If 2019 is to be the year where the latest Everton project begins to bear fruit, there was precious little evidence of it during this dire New Year’s Day lunchtime kick-off.
Everton could have played until New Year’s Day 2020 and they probably wouldn’t have scored. They dominated possession but managed just two efforts on target all game, the latest indictment of the dearth of quality in the side and, crucially, in their approach play.
Unable to pick teams apart through the middle, Silva’s team work the ball wide as a matter of course and try to make the breakthrough by slinging crosses into the box but, as was the case at Brighton three days ago, they are routinely repelled by a stubborn opposition back line.
The one time that they did deliver a cross today that eluded Leicester’s centre-halves, as Bernard did with a terrific piece of individual skill late on, his teasing centre flew across the six-yard box with neither of the three Blues forwards on the pitch in attendance.
And that largely sums up a team that, apart from the fluke result at Burnley on Boxing Day, is struggling to score goals, averaging a shade over one per game since the 3-1 win over Brighton 10 matches ago. But when your nominal strikers are an England U21 international still learning his trade, a player trying unconvincingly to make the step up from the Turkish league, and Oumar Niasse, should that come as any surprise?
Marcel Brands has suggested that he doesn’t see the club making any signings in January — that may change if some money comes in from player sales or results continue in the current vein — which would mean a continuation of this frustrating grind without a reliable goalscoring alternative to Richarlison until the end of the season.
The Brazilian started in a central position in the reverse fixture against Leicester in early October and he appeared to be an interim answer to Silva’s striking conundrum. Since then, the debate has oscillated over whether he suits the role or whether he is more productive wide on the left.
Today probably won’t have done much to resolve the conundrum. Richarlison can make things happen and he has a knack for scoring goals but he isn’t a traditional, tricky, take-on-the-defender wide man, his passing is erratic and he frequently holds onto the ball too long, allowing promising openings to break down.
He isn’t a conventional target man either. Dominic Calvert-Lewin fits that description more naturally but when, like today, he isn’t popping up with important headed goals, both his short-comings and Everton’s desperate lack of cutting edge are exposed.
What you have then is team that is easy to read and easy to nullify if you can throttle Richarlison and mark André Gomes out the game, something that Claude Puel did very effectively with a strategy more or less based around suffocating the midfield hoping that Jamie Vardy could nick one.
Which is precisely what he did shortly before the hour mark. Michael Keane made a mess of trying to control Theo Walcott’s wayward header, Ricardo Pereira quickly knocked the loose ball through to Vardy who fired it across Jordan Pickford and inside the far post.
It was all so depressingly familiar from an Everton side that once again failed to rouse themselves for a decent second-half performance. They had shaded the first period that eventually settled down after a frenetic opening that belied the early start but were still largely poor apart from Idrissa Gueye who, from a defensive point of view, tackled everything that moved in midfield.
Gylfi Sigurdsson had provided Richarlison with his first sight of goal in the 12th minute with a cross from the right but the Brazilian fired his shot into the covering defender and Kurt Zouma had a header comfortably gathered around the half hour.
In between, Jonjoe Kenny would go closer than anyone else in a Blue shirt to making the breakthrough with a sweetly-struck 20-yard effort that he hammered off of the post with 18 minutes gone. It would have been his first Everton goal and a nice reward for a decent enough performance at right back in place of Seamus Coleman.
The frustration was that Leicester were barely in the game from an attacking point of view. Vardy ballooning an early effort towards the corner flag, Rachid Ghezzal drifting a volley well over and Pereira slicing one high and wide of Pickford’s goal was their sum contribution before they scored.
But they only needed one because their hosts were so abject going forward. Sigurdsson came close to levelling within four minutes of Vardy’s strike but his volley crashed over the crossbar before Cenk Tosun, on for the willing but ineffective Walcott, forced a parried save from Kasper Schmeichel with 15 minutes left.
That led to Jonny Evans fouling Richarlison just outside the box but Sigurdsson’s free-kick hit the defensive wall before another defensive slip by Keane went unpunished by Vardy whose shot was saved by Pickford.
It was desperate and uninspiring stuff from Silva’s men in the closing stages, however, with Zouma often leading the charge from the back trying to make something happen while the Blues struggled for any idea that didn’t involve lashing the ball in from the flanks.
Tosun had one last chance to rescue the one point that Everton ever looked capable of earning on the day when he won a stoppage time corner and popped up with a header at the back post but Schmeichel had it covered and made the blocking save to ensure another defeat for the sinking Toffees.
There was so much about this laboured, guileless display that recalled countless games over the years where Goodison Park has been frustrated by a team looking like it’s going nowhere under another manager; one exhibiting the same, tired lack of creativity, ideas, penetration and goal threat.
On the one hand, with the exception of Gomes today (who hasn’t looked right since he took that knock against Spurs) you can point to each of the new signings as being an upgrade on the other options previously available and, in the context of the longer-term project which we must constantly try to do even on days like this, that is a positive.
Brands will be formulating his strategy for the summer and lining up his targets but, without an injection of some genuine quality this month, it’s looking like a tortuous grind through the rest of the season as many players more or less play for their Goodison futures.
On the other hand, the gruelling Festive fixture programme notwithstanding, the fact that Silva appears to be powerless to address this post-derby slump that has made even improving on last season’s eighth-place berth less and less likely is of growing concern.
He is still unsure of his best formation and line-up, remains too reactive rather proactive in his substitutions, and the collapse in form that eventually cost him his job at Watford a year ago is in danger of playing out again if he can't find a way to arrest it.
Unless true disaster unfolds at Goodison on Saturday, the cup game should give all concerned at Everton a respite and a chance to refocus before the visit of Bournemouth, a team that will ask many more questions offensively than Leicester did today.
Unsettlingly, it’s hard to muster much confidence that things will be vastly different against the Cherries but they will have to be.
Everton put on a terrible display to lose the first game of 2019 on a dismal New Year’s Day at Goodison Park.
Jonjoe Kenny makes his first start in almost two months in place of Seamus Coleman. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin return to the side as the Toffees revert to a back four with Mina and Bernard dropped to the bench, where Tosun replaces Niasse.
James Maddison drops to the bench for Leicester City, while defender Jonny Evans returns from Injury. Hamza Choudhury and Rachid Ghezza both start in place of Marc Albrighton and Demari Gray.
A session of head tennis in the Leicester half ominously followed Everton kicking off in the chilly 2019 sunshine as the players struggled to really get going. Walcott was first to show some intention, but it ended predictably as he was double-teamed and lost the ball. The early pattern of non-football resumed...
Gueye gave away an early free-kick. Vardy ran into Keane, Richarlson advanced and Digne had the first shot, while turnover after turnover riddled the 'game'. Sigurdsson played in a good early ball but no-one anticipated it. Vardy fired wildly at the corner flag. Atrocious stuff.
Sigurdsson was gifted a clearance and found Richarlison who shot into the chest of a defender. If the quality could get any worse... it did as they looked utterly dreadful — both sides full of schoolboy errors all over the park, too many to document. Gomes went long, and Walcott headed out.
Gueye defended well for The Foxes first corner, easily headed clear. Digne crosses through everyone and Keeny lashes a tremendous shot onto the angle and away. Richhaerlison tried to beat three men and fell over, wanting a foul of course. Digne fired in a meaty cross behind Sigurdsson. Richarlison was fouled but the free-kick was played backwards and ended up with Pickford.
Kenny picked up a loose ball and crossed for Calvert-Lewin to head well wide. Chezzal tries a shot at the other end. Kenny Gomes and Walcott tried triangles but it broke down at Walcott.
Richarlison went down in a tackle and writhed around clutching his knee for 5 minutes until Leicester finally put the ball out when he received extended treatment on his ankle. He limped back on still in pain. Then, with the ball, he scampered around a bit and then ran into Choudry, incredibly winning a free kick this time! Zouma headed the free-kick goalwards. Simpson dragged back Richarlison illegally.
The ball was worked slowly toward the Foxes area, but Richarlison's flick failed and Zouma decided to run forward, shooting from great distance, not that far off target. Slightly better ball movement almost saw Sigurdsson shoot... but he couldn't.
Some better pressing won the ball but a better sequence of passes ended with Walcott again being double-teamed. A Zouma up-and-under in midfield summed up the utter nonsense that the game had reverted to...
A couple of Leicester City corners briefly threatened the Everton goal. Walcott turned well and picked out Kenny who picked out a defender with his poor cross. At the other end, Ricardo fired over. Kenny and Walcott attacked but Walcott lost the ball. Walcott then crossed and Maguire may have handled it behind for a corner, punched out by Schmeichel.
More scampering around as Everton tried in vain to get the ball closer to the Leicester goal, Richarlison driving in without the ball and dropping to the turf as the half-time whistle mercifully blew. Welcome to the Premier League, 2019.
Puell made a change, bringing on Albrighton, who came in strongly on Pickford. But the football showed no sign of improvement, Leicester seeing a lot more of the ball in Everton's half. Pickford weakly palmed a high cross, almost causing a problem.
Everton finally got forward, Kenny crossing well to Sigurdsson. Gomes was booked for a late challenge from behind on Mendy, as Davies was readied to replace Gomes — a very early move by Silva. Gana gave Richarlison a chance to run in from the left but his cross was woefully overhit.
There was a moment of better play, Everton attacking better but still not close enough to the goal, winning a corner that was cleared. But another corner, the ball was cleared, a poor mistake by Keane, Vardy pounced and Pickford easily beaten. Unbelievable.
Davies was pulled back from the touchline, and Everton continued to probe but now with a toxic atmosphere enveloping Goodison Park. Kenny picked out Walcott brilliantly but of course Walcott lost it. Walcott did better to head back for Sigurdsson to fire over, and Bernard now replaced Gomes.
Everton looked to up the tempo with more tenacious play ut it ended being overhit past Richarlison and out. There was much more intent as Everton pushed forward, trying to break through the parked bus. Kenny played in a good cross but Sigurdsson could not reach it.
Richarlison was fouled but Digne wasted the chance, straight into the wall. Everton were trying harder but Silva decided to switch out Walcott for Tosun. Kenny roused the crowd with fine tracking and tackle on Chilwell.
Ricardo danced into the Everton area and forced an error from Pickford, but the corner was kindly played straight to Bernard. The play was switched to the right and Richarlison saw his shot blocked behind, a couple of corners ensued and the ball almost fell to a blue shirt but was eventually cleared from the crowded area.
Tosun got a chance off a mistake by Evans, leathering the ball at Schmeichel. Tosun was then fouled by Evans, booked, but Sigurdsson this time could not beat the wall. Vardy got free again but lamely crossed to Pickford.
The Blues set siege to the Leicester area again until it broke down and another counter was on, Choudry firing weakly at Pickford.
It became scrappy again as Everton got frustrated, and yellow cards came their way. A foul by Kenny saw a fantastic ball delivered to Maguire at the far post but he somehow missed an open goal, although 2-0 would have been a better reflection on the play in the second half overall, the Foxes sensing blood in poor Everton.
Bernard skipped into the area and drilled in a brilliant cross but somehow Calvert-Lewin just watches it fly by him. A free-kick from Digne is easily headed clear as time ticked away.
Tosun wins a corner as 3 minutes of added time were shown, and Tosun gets a chance to beat Schmeichel with a close-range header but he failed. Time finally ran out on an utterly dismal and desperate start by Everton to 2019.
Scorer: Vardy (58')
Everton: Pickford, Kenny, Keane, Zouma, Digne [Y:79'], Gomes [Y:52'] (62' Bernard), Gueye, Walcott (70' Tosun [Y:81']), Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin.
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Mina, Coleman, Baines, Davies.
Leicester: Schmeichel, Simpson, Maguire, Evans, Chilwell, Mendy, Choudhury, Ndidi, Ricardo Pereira, Vardy (90+3' Gray), Ghezzal (46' Albrighton).
Subs not Used: Soyuncu, Maddison, Ward, Okazaki, Fuchs.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Back to Finch Farm
With all of us having a generally quiet New Year’s Eve, forcing a few ales down us wasn’t much of a chore at 11am on New Year’s Day. On the contrary, it preceded the actual chore of the 12:30pm kick off for Everton vs Leicester City. You hoped Everton would seize the opportunity to arrest a worrying run of results and begin 2019 with a win, but alas it wasn’t to be, and Leicester City ultimately ran out deserving winners.
I think Gaz was saying in the pub that we would benefit from competition for position for Seamus Coleman, and were therefore all a little surprised to see that Jonjo Kenny had instead got the nod at right-back for this game. Having been rested for most of the defeat at Brighton, Gylfi Sigurdsson was back in the starting line up, as too was Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Martin Atkinson (groan) officiated.
I’d checked ahead with the weather and it looked like we had a bit of sun and cloud so I grabbed my sunglasses on the way out of the house just on the off-chance that I’d need them. It was just as well that I did, as in our seat low in the Lower Gwladys Street stand, that sun is right in your face so seeing what was happening in the game, especially in the first half, was rather difficult.
It’s just as well then that there’s precious little to report on. Dominic Calvert-Lewin flashed a header wide; Kurt Zouma speculatively let fly from distance; and, Jonjo Kenny hit a great effort at goal but was a tad unfortunate to see it crash away off the upright. However, there was not a lot else from us, while Leicester City didn’t retaliate with much as Everton held firm at the back from some corner kicks. It’s good that we’ve learnt how to at least attack the first ball from corners as we began the season catastrophically in that department.
With the atmosphere decidedly flat, what struck me was how much you could hear the players talking to each other. Jordan Pickford is particularly vocal out there.
So the first half came and went and the second half wrestled all our current frustrations into one. Michael Keane punished for a mistake and Jamie Vardy scored with the Foxes' only meaningful opportunity up until that point. Fair play to Vardy though, he put it away well to put Leicester City ahead just shy of the hour mark.
Marco Silva didn’t wait around to get Bernard on the pitch but he, like all around him, couldn’t conjure a leveller in what was a lethargic, flat, jaded and ultimately disappointing effort from Everton. Bernard did put one dream of a ball across the 6-yard box but, despite having two strikers on the pitch, nobody seemed to anticipate and Harry Maguire was able to hook clear.
Everton, if playing poorly, were at least trying to force the issue and in doing so Leicester City did have further openings but with the game still at 0-1, substitute Cenk Tosun did have an opportunity late on but his header was saved by Kasper Schmeichel. However, as time frittered away we lost our discipline and gave away some unnecessary free kicks and surrendered possession too easily, all of which played right in to Leicester City’s hands.
We could have played all night and not scored, and Martin Atkinson let play go on as long as he could, but we made no in-roads and trudged off disappointed.
While the performance was by no means good enough, I felt the lads looked fatigued. A lot has been made of ourselves being the team playing the most games in the shortest time, and the players certainly looked tired today. Also, with so many games so quickly, it lessens the preparation time between games and offers limited time to work on correcting mistakes and trying new ideas. If it is the same time between games for everyone then fair enough, but it isn’t. Take the team that plays their games in the longest period of time, which would only be Liverpool of course. Which of these gives you better preparation time between games?
Now Liverpool are light-years ahead of us obviously but I know I’d prefer to have the two days rest either side of the two opening festive games. Also, why the back to back home or away games during this period? Personally I’d do away with the festive football, or at least make it less gruelling. I know Boxing Day games are important to people so that’s fair enough but could we live without the New Year’s Day game or even the Saturday one in between? Or, if it must remain so gruelling can it not be the same for everyone?
I’m relieved the festive games are now over and I hope we can rest as many players as we have to against Lincoln City (without compromising our competition advance, of course). We then, mercifully, have time between games again. Time to analyse, time to practice, time to fix mistakes, time to nail down a winning team.
We were in 6th position and playing well up to and including 96 minutes of the Merseyside derby and have been dire in many games since. Marco isn’t blameless. He has to find a way of getting them playing, but I hope that finally getting some time at Finch Farm with the players can help get us back on track this campaign.
Get behind Marco and the players. Do we really want to sack another manager and piss away yet more money again?
Pickford: I haven’t seen the goal again since so couldn’t say if he was at fault or not but he looked relatively helpless. Not much else to judge him on. He really didn’t have much to do. 6
Digne: Not at his best. Might have been an opportunity to give Leighton Baines a game. 5
Zouma: He was fabulous at the back and was one of few who took responsibility on the ball. My man of the match. 7
Keane: He will be remembered for the mistake but otherwise did quite well. While he undoubtedly should have done better with the error, I don’t think it was the kindest of headers into him from Theo. 6
Kenny: Had a good first half and was a bit unlucky not to score, but he struggled in the second. His mis-hit cross into touch was particularly embarrassing. 5
Gueye: He did well in there and accompanied his tackling and intercepting with taking responsibility on the ball. 7Gomes: Hardly got going. Looks shot. Give him the Lincoln City game off and let’s have him raring to go against The Cherries. 4
Sigurdsson: Also a bit fatigued, I would wager, but his effort was there. He came quite close to equalising with a snap half-volley in the second half but struggled to find his passing and set-piece range once Gomes was removed and he had to drop deeper into midfield. 5
Richarlison: Very poor, I thought, and he is frustrating me as he blows so hot and cold. A mate of mine who is a Watford fan warned me that he’s talented but that he may start well and then fade. Well, unless this is also a bit of fatigue, this seems to be the case here. I’d be getting him as rested as possible for the Bournemouth match now as he is one of our best players and we need him firing. 3
Walcott: He’s the one who gets the flack from the crowd and he does do some things that frustrate, but I would say he’s disciplined and at least, unlike some of his teammates, always shows for the ball. Given his injury record, I’m amazed he’s began all four games this festive period. 5
Calvert-Lewin: Poor but it was always going to be tough for him on his own up there against Maguire and Evans. I’d persevere with him up there. It seems highly unlikely we’ll be getting another striker in before the January deadline so we might as well give him that run of games as he is the most likely of our strikers to come good. 3
Bernard (for Gomes): got involved and will be disappointed that nobody got on the end of his excellent ball into the box. 7Tosun (for Walcott): tried but couldn’t really get the better of the defenders. 6
Everton and Leicester play the first Premier League fixture of 2019 when they meet at Goodison Park for the New Year's Day lunchtime kick-off.
The two sides would have expected to be the most likely rivals for the title of “best of the rest” if they aren't able to crack the top six this season but both ended 2018 in disappointing fashion.
The Blues went down 1-0 at Brighton, a defeat that immediately took the gloss off that 5-1 hammering of Burnley at Boxing Day, while the Foxes followed up wins over Manchester City and Chelsea with a surprise home defeat to Cardiff City.
For Everton, it will be their fifth game in the space of 17 days and Marco Silva has already tied to mitigate the fatigue in some of his players by resting the likes of Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Gylfi Sigurdsson while others, like Lucas Digne, Seamus Coleman and Michael Keane, have been ever-present and aren't likely to be given a rest until Saturday's meeting with Lincoln in the FA Cup.
Indeed, the manager's selection for this one might well reflect the need for three points to ease the pressure from a run of just one victory in seven. Sigurdsson is certain to return barring some unforeseen injury concern and, assuming Silva doesn't opt for the same personnel that won at Leicester in early October, Calvert-Lewin would be a good bet for a recall after starting Saturday's defeat at the Amex Stadium on the bench.
That would free Richarlison up to play on one flank, Bernard on the other and allow Silva to perhaps rest Theo Walcott who has struggled to make an impact of late.
At the back, the three-man central defensive unit felt like overkill against Brighton with Idrissa Gueye back in the side so one of Keane, Kurt Zouma or Yerry Mina could make way for an orthodox back four.
Ademola Lookman, meanwhile, remains a doubt with the unspecified knock he picked up in training before Christmas but he will undergo a fitness test to determine whether he is fit enough to play.
For their part, Claude Puel's side is without Daniel Amartey (ankle) and Matty James (Achilles) but Jonny Evans and Wes Morgan could return from illness and Hamza Choudhury is in contention after being rested against Cardiff.
Everton can leapfrog Leicester if they can grab a victory and, hopefully, start to build some more momentum after a disappointing run of results since the body blow they sustained at the end of the Anfield derby a month ago with another home game to follow against Bournemouth on the 12th.
Kick-off: 12:30pm, Tuesday 1 January 2019
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Last Time: Everton 2 - 1 Leicester City
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Zouma, Digne, Gueye, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin