Leicester City 1 - 2 Everton
Like many fellow Blues, I'm sure, my Everton idols have usually been wingers. Our strikers, when we've had players worthy of the description, have usually scored the goals and grabbed the headlines but it's the likes of the sublime Trevor Steven, the exhilarating Andrei Kanchelskis (to be fair, he was a goalscoring forward in his own right), the skilful Steven Pienaar and even Mikel Arteta (he played wide when he first joined) who have always set this particular Blue's pulse racing the most.
Richarlison has already ingratiated himself to Evertonians playing wide on the left – as direct as he his, he is more reminiscent of Kanchelskis than a tricky winger – and the introduction of Andre Gomes is hotly anticipated but I admit that of all the summer signings, it was Bernard who excited me the most when we landed him. Securing him on a free transfer in the face of some significant competition felt like it was a coup at the time and the early indications are proving that to be the case.
His belated cameo against Fulham last week, which featured an assist for the third goal, coupled with his eye-catching full debut against Southampton last Tuesday had more or less forced Marco Silva's hand when it came to the selection of the starting XI to face Leicester today. How could he not include the fleet-footed Brazilian from the start?
Been excited, perhaps as excited as I’ve been about an EFC acquisition in years, from the moment we signed him.
Going to be interesting to see what Silva does in terms of selection/formation when it becomes impossible to leave him out! https://t.co/BGzoYKGmNA— Lyndon Lloyd (@EFCLyndon) September 30, 2018
Tweet (typo and all) from a week ago regarding Bernard
The manager was clearly convinced and short of dropping Gylfi Sigurdsson back into a more withdrawn "No. 8" role (which he actually did late on as Everton pushed for a winner after Wes Morgan was sent off for a second bookable offence) and playing Bernard behind the striker, the obvious choice was to put Richarlison up top and deploy his compatriot wide on the left.
It was described by some as a gamble; as if putting your trust in your joint-top scorer to lead the line not long after he had done the same for Brazil (and scored twice) was a big leap of faith on Silva’s part. It was precisely the formation that a number of fans — this one included — had been imploring him to try but it clearly needed a demonstration of fitness from Bernard before it could become a reality.
Indeed, given that he hadn’t played since March when he joined the club in August, a measure of patience has been required where Bernard’s readiness has been concerned. He looks better with each passing week, though, and he lit up parts of this game with some dazzling play. He looks to be a very special player and in light of the impact Sigurdsson has made in the last two games, including an absolute belter to win this one, the front four that Everton boasted at kick off really does look like a formidable unit.
It only took seven minutes for the wisdom of Silva’s choice to be underlined by a goal made in Brazil. With the Portuguese’s favoured high press having already forced Leicester’s back line into gifting the ball to Bernard in the fourth minute, only for Sigurdsson to lose control of the former’s pass, the visitors demonstrated from the off that they meant business.
Then, following a throw in down the Everton left, Idrissa Gueye laid the ball off to Bernard and he embarked on an electrifying run where he twisted one way and the next before clipping a cross from the byline that Kasper Schmeichel could only help into Richarlison’s path. The 21-year-old met the ball on the half volley and guided it into the net past Harry Maguire on the line. 1-0 and the Blues — well, all white today in their attractive third kit — were flying.
Spurred into action by conceding the goal, Leicester inevitably came into the game more as the first half wore on but with the Foxes hugely reliant on putting long balls over the top trying to spring the offside trap for Vardy, it was Everton who fashioned the better chances. Indeed, if Silva’s men could capitalise fully on interceptions in the final third or finish off counter-attacks they would be deadly and they could have scored more goals than they did before the interval.
In one instance, Sigurdsson held off his man in the centre circle and played a beautifully-weighted ball into the box that Theo Walcott momentarily lost control of until Bernard played it back to him and Schmeichel tipped his curling shot over the bar. Then, Richarlison galloped down the right and Walcott teed up Sigurdsson but his low shot was gathered. Finally, two more terrific cut-outs in the middle of the pitch, first by Walcott and then by Bernard set up opportunities for Everton to rampage forward but on the first occasion Walcott appeared to held momentarily by Maguire as he skipped past him in the box and on the second, Sigurdsson’s shot was deflected wide.
Claude Puel’s side were always a danger on the counter themselves and it was a classic Vardy break that almost yielded the equaliser 11 minutes before half-time. The England striker accelerated past Michael Keane to meet the through-ball but the defender did just enough to recover and use his presence to put Vardy off and he fired wide.
It was a let-off but six minutes later, Leicester got their equaliser. Unfortunately, it didn’t reflect on Jonjoe Kenny, who struggled all afternoon and had already been made to look foolish by Ben Chilwell for an earlier chance that Vardy had headed wide, nor Bernard who, just like Kurt Zouma for Arsenal’s second goal two weeks ago, was guilty of knocking the ball into trouble as opponents closed in around him rather than getting rid.
Ricardo Periera was the beneficiary of the loose ball and oceans of space ahead of him and after running 50 yards to get into the Everton penalty area, he turned Kenny inside and out as the fullback committed himself with a lunge and then hammered home off Jordan Pickford’s hand to restore parity five minutes before half time.
The expectation at that point was for a more even second half and it proved to be that way in the first quarter of an hour after the break, with Vardy becoming increasingly threatening. It was Chilwell who almost handed Leicester the lead, though, when he collected Tom Davies’s attempted pass and was allowed to dance his way unchecked to the 18-yard line before whipping a shot inches wide of Pickford’s right-hand post.
But Everton continued to look dangerous themselves, not least when lovely control from Walcott opened up space for a shot in the 62nd minute but his effort was a little tame and Schmeichel saved comfortably.
The moment that arguably proved decisive in tipping the contest Everton’s way came a minute later when Morgan, who had been booked for wrestling Richarlison to the ground in the first half and escaped a second for shoving the same player out of bounds, received his marching orders from referee Andre Marriner for chopping the Brazilian down from behind near the halfway line.
It was, arguably, the only major decision the officials gave Everton’s way in the match. Sigurdsson had been visibly impeded by Morgan in the six yard box in the first half as he tried to get on the end of Richarlison’s low cross and there was the Maguire incident with Walcott that might have resulted in a penalty on another day.
With the extra man, Everton exerted control over the game and twice went close midway through the second period but Schmeichel foiled first the impressive Lucas Digne and then Davies after Kenny had won a corner. The Danish ‘keeper then turned Sigurdsson’s low drive around the post.
As it turned out, for all their attacking superiority — the Toffees out-shot the Foxes 17 to eight over the course of the match, putting 10 on target to their hosts’ two — it would take a moment of individual magic from Sigurdsson to win it in the 77th minute just minutes after he had taken the captain’s armband with Davies’s departure for Cent Tosun.
Picking the ball up 30 yards from goal, the Nordic star turned James Maddison brilliantly and left him for dead before striding forward a couple of paces, looking him and unleashing a perfectly placed shot that sailed well beyond Schmeichel and into the top corner.
Everton had chances to put the game to bed in the closing stages and avoid a somewhat nervy finale where Maddison volleyed wide and Daniel Amartey planted a stoppage-time header from a corner the wrong side the post as the travelling Evertonians held their collective breath. Zouma put a free header over the bar off a corner at the other end while Walcott had a great chance to put Tosun in the clear in a two-on-one situation but made a mess of the final ball which was picked off by Maguire.
All in all, while Leicester had some clear-cut chances that could have robbed Everton of all three points, this was a richly-deserved first away victory of the season and one which feels long overdue after the disappointments at Wolves and Bournemouth. Indeed, when added to the team’s efforts at the Emirates where a 2-0 defeat was tremendously harsh, it was illustrative of how well the team has performed away from home so far.
That bodes very well for the rest of the season, one in which Everton under Silva look like they will only get better as the new players continue to bed in, others work their way back from injury and the team as a whole takes the managers methods on board. If only we didn’t have to wait another fortnight for the next game!