In a parallel universe, one where Everton are still managed by Marco Silva and are battling it out with David Moyes’s West Ham to see if either or neither club manages to save themselves from relegation this season, the Toffees’ sequence of results since the resumption of the Premier League has probably yielded just one point, ground out unspectacularly at doomed Norwich.
Jamie Vardy has just scored his long-awaited 100th Premier League goal, Everton are denied yet another penalty by VAR, and Michael Keane has put through his own net in a home defeat to Leicester City after the Toffees had squandered an early lead.
Thankfully in this universe, we have Carlo Ancelotti and the future is significantly brighter. This team have had their “Everton, that” moments under the new manager — the humiliation at the hands of Liverpool’s kids in the FA Cup and the 2-2 draw with Newcastle come to mind — but this game offered hope that the wily Italian could be gradually hammering it out of them.
Vardy had a couple of dangerous moments but a towering performance from Keane, that included bailing out his error-prone goalkeeper, largely kept the League’s top scorer quiet; VAR took their time about it but eventually returned a verdict that handed the Blues their first penalty in 38 matches (and Gylfi Sigurdsson didn’t miss it!); and Everton held on to their first-half lead to record the rare feat of beating a team sitting in the top three. More of this, please!
The three points were greeted with as much relief as joy, though. While the first half had been entertaining given the manner in which the Blues engineered their 2-0 lead at the interval, with young Anthony Gordon more than justifying his second League start by laying on the opening goal for Richarlison, the second was an altogether more nervy affair.
What it did reveal, however, is that in Ancelotti Everton have a head coach with the ability to actually manage a game and it he did that with aplomb this evening. Granted, the “Moyes sub” with half an hour to go can be a little disconcerting, particularly given how much possession the team was ceding to the opposition and the danger going forward that Leicester possess, especially when James Maddison is on the pitch. But while it made for a tense and often frustrating finale, the strategy worked and ultimately that’s what matters.
Everton’s first-half performances in their first two games since the end of lockdown were mind-numbingly dull but today there was life and purpose about their play in the early going. After Vardy had almost been played in by Youri Tielemans at one end with just one minute gone, the Toffees put together the incisive move that would yield the opening goal in the 10th minute.
Lucas Digne headed into the path of Gordon, reprising the role wide on the left of midfield he fulfilled in the Merseyside derby 10 days ago, and the youngster drove towards the byline, cut the ball back perfectly to find Richarlison who buried the chance with a strong, first-time finish.
The Foxes tried to reply immediately and came close to an equaliser when Dennis Praet’s shot grazed André Gomes and flew narrowly wide but just two minutes after the goal, Everton won a free kick in a dangerous area after James Justin had fouled Richarlison. Digne swung the free-kick in, Ndidi and Keane challenged for it in mid-air where the Leicester man appeared to handle it with a raised arm.
Three minutes of review by Video Assistant Referee Craig Pawson later and Everton were finally awarded a penalty that Sigurdsson coolly despatched to make it 2-0. The current handball rules are convoluted and inconsistently applied so whether it should really have been handball is academic to Blues fans because it made amends for the spot-kick they should have had against Tottenham back in November when Dele Alli somehow got away with one in that game.
Everton were content to let Leicester have the ball, remained a threat on the break and could, with more composure in the final third, have put the contest to bed before half-time. Gordon sent Calvert-Lewin away down the channel with tremendous vision and an excellent first-time ball but the striker was chased down by Caglar Soyuncu and barged off it by the Turkish defender before he could shoot. Then, DCL and Alex Iwobi counter-attacked together but the Nigerian’s final ball was poor and the chance evaporated.
Brendan Rodgers’s men rallied towards the end of first half and Keane blocked a Tielemans volley off a corner and when the Belgian dinked a ball over the defence to Johnny Evans, Jordan Pickford spread himself to make a superb save and preserve the two-goal lead heading into half-time.
The warning signs of a more fractured second-half display came early after half-time, with Everton, and Gomes in particular, letting themselves down with poor distribution as they tried to move the ball out of their own territory.
Digne forced a good save from Kasper Schmeichel with a raking drive from distance in the 49th minute that took a heavy deflection and threatened to sneak inside the near post before the Danish international batted it behind. But just two minutes after that, the Midlanders pulled one back.
Tielemans took advantage of time and space outside the box to clip another teasing ball into the box to substitute Kelechi Iheanacho and though the Mason Holgate got to it first, his attempted clearance came off the striker’s chest and fell invitingly for him to fire it past Pickford.
Richarlison departed with a knock to his ankle six minutes later, Everton began to adopt their more defensive posture with the introduction of Davies to help counter the arrival off the bench of Maddison and in the 62nd minute, it looked as though the complete cession of the 2-0 lead was complete.
Pickford went to claim a routine ball across his six-yard box but somehow missed it, Keane inadvertently stabbed it towards his own goal but was able to recover in time to hack it off the line to safety.
By this stage, there was very little structure to Everton’s play. Calvert-Lewin was plowing a lonely furrow in a 4-5-1 formation that eventually became 3-6-1 with the introduction of Yerry Mina for Iwobi with 22 minutes to go, but while it was pretty much all Leicester, Maddison’s effectiveness would wane as the match wore on as the Foxes were stymied by a highly organised back line.
Iheanacho squandered a great chance to level in the 65th minute when he sliced over from fairly close range, Maddison cleared the crossbar with a couple of wayward efforts of his own and it wasn’t until stoppage time that Ayoze Perez popped up with one last chance to steal a point after good work from Vardy but shot took a crucial deflection and skidded wide.
Moments earlier, Davies, who looked a different player to the one that had to be hauled off at Norwich following a horrendous first half, had danced his way past a clutch of pink shirts and eventually laid it off for Seamus Coleman but the Irishman’s cross deflected into Schmeichel’s arms.
European qualification may end up being elusive this season but, regardless, these last few games of the season have been hugely instructive of what Ancelotti is trying to do and where he might be able to take Everton with the benefit of some key summer signings.
The work that has been done on the defensive side during the latter part of the lockdown is clearly evident; the Blues are much harder to break down and in three matches, they have conceded just one goal. At the top end of the pitch, Calvert-Lewin hasn’t yet found the net but his work-rate remains undiminished, while Richarlison proved he’s lost none of his predatory instincts in front of goal.
In the wide areas, Gordon impressed and Iwobi, while still erratic with his final ball, was a dangerous outlet going forward while still providing plenty of reliable cover for Coleman.
Central midfield, particularly when it comes to invention and creativity, remain a huge concern, however. Picking up from the second half at Carrow Road, Sigurdsson was solid and did his job well and Gomes was satisfactory in the first period this evening but from an attacking perspective, neither player offered enough.
That is nothing new where Gomes concerned. Perhaps still establishing his fitness following that horrible injury, he looks a little ponderous and is still playing “within himself”; quick and decisive to snuff out an opposition attack one minute but pedestrian and easy to dribble around the next.
That area of the pitch is an issue that will continue to hold Everton back if it isn’t addressed and you get the sense that it’s going to take a special central midfield acquisition; someone to come in and have a similar effect on the side as Bruno Fernandes has at Manchester United. Let’s hope Marcel Brands has someone in mind.
For now, the season rolls on with a flurry of matches that will offer Ancelotti yet more opportunity to really get a handle on what players are at his disposal.
Everton held on for an important win in their third fixture since the resumption of the Premier League with smart goal from Richarlison after a fine setup from Gordon, and a very rare penalty through VAR.
Carlo Ancelotti makes two changes from the team that started at Norwich, with Anthony Gordon and Gylfi Sigurdsson coming in for Bernard and Tom Davies. Yerry Mina, fit again following a thigh injury, is on the bench.
Leicester played it cagey from the kick-off, looking to protect the ball and build slow, almost playing in Vardy but Digne blocked him well. Everton, playing out from the back, could only give it away.
Gordon was fouled wide right, Digne swinging the cross all the way over for an Everton throw. And it was worked around to the other side where Anthony Gordon took superb command of the ball from Digne's nice header, crossing for Richarlison to hammer home. Great goal.,
After Praet went close at the other end, Richarlison was double-teamed, Digne putting in a great ball that forced a tricky VAR decision with Ndiidi's hand then and Keane's head, then his raised hand... long review before the penalty was finally given, the first in 38 Premier League games for Everton. Sigurdsson stepped up and slotted it home nonchalantly.
Leicester, their game plan in tatters, continued to build slowly and methodically nevertheless, forcing Everton to defend. But Everton broke well, a brilliant visionary ball forward from Gordon inviting Calvert-Lewin to run behind the defence but he then inexplicably threw himself pathetically into the defender Soyncu and fell to the floor; never a penalty and a ridiculous manoeuvre when he had a glorious chance to shoot and score.
Praet crossed well and it needed a deft touch from Coleman to keep it away from the striker. But The Foxes had obviously been told to up the pace by Brendan Rodgers at the drinks break.
After another period of being penned back, Calvert-Lewin and Iwobi were set to break together at pace but the pass was either too far ahead of Calvert-Lewin or he had no conviction in completing the move for what would, in another universe, have been a very good goal.
Rcharlison fouled but Everton repelled the Leicester free-kick and follow-ups with a sequence of defensive headers. But they kept probing and won a corner, Keane position to block a pile-driver from Tielemans that would have ripped the net, then Pickford was quickly out to stifle the follow-up.
The Everton defence was living an increasingly charmed life, with the ball just not quite falling for the visitors, while Everton had offered no further threat at the other end before half-time.
Gordon and Digne tried to reprise the first goal but the final ball in was a little too wild for Richarlison to control. Digne's long throw ended up back with Pickford, and Pickford's punt forward to Calvert-Lewin ended up back with Pickford before the whistle blew for half-time.
Maddison and Iheanacho came on after the break, as Leicester looked to get back in the game. But it was another important test fro ANcellotti's prowess at organizing his defender. Digne's deflected shot was probably going wide. A messy ball in and Holgate's clearance spun in off Iheanacho, that defensive record blown.
Everton continued to invite pressure with poor passing and sloppy play. Bringing on Davies for Richarlison was hardly likely to improve this as the Brazilian struggled after getting his foot trodden on by Ndidi.
Iwobi looked to set up a strike that saw Sigurdsson's shot blocked at source. At the other end, Keane did the same with a vital block on Maddison. A shocking error by Pickford came so close to gifting a goal but for vital quick thinking by Keane to scop the ball away from almost behind the line.
Leicester were now creating chances on every attack, Ihenacho missing an open goal. Iwobi, as ineffective as ever, was finally withdrawn with Mina on to shore up the teetering Everton defence. And it seemed to at least break the pattern of attacks getting into the Everton box. Ihenacho was reduced to shooting from the edge of the box, with Pickford this time alert to the bouncing ball.
The nonsense playing out from the back led to a stupid yellow card for Pickford. A deep cross to Chilwell was well high and wide. Everton finally broke out but Gordon was then pulled off, Bernard in his place for the last 12 minutes.
Leicester continued to work the ball well but Maddison's shot looked very tired, hinting that perhaps Everton could hold out for the win. A corner for The Foxes was well defended away by Digne. Chilwell beat Gomes but not Coleman, although admittedly his had, and normally a penalty under the new rules?
With Bernard's vision, Everton broke more convincingly but Sigurdsson just stopped the move dead, with 6 minutes added time for the Blues to hold out. Davies showed a ncie pair of heels but the ball to CLavert-Lewin was deflected away from him.
Vardy set up Perez for a certain tieing goal that was only just deflected wide, but Everton still struggled to relive their lines as the pink shirts swarmed at them with renewed energy. But the Blues held on for a very significant win, risi=ding out a very difficult barrage for Brendan.
Scorers: Richarlison (7'), Sigurdsson (pen: 16'); Iheanacho (51')
Everton: Pickford [Y:74'], Coleman, Keane, Holgate, Digne, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Iwobi (68' Mina), Gordon (78' Bernard), Richarlison (57' Davies), Calvert-Lewin.
Subs: Stekelenburg, Virginia, Baines, Branthwaite, Baningime, Kean.
Leicester City: Schmeichel; Justin, Soyuncu, Evans, Chilwell; Ndidi [Y:54'], Praet (46' Iheanacho); Albrighton (81' Pérez), Tielemans (81' Gray), Barnes (46' Maddison); Vardy.
Subs: Ward, Morgan, Fuchs, Choudhury, Mendy.
VAR: Craig Pawson