Note: Your humble scribe is reporting from The Haymaker, a bar in Austin, Texas. This establishment is the home base of the Austin Evertonians. This is hostile territory (well, semi-hostile; my experience has been that Evertonians are pretty decent folks) so here’s hoping that all goes well.
Leicester City won an entertaining match at Goodison Park on Saturday by a score of 2-0. Youri Tielemans gave the Foxes the lead at the break with a late wondergoal. Harvey Barnes sealed the win with a late strike to lift the Foxes out of the relegation zone.
Manager Brendan Rodgers reverted to the 4-2-3-1 shape and lineup that trounced Wolves 4-0 two weeks ago. Jonny Evans was not able to pass a late fitness check, but Wilfred Ndidi was deemed well enough to make the bench. The starting XI: Danny Ward, Timothy Castagne, Daniel Amartey, Wout Faes, James Justin, Youri Tielemans (C), Boubakary Soumare, James Maddison, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Harvey Barnes, and Patson Daka.
Both sides were guilty of wasting clear-cut chances in the opening five minutes. Dewsbury-Hall found Daka in the area with a perfectly-weighted ball, but the Zambia man scuff his first-time effort, allowing Jordan Pickford to make the save. At the other end, Daka was dispossessed and Dominic Calvert-Lewin found Alex Iwobi’s run, but the former Arsenal man shot wide when he should have scored.
Things settled down a little as both managers seemed to recognize that this match was going to result in a gazillion goals. The hosts were the more likely, but neither side was offering much in terms of attacking football. Ward was called into action on 25’ after Iwobi won a corner. Demarai Gray swung it into the box and James Tarkowski got a free header, but Ward did ever so well to turn it around the post.
It was, if I’m being perfectly honest, a ridiculous half of football. Both sides were turning the ball over under no pressure whatsoever, leading to furious charges forward that ended in, if not tears, then at least ironic laughter. The moment that summed it up the best occurred in the Toffees’ area. Maddison’s shot was blocked by Tarkowski and ballooned straight into the sky. It was going to fall approximately where Pickford and Daka were camped. Connor Coady decided to take things into his own hands and just grab Daka to prevent him from going for the ball. Moments later, he realised what he was doing and let go. It was never a penalty, but it was really, truly funny.
As time was winding down, both sides had chances to break the deadlock. Coady attempted to flick the ball back to Pickford, but Daka was on it in a flash. His snap shot from a tight angle was palmed away by Pickford. At the other end, the impressive Iwobi had a free header from six yards that Ward was never going to get to but Faes got in the way to prevent the goal.
It looked like it would take a moment of magic to break the deadlock. Cue one Youri Tielmans. Barnes found space on the left and found Daka in the centre of the area. The striker’s shot was blocked, but it pinballed to Madders, who flicked it out of the area to Tielemans. The Belgium man took one touch and lobbed a perfect effort over Pickford into the top left corner.
YOURI TIELEMANS DOES IT AGAIN!— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) November 5, 2022
: @nbc & @peacock #MyPLMorning | #EVELEI pic.twitter.com/Go6SPBU9MC
Please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please sign an extension.
The Toffees poured forward in search of a late response and probably should have had one, but the Leicester defence (just) held firm. The whistle blew, and the Foxes went into the tunnel with a 1-0 lead.
Predictably, Rodgers made no changes at the half. Would the same run of play ensue? Yes, yes it would. Everton nearly equalise from the opening whistle. City broke in number, but Barnes’ bafflingly cross from the right was easily cut out. The Toffees then had their best chance of the match, with Iwobi finding Calvert-Lewin alone in the area, only to be denied by a skate save from Ward.
Describing action like this is like trying to describe Brownian motion when you’re drunk; in that the thing one would be trying to describe is hugely interesting and entertaining but also utterly nonsensical when taken as a whole. It wasn’t good football, but it was a lot of fun to watch. Both sides charged up and down the pitch and should have scored multiple times, but they always seemed to find a banana peel to slip over.
Rodgers, sensing the chaos of the situation, decided to throw Jamie Vardy into the fray in place of Daka. Ndidi also made his return, replacing Soumare on 70’. Marc Albrighton came on for Dewsbury-Hall on 78’, switching Madders to the middle in an attempt to tighten things up and maybe get a decent cross in from the wings.
The hosts mounted a charge, dominating possession for the first time in the match. The Foxes struggled to get a foot on the ball, but when they finally did, they made it count. Barnes won the ball in the Leicester area and tore down pitch. Madders picked the ball up on the left and cut it back to Barnes in the centre. The winger spun and took it on his left foot, hooking an unstoppable shot just inside the near post.
Harvey Barnes doubles Leicester's lead late!— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) November 5, 2022
: @NBC & @peacock #MyPLMorning | #EVELEI pic.twitter.com/8W61Q9nGaY
This is why we build our entire formation around him.
In injury time, Rodgers hauled off Tielemans for Nampalys Mendy to see the match out. It actually worked as Everton couldn’t find a lifeline and the Foxes took all three points from a match they wouldn’t have a month ago.
If anyone had told me that the Amartey/Faes back line would be nigh-impenetrable, I would have called you a fool, but here we are. Another clean sheet, and a fine match from Ward as well. This is starting to feel like it might be a legitimately good back line and I’m as surprised as anyone.
For all the chaos, we were clearly the better side today. We outshot the Toffees 22-10, with 8 on target to their 2. I wouldn’t call it “dominant” but it was a very solid performance. The attack created; their attack didn’t, and we got all three points. A good day at the office, huh?
The victory gives us 14 points from 14 matches, which lifts us all the way to 13th on the table. Next up, we square off against Newport County on Tuesday at the King Power. Then, it’s off to London to face West Ham in our final match before the World Cup.