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Premier League Match Report: Everton 2 - 1 Leicester City

The Champions League hangs in the balance as a dire first half dooms the Foxes.

Everton FC v Leicester City - Premier League
“Winning?” “Win-ning?” Sounds familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it.
Photo by Peter Powell/Pool via Getty Images

Leicester City dropped all three points to Everton on Wednesday evening thanks to two goals in the in the first fifteen minutes of the match. Richarlison opened the scoring and the Blues doubled the lead through a Sigurdsson penalty. Kelechi Iheanacho got one back at the start of the second half, but the Foxes couldn’t break through the hosts’ resolute defense to find an equalizer.

I like the way Jonathan thinks. You’ll note I very deliberately didn’t say “agree with”...

Manager Brendan Rodgers made one change to the starting XI that lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup on Sunday. Kasper Schmeichel started between the sticks behind a back four of James Justin, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Ben Chilwell. Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet flanked holding midfielder Wilfred Ndidi in the center of the park. Mark Albrighton came into the side for Ayoze Perez in attack on the right, with Harvey Barnes on the left and Jamie Vardy spearheading the attack. James Maddison was deemed fit enough to make the bench but not enough so to start.

Leicester got a decent half chance right from the start. After spending several minutes knocking it around in their own half, Justin won a free kick worked it into the middle for Tielemans. The Belgium man advanced into the area and laid it off for Vardy. The Premier League’s leading scorer was in, but his first touch was too heavy and a grateful Jordan Pickford was able to gather in front of the goal instead of from inside the net.

It took all of 10’ for Everton break down the Foxes’ defense. Digne headed the ball perfectly into the path of Anthony Gordon. The youngster had plenty of time to pick out his cross, spotting Richarlison’s late run into the box. The Brazillian swept in and smashed the ball into the back of the net with Schmeichel having absolutely no hope of stopping it. It was far, far too easy.

Everton FC v Leicester City - Premier League
The sort of “chicken celebration” that makes you wonder if Richarlison has ever seen a live chicken.
Photo by Visionhaus

It got worse five minutes later. Wilfred Ndidi won the ball cleanly off of Richarlson, but referee David Coote blew for a foul when the striker lost his balance and fell into the Nigerian. The free kick was swung in towards former Fox loanee Michael Keane. Both he and his marker, Ndidi, had their arms raised and the ball brushed off of the Leicester man’s forearm. After a lengthy review. VAR determined that this was a penalty and that Dominic Cavert-Lewin’s mugging of Söyüncü never happened. Gylfi Sigurdsson rolled it down the middle and the Foxes were down 2-0 in just 15 minutes.

Things got scrappy over the next quarter-hour. Leicester attacked with a great deal of energy but not much in the way of discipline or success. Meanwhile, Coote seemed to have been aware that he’d bottled it earlier and was making dodgy calls left and right, achieving less accuracy than you’d get by flipping a coin. The Foxes were pumping the ball into the box. Tielemans did well to bring down a clearance, but his shot was block. The deflection fell to Evans one-on-one with Pickford, but the England goalkeeper won that duel.

That proved the last goalmouth action of the half. Leicester were left with a mountain to climb with their Champions League spot looking very much in doubt.

Recognizing the urgency of the occasion, Rodgers started the second half with a double substitution. Kelechi Iheanacho and James Maddison came on for Barnes and Praet. This was positive in that it was an attacking substitution and concerning in that we were now in a 4-4-2 with Madders notionally on the left. “Notionally” in this case meaning that the charts showing the team formation had him there but one suspects that the heat maps will tell a different story.

The moves paid an immediate dividend as the Foxes got one back on 50’. It was the sort of beautiful goal you dream about as a youngster. Tielemans’ ball into the box took a deflection off of Richarlison’s boot. The cross was behind Vardy, so he stuck a leg out and flicked it into the middle. Iheanacho took it on his chest but the ball fell to Pickford. The keeper’s clearance struck Nacho in the face and rebounded into the net. OK, so I may have oversold the aesthetics of it, but it was a goal and we desperately needed it.

Everton FC v Leicester City - Premier League
This image doesn’t really capture the majesty of the strike.
Photo by Peter Powell/Pool via Getty Images

The Foxes were inches from levelling on the hour mark through even more shambolic circumstances. Keane and Pickford failed to communicate as the keeper went to gather a low Abrighton cross. Pickford spilled the ball and Keane tapped it towards the goal but was able to recover as the ball was on the lean and put it out of play.

Iheancho had a chance to bag a brace and level the match just minutes later. An Abrighton cross to the far post was headed back across goal by Vardy. Pickford made a hash of it and it dropped to the Nigeria international in the 6 yard box, but he screwed his half-volley both high and wide. At this point, Coote blew for the water break and, credit it where it is due, he got this one right.

The intensity dropped noticeably after the break, with Everton making a couple of substitutions and a weird scene where Chilly picked up a badly-deflated ball and causing all manner of confusion. Even with the weird fake crowd noise, it was starting to feel like a friendly. Rodgers decided to change it up again by withdrawing Abrighton and Tielemans in favor of Ayoze Perez and Demarai Gray.

Ayoze nearly found the equalizer early in injury time. Vardy got away down the right and turned Keane insdie-out before cutting it back for the Spaniard. He thumped the ball towards the corner, but a defender just got a toe to it and put it out for a corner. The cross beat the first man, which constituted progress, but nothing came of it.

We’re long past the point where we can look at performance as opposed to results at this point. The result just wasn’t good enough. Yes, the second Everton goal wouldn’t have happened without tremendous help from the referee and VAR, but it’s still a defeat and it seriously dents our hopes of Champions League football next year. Kudos to Everton for defending well, but until we work out how to score against 11 men behind the ball, we’re going to see a lot of this.

Did anyone look particularly outstanding? No, not really. Chilwell certainly played with more urgency than most of his teammates and the half time substitutes both had a positive impact (although Madders is clearly short of both fitness and sharpness). Albrighton worked his socks off and delivered crosses that Andy Carroll would have relished but were a big ask for the likes of Vardy.

There were two things at the end of the match that made my notes: Justin simply does not contribute to the attack yet, and it was interesting to see him playing back with the center-halfs when we were probing for a second goal. That suggests that Rodgers is aware and making adjustments. The other thing was the late move by Vardy to beat Keane and put in a potentially point-saving cross. That’s the liveliest I’ve seen him look since the restart and if he gets a little of his sharpness back, then there’s still hope.

The defeat leaves us on 55 points from 32 matches, good for third-on-the-table-until-Chelsea-play. Our lead over Manchester Untied for the final Champions League spot is a mere three points. This Saturday, we host Crystal Palace at the King Power and then it’s off to the Emirates to take on Arsenal next Tuesday.