Everton responded in the best possible manner to their worst performance of the season last weekend with an outstanding 2-1 victory away at Elland Road.
Following The Toffees’ disappointing defeat to Newcastle on Saturday, Carlo Ancelotti reinstated Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey to his side’s backline, as well as André Gomes in midfield, with the former Barcelona man replacing James Rodríguez who dropped to the men with blue shirts and blue shorts’ substitutes bench.
The Italian’s decision to not start Rodríguez, Everton’s chief of creativity, was questioned by many before the game but after twenty minutes or so of play, the change was justified. Everton’s start was outstanding. Precise, powerful and urgent, the visitors’ tempo with and without the ball was tremendous and a significant improvement on recent performances at Goodison Park. It gave Everton’s innovators a platform on which to play and after nine minutes, the breakthrough was made.
Following the collapse of a Leeds United attack, Everton broke brilliantly, with Gomes feeding Lucas Digne with a lovely, sweeping pass to the left, reminiscent of the ball he played against Leicester City a week ago. Digne complimented the switch with an equally exquisite cross which found an unmarked Gylfi Sigurdsson, who poked the ball home to give Everton the lead. It was a terrific finish to a marvellous move and a further illustration of how effective this side are at counter-attacking, particularly when on the road.
Leeds, as expected, responded quite well to this opener, with a superb volley from Ezgjan Alioski smacking against the post just a few minutes later. But, once again, Everton were resilient, led by imperious performances from Abdoulaye Doucouré and Ben Godfrey, who continue to assert themselves as indispensable elements of Ancelotti’s eleven.
Following this period of relative Leeds pressure, Everton worked themselves back into the game well and with half-time looming, they grabbed what was to prove to be the winning goal. Much to many Evertonians’ delight, it came courtesy of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, whose goal drought of sorts reached its conclusion with an instinctive near post header from a Sigurdsson set-piece. It was the definition of a ‘right place, right time’ finish and exemplifies how, even in a period of difficult form, Calvert-Lewin’s predatory instincts are a constant of his game.
The boy scores goals. 😎
🔥 D C L 🔥 pic.twitter.com/yBnpUmeYBp
— Everton (@Everton) February 3, 2021
Two goals to the good heading into the break, this was comfortably Everton’s best first half performance of the season and, perhaps, one of their most complete in recent years.
Half-Time: Leeds United 0-2 Everton
Somewhat inevitably, Everton’s second half performances didn’t quite meet with the standards set by their display in their first half display. Much credit must be given to Leeds, who ramped up their intensity straight from the off and forced Everton into many errors which, with better quality, they could have punished.
Three minutes in, they forged a way back into the match through such a mistake. A poor clearance by Mason Holgate fell to the feet of Raphinha, whose curved the ball past Robin Olsen, in between the sticks ahead of an injured Jordan Pickford, to give the hosts a lifeline. It was a disappointing goal for Everton to concede, both due to its manner and its timing, and set the tone for what was to be a pretty one-sided next fifty two minutes.
48' GGGGGGGOOOAAAAALLLL!!! RAPHINHAAAAAAAA!!! 1-2 pic.twitter.com/1wQOms3OnY
— Leeds United (@LUFC) February 3, 2021
Quickly after conceding, Olsen produced his finest moment in an Everton jersey to date. After the Swedish international mishit a pass from the back, he made a fine save from a deflected Mateusz Klich shot before fending away efforts from Raphina and Jack Harrison on the rebound. Whilst it is still too early to judge whether Olsen has enough qualities as a goalkeeper to take The Toffees forward, his solidity and composure in moments of real pressure tonight are a refreshing change to the frantic approach of Pickford and provides compelling evidence that he should be Everton’s number one between now and the end of the season.
With Leeds continuing to mount pressure, it felt as if more chances were set to fall the home side’s way. However, despite their lack of possession and positions for the most part of the half, Everton were to create the biggest chance of the second period, with a similar break to those that characterised the first concluding with a huge opportunity for Calvert-Lewin, who fired straight at Illan Meslier from close range. In previous seasons, that miss would have come back to haunt Everton but such is their defensive intensity at the moment, The Toffees can afford to squander chances and still be confident they will take points.
Following an erratic closing few minutes, the final whistle from Michael Oliver was welcomed with open arms by the travelling side, who will feel like their first half endeavours merited maximum points. Whilst the quality of Everton’s display, particularly in the first half, will satisfy Ancelotti, the Italian will be most pleased with the mentality of his players, whose willingness to compete and combat was a welcome contrast to their efforts last Saturday and a gentle reminder to doubters (myself included) that, for all their flaws, there is still an awful lot to like about this team.
— Carlo Ancelotti (@MrAncelotti) February 3, 2021
Full Time: Leeds United 1-2 Everton
James’ Man of the Match: Ben Godfrey (Everton)