoze Perez for Cengiz Ünder, was a little disappointing. I’m in favour of more game time for the Spaniard, but I’d prefer it in that central role again, rather than out on the right. Coincidentally, Ayoze’s two best plays came from him drifting into the middle. He was unlucky with the penalty incident though, let’s face it, they’ve been given before.
The problem was that it was fine to try and introduce Ayoze, and later Kelechi Iheanacho, but it didn’t help address our midfield issues. Too often both Youri Tielemans and James Maddison were in our own half, collecting the ball and looking for options. We looked too slow, which is in part down to how Everton lined up and organized, but we did nothing to address it either. This felt like a game crying out for the likes of Dennis Praet, in a role similar to the one he had against Leeds.
Bonus Learn: Amazon Prime’s UK coverage is proving to be a largely breath of fresh air for broadcasting. However, them having Mark Clattenburg on hand to discuss refereeing decisions only serves to make me wish he was still available to take charge of games, provide competent decisions and schmooze Schmeichel.