Everton battled to a valiant point against high-flying Leicester City at a rainy Goodison Park.
In the absence of first choice midfielders Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré, Carlo Ancelotti started with the same shape that took all three points from Molineux in The Toffees’ last league outing, with Lucas Digne providing Everton’s width on the left behind an offensive trio of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and one James Rodríguez.
Buoyed by recent results and the opportunity to usurp Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, The Foxes started superbly despite no Jamie Vardy in their ranks. Strong runs from the likes of Harvey Barnes and their two full-backs, the outstanding pair of Timothy Castagne and James Justin, gave their hosts many headaches in the opening quarter. However, bar a brilliant effort from James Maddison that swerved just above Jordan Pickford’s crossbar, Brendan Rodgers’ side failed to really test The Blues’ goalkeeper and could not quite find the product to accompany their pressure.
Everton on the other hand were quite content to sit back and soak up this Leicester pressure and wait for opportunities to emerge on the break. The majority of these came courtesy of the superb crossing of Digne, whose excellent efforts were close to making contact with the likes of Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin, who was brilliantly marshalled all evening by Wesley Fofana. If Everton were not going to get the better of the Frenchmen in the air, nor gain any control in the middle of the park, it felt like a moment of individual magic was the home side’s most viable route to opening the scoring.
With half an hour played, Rodríguez obliged. After a wonderful pass from André Gomes set Digne away, the Colombian knocked a tame cross into the area which Leicester cleared straight back into his path. Following a few clever, intricate turns, Rodríguez then drifted a superb strike towards goal which, courtesy of a little help from the woodwork, nestled its way into the back of Kasper Schmeichel’s goal.
— Everton (@Everton) January 28, 2021
It was an outstanding strike and a further illustration of just how gifted a footballer Everton’s number 19 really is. Considered by many to be past his best and an acquisition for shirt sales alone, Rodríguez has proven all doubters wrong so far this season and with greater support from his midfield in weeks and in seasons to follow, you cannot help but think we are yet to see the very finest of the former Galatico in blue.
For all Leicester’s possession and Everton’s inability to truly impose themselves on the game, the latter somehow found themselves ahead at the interval.
Half Time: Everton 1-0 Leicester City
Much to their credit, Leicester were equally relentless in the second forty five. In addition to their slick, smart passing, the East Midlanders pressed superbly, winning the ball back high up the pitch on many occasions. Everton, however, held firm, with Yerry Mina and Michael Keane making some vital interceptions to keep Pickford’s clean sheet in tact.
Despite their fantastic defensive endeavours, it felt like an equaliser was coming and with twenty three minutes remaining Leicester broke through. It was not a goal The Toffees will have been pleased to have conceded. Following an unnecessary corner, courtesy of Pickford’s indecision at a Barnes cross, the ball found it’s way to Youri Tielemans on the edge of the area. Whilst it was through a crowd of blue and maroon shirts, his tame effort should have been an straight forward save. Even with a strong glove to it, the England number one couldn’t keep it out, with the ball trickling over the line to give Leicester a way back into proceedings.
Pickford has enjoyed one of his best spells in an Everton jersey in recent weeks, displaying real calmness and authority when The Blues have really needed him. However, it is mistakes like this that ensures doubts about his suitability as the side’s goalkeeper continue to linger. Too often Pickford saves what he shouldn’t and concedes what should be comfortable. At the very elite levels of goalkeeping, this equation is inverted and if Everton are to consistently challenge for European football and more in seasons to come, they have to find someone between the sticks who can fulfil these requirements on a much more regular basis.
YOUUUUUUUUURIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII! ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/vbwMSMNAD2
— Leicester City (@LCFC) January 27, 2021
After conceding such a poor goal, the feeling was that Everton might crack and Leicester might find a winner. Yet The Toffees arguably had their best spell in the game after restarting the match and created some fantastic opportunities late on. Superb set-piece chances came and went for both Gomes and Richarlison, who probably should have done better in both instances, but the best fell for Calvert-Lewin who, after another brilliant Digne cross, nodded just wide with minutes to spare.
In all fairness, a home winner here would have been undeserved due to how good Leicester were in the second half. As the final whistle blew, there will have been some Evertonians frustrated at their side’s inability to press on once ahead. Perspective in this instance is vital- Everton finished thirteen points and seven places behind their opponents last season, were lacking their engine room and are still a side very much in transition.
A victory against Newcastle United on Saturday and what feels like a good point considering all of those factors above will then feel like a great one.
Full Time: Everton 1-1 Leicester City
James’ Man of the Match: James Justin (Leicester City)