Everton reasserted their status as serious contenders for honours this season as they followed up Saturday’s win over Chelsea by suppressing Leicester at the King Power. Richarlison opened the scoring in the first half thanks to an uncharacteristic error by Kasper Schmeichel before Mason Holgate struck to ensure Carlo Ancelotti’s team took maximum reward for an accomplished performance.
“We are where we want to be,” said the Everton manager. “If the season finished today we would be satisfied. But we have to keep fighting until the end.”
Brendan Rodgers came into the game knowing that victory could propel his team to the top of the league, at least temporarily, but wound up fretting about an ominous pattern, with this being the fourth time his side have been beaten at home this season by opponents who sat deep and stifled their creativity.
Leicester might have opened the scoring after two minutes thanks to a marvellous run by Harvey Barnes and a lay-back by Jamie Vardy to Youri Tielemans, who drilled a low shot just wide from 20 yards.
Soon, however, Everton’s strategy began to confound the home side. They showed the same compactness that helped them to beat Chelsea, while threatening with regular sorties on the counterattack. But Schmeichel had not been busy before the 21st minute when he made a costly misjudgment, pawing feebly at a low shot by Richarlison, who had opened fire from over 20 yards after James Justin allowed him to cut in from the left.
Until then the focus had been on Everton’s goalkeeper, with Robin Olsen making only his second start for the club because Ancelotti chose to rest Jordan Pickford on the bench. Vardy should have tested Olsen’s agility in the 22nd minute after a delicious cross from the right by Justin but the striker headed straight at the goalkeeper from seven yards.
Leicester struggled to pick apart the diligent visiting side, for whom Abdoulaye Doucouré and Allan controlled midfield until the Brazilian became the latest player to suffer a muscle injury this season and was carried off on a stretcher clutching a hamstring.
Gylfi Sigurdsson deposited a free-kick on to the head of Dominic Calvert-Lewin but, like Vardy earlier, the striker headed straight at the keeper. Schmeichel made no mistake this time.
James Maddison seemed the most likely source of creativity for City but Everton, well organised and dynamic, kept close tabs on him. It is at times like these that the absences of full-backs as intrepid as Ricardo Pereira and Timothy Castagne are felt particularly acutely. Justin, mind you, has developed impressively this season and made regular gains down the right until Ancelotti ordered Alex Iwobi to swap flanks with Richarlison to deal with him.
In the 72nd minute Leicester conceded from a corner, the seventh time that has happened in the league this season. No other team have let in so many; then again, no other team have been deprived of so many first-choice defenders for so long. In fairness, Sigurdsson’s delivery on this occasion was exceptional, and Schmeichel produced a pair of extraordinary saves, first to block Michael Keane’s header and then to push Calvert-Lewin’s follow-up on to the bar. But the goalkeeper was helpless to stop Holgate from ramming the next rebound into the net from close range.
Leicester were denied a route back into the game when the referee Lee Mason reversed a penalty decision in the 84th minute after checking Andre Gomes’s challenge on Ayoze Pérez on the pitchside screen. “The image he’s looking at on the screen isn’t the one that clearly shows Ayo got a touch and then got clipped on the foot,” said Rodgers, who admitted, all the same, his team need to improve to stop more sides succeeding with the tactics used by Everton. “We need to have better quality against teams that sit that bit deeper. We have to show that bit more invention and creativity.”