1) A frustrating point that could have been three, but the mentality is exactly where it needs to be
I hope that the players understand that most Leicester fans are only frustrated with the result because it feels like we deserved more. There was nothing fundamentally wrong in the way the team lined up or the game played out. All players gave full effort. Yet just coming away with a point is disappointing. Maybe because for the most part, Everton were happy to just try and boringly see the game out, making it harder to take. That or the missed opportunity to capitalise on second what with Sheffield United making the majority of football fans happy by beating Manchester United.
Putting that temporary disappointment aside, let’s focus on the bigger picture. This is exactly the type of fixture that we would have lost last season, or even earlier in the season when Everton beat us at the King Power. The mentality from Brendan Rodgers’ side of late is so good. Wesley Fofana is the perfect example of that. Yes, the goal we conceded was partly down to bad luck (it really did feel that every bounce or loose ball just landed at Everton feet) and showed Lil Wes still learning but he more than bounced back from it. Neither he or us really put a foot wrong after that and the equaliser felt like a case of when, not if.
It’s a combination of always looking like we can score and being a more solid team overall that’s giving us our edge this season. Dare I say it, it feels like we’re quite versatile too. We’re happy and, crucially, able to switch up our style, our formation and our attacking options. How better to signal your intent to keep hammering an opposition defence, and a goalkeeper who doesn’t seem to love long range efforts, than withdrawing Marc Albrighton for the bundle of energy and shots that is Cengiz Ünder. It wasn’t a win, but it’s a valuable point.
2) No Wilf, no win*
*A little harsh, I’m still unsure how we didn’t win really and when our attacking play was this good, we didn’t need that midfield barrier quite so much.
Let’s get the worst part of the Everton game out of the way. Wilfred Ndidi hobbling around before being substituted off with a tight hamstring. Our celebrations of a near fully fit squad (this writer cannot forget Dennis Praet) lasted for merely a week before we were hit by the Jamie Vardy news and now the potential of a damaged Ndidi. Again. And here I was thinking we’d made our peace with the injury Gods. Back to hoping this was fully precautionary and he’ll be fine by the next game.
We were lucky that with how the game played out, we didn’t miss the Nigerian as much. Everton were happy to allow us ample possession, time on the ball and time in their half. Nampalys Mendy is a perfectly adequate replacement in a game like this. He even ventured further forward on average than I think he ever has, highlighting just how much Everton invited us on. For some reason. As much as Mendy can cover that position, it’s not just for Ndidi’s unique abilities that we need his absence to be a very brief one.
With Dennis Praet already sidelined, Youri Tielemans won’t get much rest and we really can’t afford to be missing another centre midfielder. If events hadn’t already curtailed Hamza Choudhury departing, he was on the bench at Everton, this may well take a deal of any kind off the table.
It’s interesting that when Leicester play without Jamie Vardy, his name and his absence is mentioned frequently. The implication being the Foxes don’t cope without him. Historically true, recently not so much. However the stats around Leicester with Ndidi versus without Ndidi, make for much more frustrating reading. Note that since we’ve been on this positive run, unbeaten in nine in the league, Ndidi has been back.
3) The ‘what if Jamie Vardy was on’ narrative really has to stop now
Hopefully the commentary you endured for this match didn’t feature the odd, and mostly inaccurate, line about how Harvey Barnes, James Maddison and Marc Albrighton would think to play without Jamie Vardy. It’s almost as if that’s what the team has daily training sessions for! The level of disrespect or assumptive ‘Leicester can’t cope without Jamie Vardy’ stories are tedious, but the speculative lines coming about if Vardy was on against Everton are a new low. Clearly Ayoze Perez is our preferred striking option and the two are vastly different. So speculating how we’d play with the other one seems...pointless.
You all knew where this was heading, right? It’s my semi-regular praise and or defence of Perez section. His performance on paper would probably seem very uninspiring and disappointing. Even some Leicester fans watching seemed to missed the sheer effort that he put in against Everton. Yes, he drops much deeper than we’re used to from Vardy, but it’s not always to our detriment. Sure, it means we don’t always have a lot of options in the box. But with the way Everton were set up, occasionally five at the back, and their height versus ours, we were probably never going to be pinging a ton of crosses in.
What Perez’s play did instead was open up options for our other creative players, those with more pace, see Barnes, or more unpredictability, Maddison and then Ünder when he came on. Despite how packed Everton made their defence, he helped contribute to us finding our way through. Strikers will always be judged on their goal output, but playing as a lone striker when Everton were putting so many men behind the ball is never simple. It didn’t work for Perez in terms of end product, but it’s yet again not for a lack of trying.
4) Whether you wanted the Harvey Barnes magic feet show or the ‘how does he do that’ Youri Tielemans special, Leicester had something for everyone in the second half
It’s surely not biased to say that even neutrals must find some of our forward play fun to watch right now? This was another much improved second half performance. Clearly it isn’t just the half-time team talk from Rodgers that has given us such a second half turnaround two games running. It’s the tactical analysis and tinkering that our team is becoming so well versed in.
Despite starting at Everton with a lot of momentum and putting the home side under pressure, they got to grips with us defensively and seemed to be doing enough to nullify our threat. Their willingness to play like this opened up the match for Rodgers to change our method a little bit and really pile the pressure on. It was relentless at times in the second half and while Everton managed to carve a couple of chances out, we dominated the play and had Pickford scrambling on a few occasions.
You've got to laugh haven't you? James Justin has by far and away been the best Full Back this season, not even on the list? The disrespect is real.....and I absolutely love it, let them ignore us https://t.co/1nUhauOaS1— WestwoodTableSoccer (@Westwood_TS) January 28, 2021
Example 123456 of how we get no respect. James Justin should have been a shoe-in here!
Down the left hand side, James Justin and Harvey Barnes were instrumental to this. Despite not seeing enough of the ball in the first half, Barnes benefited from our persistence in the second half. He seemed to have a lot of joy just running at the opposition and putting their legs through a pace test. There’s something that’s so simplistic in his approach to attacking but it’s a kind of fun to watch that we haven’t had since Riyad Mahrez’s days. His assist for Tielemans’ showed he’s always looking for that forward option.
What is there to say for Youri except if you don’t love him, you have a heart of stone. Unlucky yet again not getting a nod for Man of the Match, he took total control of the midfield and of setting our attack on its way. His goal may not be one of the best he’s scored, his own bar is set so high, but it’s impossible to tire of seeing him celebrate. The player of the season award is feeling pretty hard to pick at the moment from this squad.
5) It feels like we can expect a quiet end to the January transfer window
Nothing has changed in the approach Leicester are taking to this latest transfer window. There’s a lot of work that goes into Leicester’s recruitment strategy. It’s more than just being the right player and being available at the right cost. While we’ve been openly linked to some midfielders that would ease the Praet-shaped hole. While this is an area we do seem interested in temporarily bolstering, the rest of the squad feels fairly rounded at present.
It still feels like a long-term striking option is on the table, but with Vardy’s absence only short-term, January probably isn’t the right time. The best option out there for a loan just returned to Eintracht Frankfurt too, so this definitely feels like a summer issue.
With our defenders pretty much all back now, presuming Jonny Evans’ withdrawal was just a precaution, this crisis is finally averted and our bench from this area looks so strong right now. We got our first glimpse of a Fofana - Caglar Soyuncu partnership when the Turkish international replaced Evans. The pair didn’t have much defending to do, but I’m so excited to see them frustrate a lot of strikers.
The youth and ability of our squad is incredible.— LCFC Miscellaneous (@LCFCshitposting) January 28, 2021
Luke Thomas 1️⃣9️⃣
Wesley Fofana 2️⃣0️⃣
James Justin 2️⃣2️⃣
Youri Tielemans 2️⃣3️⃣
Harvey Barnes 2️⃣3️⃣
James Maddison 2️⃣4️⃣
Caglar Soyuncu 2️⃣4️⃣
Wilfred Ndidi 2️⃣4️⃣
These players haven't even hit their prime years yet #LCFC
One to remember in line with the point below
Some fans will be itchy over the lack of money spent, or available, but injuries notwithstanding, our current squad feels more rounded than it has in a long time. A quiet January with some kids going out on loan and not much more is fine by me. Crucially, if we can avoid any bids coming in for our first team, we should be happy that it’s been so non-eventful.
Bonus Learn: Leicester’s love affair with good performances in the rain continues. As does our pretty impressive run in the maroon kit. Not just beautiful, it’s been a pretty lucky one for us.