Everton have taken some punches to the solar plexus already this season but this one hit particularly hard and it will leave Marco Silva, if he is indeed to survive until the Merseyside derby, with a huge task in trying to lift his charges off the canvas in time for Anfield on Wednesday.
If this result felt as inevitable as it was deeply painful and harsh, that’s because the Blues looked at one stage to be heading for an unlikely but probably deserved victory with an hour gone. As the game ticked into stoppage time, Silva’s men were at least clinging to a creditable draw after they had allowed Jamie Vardy to plunder a 63rd-minute equaliser… but they were left staring at another blank return when Kelechi Iheanacho, the latest player to gratefully accept Everton’s charity and end a long goal drought, beat the offside trap to slot a last-minute winner past Jordan Pickford.
Having rightly wiped away a Leicester penalty in the 33rd minute VAR made another telling intervention in Everton’s season with the final decision of the game, awarding Iheanacho his goal despite the fact that the referee’s assistant in the stadium had flagged for offside. That’s just how things tend to go for teams struggling at the wrong end of the table.
Given how many controversies there have been this season over goals taken away by hairs-breadth decisions, it was hard to begrudge the Foxes on this occasion and Everton could really only have themselves to blame for not learning their lessons on the day.
It was a shame because this was a far better performance from Silva’s men than perhaps anyone expected after the horrible display against Norwich last weekend. On another day, Everton might have escaped with a point or more had Moise Kean's ambitious late effort curled in and Yerry Mina's knee not been an inch or so ahead of Iheanacho's shoulder. Such are the margins at times when you're in desperate need of points as Silva is.
The Portuguese cobbled together a starting XI from those players available with a defensive bent and for that first hour, with a three-man central defensive unit and a disciplined shape, they had successfully stymied their hosts in a manner that would have felt very familiar to Everton during home matches where they have been frustrated by a compact opposition set-up.
The problem, as has so often been the case under Silva, is that when that formation is broken, when the initial press is by-passed or possession is lost further up the pitch, opposition teams are able to slice through them with relative ease on fast transitions and usually carve out high-quality chances as a result.
That happened on more than one occasion in the second half today, with Brendan Rogers ultimately rewarded a timely tactical shift in the form of Iheanacho’s introduction with just past an hour gone — within six minutes he had laid on the equaliser at the end of a move that had been foreshadowed 15 minutes earlier and which was repeated for Leicester’s second goal at the death.
By the 54th minute mark, Everton were sitting in nicely, defending a one-goal lead and forcing their hosts to slow the tempo in an attempt to break them down. They had gone into the break a goal up thanks to a fine headed finish by Richarlison to end an equally impressive move but had also betrayed some of that lack of clinical edge up front to increase their lead that has been a problem for so long. Still, they largely had Leicester where they wanted them.
In a split second, however, Ricardo Pereira latched onto Tom Davies’s giveaway in midfield and sped into the visitors’ penalty area before forcing a one-handed save from Pickford. In the 68th. minute, Wilfred Ndidi was the beneficiary as Davies couldn’t control his header following a Pickford goal kick and he burst through the hole in Everton’s midfield before picking out Iheanacho who had been allowed to pull off into space by Michael Keane and Mason Holgate was too slow in tracking Vardy as he stole in at the back post to convert what was an unmissable chance from the Nigerian’s ball across goal.
That made it 1-1 with 22 minutes to go but if the warning wasn’t heeded at 1-0, it was harder to do so with Silva still committing players forward hoping to get a victory. Vardy played Harvey Barnes in in the 73rd minute as Leicester swarmed into the space in front of the Toffees’ back three but Pickford made a point-blank save and Youri Tielemans came close to putting Vardy’s second on a plate for him but the England striker put his header centimetres over the bar.
In the end, while Moise Kean almost came off the bench to score an ambitious winner — unfortunately, his presence of mind to whip Richarlison’s pass inside first-time from 30 yards was not rewarded and his effort spun into the side-netting rather than inside Kasper Schmeichel’s post — it was Leicester who had the cutting edge to grab the winner.
Ricardo was again the man with the driving run through midfield after he’d collected Davies’s loose pass aimed for Gylfi Sigurdsson inside the home team’s half and he threaded Iheanacho in to wrong-foot both Yerry Mina and Holgate before placing his shot in off the inside of the post. His celebrations were cut short by the assistant’s flag but a VAR check eventually gave him his goal.
That completed Everton’s misery and left Silva shell-shocked in his technical area. It was the fourth goal his team have conceded in the 90th minute or later this season which suggests a mental frailty of its own. But if there had been questions raised over whether his players were playing for him, they had been largely dispelled over the preceding 93 minutes. In truth, the manager's changes came too late and it's questionable whether he made the right choices. Davies looked shattered with an hour gone from the extra work demanded of him alongside Sigurdsson and would have been the obvious candidate to come off while Silva''s apparent distrust of Alex Iwobi is perplexing.
The Blues had started well, Djibril Sidibé marking a welcome return to form with an early chance that he slammed narrowly over the bar from the edge of the penalty area before Richarlison started and ended a rapid move with a terrific headed goal reminiscent of his header at Lincoln in the Carabao Cup earlier this season.
He found Dominic Calvert-Lewin with a pass inside off the touchline who in turn played it to Iwobi and with another of his perfectly-weighted balls down the channel, he set Sidibé up to cross dangerously where Richarlison got in head of Ricardo and bulleted a header past Schmeichel. It was the first goal the Foxes had conceded since mid-October.
Sidibé then pulled off a brilliant saving tackle to deny Leicester at the other end but it looked as though Leicester had been handed a route back into the game when referee Graham Scott awarded them a penalty in the 33rd minute. Mina cleverly tackled Barnes with his trailing leg in the first instance but Holgate’s first touch unwittingly put the ball into the path of the onrushing Ben Chilwell who went flying from an apparent trip by the Everton defender. With the benefit of replays, the Video Assistant Referee determined that there was no contact made and ruled no penalty.
And Everton had started the second half in confident fashion as well. Sidibé easily intercepted a pass out of the home defence and played it to Calvert-Lewin but he waited too long to make up his mind what to do with it and any chance to capitalise went begging.
Then Iwobi picked out Richarlison’s run with a quite brilliant raking ball over the top from the right-back position in his own half but though the Brazilian cut it back from the byline to Sigurdsson, the Iceland international’s shot was charged down and Keane’s header from the resulting corner was caught.
Just past the hour mark, Holgate popped up the back post off a set-piece to bring the ball down and shimmy right before unloading a shot but that too was charged down before Iwobi’s cross just eluded Mina in front of goal.
Ultimately, though, it was a lack of firepower and decisiveness in the final third and more of that defensive frailty that ultimately cost Silva and Everton on a desperately demoralising afternoon. Where it leaves the club and the Portuguese given the sense of limbo in which they entered the game is anyone’s guess.
With no obvious alternative in the frame, the Board will hopefully resist any knee-jerk impulse to fire him and put someone like David Moyes in temporary charge and the manager will probably limp on through the derby on Wednesday, postponing what feels like the inevitable. In the macro view, the threat of a protracted fight against relegation looms large and while it feels as though everything is against Everton in that respect, there were some crumbs of comfort on display today.
If he can take those positives and rally his troops for the coming challenges, you feel that there could be points to be won for Silva against Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. In terms of confidence, it could only take a couple of decent results to rekindle hope in the players. The key is to avoid a complete pasting at the hands of Liverpool and retain enough morale in the squad to allow them to perform in those other games and buy the hierarchy more time in their search for a long-term candidate to take this club forward.
Everton begin their most testing run of the season at the King Power Stadium where they take an injury-ravaged side with Marco Silva in a precarious position despite a show of unity from Marcel Brands.
With key midfielders Gbamian, Gomes and Delph out injured, Morgan Schneiderlin passed a late fitness test but is only on the bench, with Davies continuing his run and Anthony Gordon named on the bench. Upfront, the inevitable lone striker is Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Michael Keane comes into a three-man backline alongside Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate. There is a recall, too, for Alex Iwobi, who has come off the bench in Everton's past two top-flight games. Dennis Adeniran from the U23s travelled with the squad but does not make the bench where Bernard is fit enough after his latest injury layoff. Cenk Tosun drops to the bench but there is no place for Theo Walcott or Seamus Coleman in Silva's squad.
Everton kicked off in their salmon-pink changed kit, Mina whacking it long and The Pinks holding it for a few passes until Richarlison passed it to the home side, then Richarlison was called for a foul on Maddison, setting up an early set-piece, headed away by Richarlison.
There was a fine break by Everton, Richarlison feeding Calvert-Lein but the ball back across to the Brazilian was too challenging to produce any kind f finish that seemed to be on the cards. But Everton were immediately under pressure and having to defend an array of probing attacks that ended with Digne getting a free-kick to relieve that pressure. But a very lively start from both sides.
Some really nice play saw Digne pick out Sidibe on the other side but his shot was always rising above the bar. And it was then more pressure from The Foxes, Everton double line of defence closing down all avenues. But Vardy almost set up Peres who could only tap the ball toward Pickford.
Everton attacked again but Calvert-Lewin couldn't control another difficult cross. Everton had kept possession well, however, and were doing well enough to maintain the balance in a high-tempo start. But now they were now losing possession in their own half and Peres got through, with sight of goal, firing inches wide with Pickford covering it.
Davies looked to play his text-book forward pass but this one was intercepted, giving the ball back to the home side. There was some fun end-to-end stuff, Keane trying to release Calvert-Lewin with Schmeichel out quickly, then Vardy being shepherded well by Keane in defence.
From a Leicester throw-in Peres threw himself to the ground after brushing into Keane. Iwobii then gave away a set-piece that saw Sigurdsson called for handball by the local yokels but it had come off his face.
Everton built nicely down the right, Iwobi pushing an inviting ball out to Sidibe whose fantastic first-time cross was bullet-headed through a despairing Casoer Schmeichel into the Leicester net with impressive power by Richarlison, an absolute top-class ever-so-simple goal, the first scored against the Foxes in ages.
In response the Foes broke through again, Peres driving in but a tremendous saving tackle by Mina denied Leicester the equalizer. However, Everton were getting calls against them for fouls in increasingly dangerous positions, Richarlison heading clear but the ball coming back in, a fierce volley blocked as the ball pinged around the Everton area.
Barnes seemed to have the beating of Holgate but Sigurdsson covered well and snuffed out the danger, with the Foxes stunned to be behind at the half-hour mark. A cross did finally reach Vardy but all he could do was send it high into the stand behind the goal.
Richarlison went down with a smack on the head but got up without treatment! Vardy and Barnes got into the Everton area, Mina tackling Vardy well but then Holgate went across Chilwell, who dived well, Referee Scott calling a penalty immediately, despite the fact that Holgate had not touched him. But a long, long VAR check finally vindicated Holgate, as well as Mina's earlier challenge on Vardy: No Penalty!
The game was now going very well for Everton at this point but Leicester attacked with pace, Pickford forced to save well, and then a scramble as shots came in quick succession on the Everton goal. Ricardo went down with a head injury but no foul called.
Everton however, were noticeably wasteful with their forward balls, careless in possession, inviting the pressure from a very lively Leicester front line. But that was giving the Everton defence a good work out at least. Everton withstood the pressure and the ball eventually found Calvert-Lewin but his shot was blocked as only 2 minutes of added time.
Digne fouled poorly wide left on the Everton side, Sigurdsson getting a yellow for his long forward pass that was seen as kicking the ball away after the whistle. The free-kick was defended, Vardy's shot blocked well, but a corner called, and cleared as Scott blew the whistle with Everton ahead at the break.
the Foxes restarted what would surely be a critical phase of the game for both sides, Vardy into the Everton area early on but prevented from shooting. At the other end, a gift of a giveaway but Calvert-Lewin played it completely wrong and a glorious chance was gone in an instant.
A fine corner by Maddison was headed away well by Richarlison and Everton broke on a fantastic cross-field ball from Iwobi, Richarlison messing up a little before pulling it back for Sigurdsson to drive off a defender for a corner. Keane's header saved easily, but another corner won, this one powered over by Richarlison.
Everton's solid defensive play sub=ddenly broke down with a poor pass from Davies and the Foxes were in o goal, Pickford saving well Sidibe behind for a corner. That was defended and Everton broke again, Sidibe in acres of space but his cross was just a yard in front of Calvert-Lewin who was unable to control it.
Everton broke again but Iwobi wasted the cross, and Sigurdsson could not dig out a shot in the follow-up. At the other end, Tielemans volleyed well over. Everton took the play back up the field, Sidibe winning another corner that Sigurdsson took, but not before Mina and Indidiy played silly buggers, both getting a sharp talking to, with nothing coming from the corner.
Another fine Everton attack, another inviting ball in from Sidibe, but criminally no-one within shooting range, as Peres went off for . The ball fell to Holgate but his shot was blocked as Everton were doing everything possible to get the vital second goal. A free-kick from Sigurdson was defended, but a fantastic ball delivered in by Iwqobi from the other side was wasted as three Everton players fought each other for the header, and no-one could convert.
It was Leicester's turn to pile forward, Iheanacho firing at Pickford, Everton holding firm. And Everton again advanced down the right thanks to the foresight of Iwobi but Sidibe could only deliver the ball to Schmeichel.
But Davies gave up the ball too easily in the middle and Peres was off on another fast move through the Everton defence that saw Vardy finish at the far post, Everton's resistance finally broken.
Digne got to a good position by the corner flag but again a wasteful cross was easily picked off and Leicester could build again, this time with the knowledge that they could indeed walk through the Everton defence if they got things right.
Barnes was the next to gallop through but Pickford was positioned well to save. However, the Foxes were now attacking in waves, Everton not convincing enough with the ball in possession, giving it up again, and allowing Leicester to run at them, A great ball from Teilemans headed inches over by Vardy.
Schneiderlin and Kean were readied with 15 minutes to go, but the momentum now was all with the home side and a massive opportunity had been missed by chances squandered in attack when goals must be scored. Another sweeping Foxes surge saw the ball incredibly played to Holgate's feet with Vardy lurking.
Everton advanced down the right, a fine feed from Richarlison to Kean who saw Schmeichel out of position and tried a first-time shot that was inches the wrong side of the post.
Leicester attacked again but Holgate cleared the ball confidently. However, the ball didn't stick upfield and Leicester could smell blood and fear, as Barnes was switched for Albrighton, who had a long record of causing Everton pain in the past. Teilemans lashed a shot inches wide as it seemed to e only a matter of time before they would score the winner.
Sigurdsson released Kean again down the right channel, with three men on him, but all he could do is fire weakly at Schmeichel, and Leicester ran up the other end, winning a corner. Pickford gathered well.
With the final minutes ticking away, the game was pretty even with chances to attack at either, as 3 minutes were added. Sidibe went down but the Foxes carried on, Richarlison was unable to make anything of a chance to run at the stretched Leicester defence. Bernard eventually came on and tried to keep the ball.
Leicester City were given a golden chance to advance on yet another midfield turnover but Teilemans was flagged offside before he lashed the ball past Pickford. However, VAR reversed the decision, goal given, and an Everton win evaporated into a cruel defeat, and perhaps the final nail in Silva's coffin? No: not the Everton Way, because he will be given credit for a valiant but ultimately losing Everton performance.
Scorers: Vardy (68'), Iheanacho (90+4'); Richarlison (23')
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Chilwell, Ricardo, Soyuncu, Evans, Ndidi, Tielemans, Maddison, Barnes (82' Albrighton), Perez, Vardy.
Subs: Ward, Justin, Morgan, (52' Iheanacho) Choudhury, Praet.
Everton: Pickford, Digne, Sidibe (90+4' Bernard), Holgate, Keane, Mina, Davies, Sigurdsson [Y:45+2'], Iwobi (78' Schneiderlin), Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin (78' Kean).
Subs not Used: Lössl, Baines, Gordon, Tosun.
Referee: Graham Scott
Everton begin their most testing run of the season this weekend when they take an injury-ravaged side to Leicester with Marco Silva in a precarious position despite a show of unity from Marcel Brands.
The Dutchman appeared on evertontv earlier today to explain that the club will try to move forward together and find some form under Silva who was booed off the field with his players last Saturday after the defeat to Norwich and has faced widespread calls for his sacking in the days since.
Nevertheless, the feeling is that the manager will remain under pressure unless he can effect a remarkable turnaround in results but his prospects of pulling off surprises in successive away games against the current top two in the Premier League have been dealt a severe blow by more injuries.
The Blues will be down to the bare bones in midfield after Morgan Schneiderlin sustained an injury that looks likely to rule him out of the match. Silva was already set to be without Fabian Delph and long-term absentees Jean-Philippe Gbamin and André Gomes for the game against the Foxes but Schneiderlin sustained a knock, either during or since last Saturday's defeat to Norwich, and
Under-23s defensive midfielder, Beni Baningime, who has prior first-team experience, is also unlikely to be available after he hobbled out of the second string's defeat to Fleetwood on Tuesday.
That would leave Silva with just Tom Davies among players who could be regarded as defensive midfielders and the expectation is that he would have to pull Gylfi Sigurdsson or Alex Iwobi back into a deeper role to cover while possibly also promoting Denis Adeniran from the U23s to the senior match day squad.
Additionally, Theo Walcott and Seamus Coleman are out with unspecified problems but it looks as though Bernard will back in the squad after a month on the sidelines with a torn knee ligament.
"Unfortunately some not good news,” Silva said in his pre-match press conference. “Let's see tomorrow after one more session but the news is not so good. Morgan is a big doubt for the match. Theo the same.
“For Fabian Delph, it will be really difficult for him to be fit for the next match. Bernard is ready. He's been doing full sessions. Of course, he needs a bit of time because he was out for a month but he's been working and doesn't feel as much pain in his knee.
“One more piece of bad news: Unfortunately for us, Coleman will be out as well.”
While he may not want to risk having all of his available first-team defenders on the pitch bar Leighton Baines on the pitch at the same time with a gruelling festive campaign to come, Silva could also opt for a 3-5-2 line-up that would provide some more protection at the back in the absence of his preferred two holding midfielders. That would see Michael Keane return to the starting XI to play alongside Mason Holgate and Yerry Mina, with Djibril Sidibe and Lucas Digne charged with providing the width.
Less likely, given his steadfast reluctance thus far to even entertain starting with two strikers, is the option of going 4-4-2, with Sigurdsson alongside Davies, Iwobi at the tip of the diamond and either Richarlison, Moise Kean or Cenk Tosun playing off Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front.
Whatever happens, even though they won at the King Power Stadium last year, you feel as though Everton are on a hiding to nothing in view of Leicester's form so far this season and the sheer number of injuries afflicting Silva's squad. It means that this game and Wednesday's Anfield derby effectively represent “free hits” for the manager and the hierarchy would likely take his misfortune on the injury front into account when assessing his immediate future should the Blues lose both.
Complete capitulation, however, is more likely to edge him closer to the exit.
Kick-off: 4:30pm, Sunday 1st December, 2019
Referee: Graham Scott
Last Time: Leicester City 1 - 2 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Sidibé, Keane, Holgate, Mina, Digne, Davies, Sigurdsson, Iwobi, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin