Lukaku scores again but Leicester's double-act comes out on top

It was billed as a battle between two of the Premier League’s most dangerous attacking partnerships but the Jamie Vardy-Riyah Mahrez double-act came out on top, as did Leicester who deepened the demoralisation in the blue half of Merseyside by plundering all three points.

Lyndon Lloyd 19/12/2015 11comments  |  Jump to last

Everton 2 - 3 Leicester City

It was billed as a battle between two of the Premier Leagues most dangerous attacking partnerships and the meeting of the Premier League's top goalscorers as Leicester City, the team confounding all prediction and logic by sitting top of the pile heading into the festive season, came to Goodison Park.

Romelu Lukaku may have scored, taking his tally in the League to 13 and extending his scoring streak to seven consecutive matches (eight in all competitions), but Gerard Deulofeu endured an afternoon of frustration and the Jamie Vardy-Riyad Mahrez double-act came out on top, as did the Foxes who deepened the demoralisation in the blue half of Merseyside by plundering all three points.

Vardy didn't find the net but he drew the reckless foul by Tim Howard for Leicester's second penalty both converted with a aplomb by Mahrez and set up Shinji Okazaki for what proved to be the winner as Roberto Martinez was left counting the cost of more defensive fallibility and a failure to either take or make enough chances at the other end.

Annoyingly, the match played out mostly the way you'd have expected it to given the modus operandi of Claudio Ranieri's side this season. Everton controlled the game for long stretches, dominated possession and always looked the most likely to score if they could just find a telling final ball but were undone by the visitors' effiiciency in capitalising on the few chances that fell their way.

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That the home side weren't able to make their territorial superiority tell was credit to the Foxes' well-organised defence where Robert Huth's absence, on paper a boon for the Blues, was more than compensated for by Marcin Wasilewski and Martin Fuchs largely shut down Deulofeu's game, restricting him to just a couple of genuinely dangerous moments before he was eventually withdrawn in favour of Aaron Lennon with 17 minutes left.

If there was a sense and a hope that Everton, as a club with Champions League aspirations, could be the team to pop Ranieri's bubble after all, of the other four teams in the top five Leicester had faced three prior to today and failed to beat any of them it was only enhanced by the manner in which they assumed control of the game from the outset. Deulofeu was looking lively down the right flank and Barkley also looked up for it, weighing in with a couple of impressive defensive tackles in his own half as the home side signalled their intentions.

Their infamous lack of killer instinct raised its head, however, in the couple of minutes before, once again, they conceded the first goal. First Arouna Kone, selected again as Martinez opted consistency in personnel over demonstrated form over the last couple of games, passed up the chance to put his foot through the ball from 18 yards after the ball broke to him off Wasilewski's boot; then Lukaku floated a beautiful cross to pick out Barkley at the far post but rather than attempt to bury it with a first-time header or bring the ball down to shoot, he badly mis-hit a volley from close range.

A Fuchs cross that Ramiro Funes Mori had to head over his own bar aside, Leicester hadn't really been in the contest from an attacking point of view but they were gifted the lead when the Argentine mis-judged a flick-on from a harmless throw-in down the visitors' left, tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick and ended up hauling Okazaki to the ground. Referee Jonathan Moss pointed to the spot and Mahrez did the rest.

Just as they did against Crystal Palace in the last home game, the Toffees hit back and were level within five minutes when Lukaku swept home in typically predatory fashion after Barkley had been foiled first by Kasper Schmeichel's foot and then Andy King on the goal line. Like 12 days ago, however, they weren't able to take the shift in momentum and go on to win the game.

Though they employed a mix of direct mostly fruitless long diagonal balls with passing interchanges through midfield, Everton always looked more threatening when working things down the flank, with a heavy bias to the right side where Deulofeu continued to be thwarted by Leicester bodies getting blocking his cross behind. Coleman, meanwhile, forced Schmeichel to bat a cross-cum-shot over and referee Moss inevitably waved away claims for handball against Fuchs in the Leicester box but as the match moved towards the hour mark, the visitors began to raise the temperature of their own game and it became a more end-to-end affair.

Vardy skidded a shot past the post and, in a cautionary moment for how worryingly open Everton were becoming at the back, Leighton Baines had to scamper across brilliantly to block a shot as the home defence was caught out-numbered as Leicester counter-attacked. But it was the oceans of space in midfield afforded to Mahrez that became all the invitation he needed to advance and then slide a perfectly-weighted ball in behind Stones for Vardy who was then sent sprawling by Howard as he rushed off his line. The Algerian midfielder sent the American 'keeper the wrong way with another calmly-taken penalty.

Under Martinez, the Blues have become accustomed to playing with fire at the back so it wasn't really a surprise when, five minutes later, the otherwise impressive Coleman elected not to take a throw-in down the line but threw it short to Tom Cleverley, leaving the home defence exposed when the Irishman's attempted clearance came off Marc Albrighton's hands and fell straight to Vardy. A couple of touches and a square ball to Okazaki as John Stones battled in vain to recover from his starting position by the corner flag and it was goal number three. There was a strong case for handball against the midfielder with the appallingly bad Moss in charge, Everton have now lost five of their last six so no shock that nothing was given but there could be no excuse for more slack defending and a lack of shape and organisation at the back.

Again slow to make much-needed changes, Martinez was finally forced to act by withdrawing the ineffective Kone and the frustrated Deulofeu, with Lennon and Kevin Mirallas thrown on to see if they could turn the tide. Initially it was Barkley who went close when the ball sat up nicely from 25 yards out but his goal-bound shot was deflected wide and Lukaku hammered a presentable chance over from the angle and then saw a direct free kick shortly afterwards sail disappointingly over.

The Blues' persistence paid off two minutes from the end of the regulation 90, though, when Barkley played Mirallas in with a breathtaking heel flick and the Belgian fired home the goal that could have sparked a frenzied search for the equaliser over the remaining five minutes of play. Unfortunately, while Barkley had one last shot that he despatched too close to Schemichel and was saved, there just werent't enough opportunities and Howard had to make one last save with his leg to deny Leonardo Ulloa at the death.

Just two wins from the last 10 matches and only five from 17 so far this league season tell the unfolding story of another season of under-achievement at Everton. This time there is no World Cup hangover or Europa League to blame and if there have been key injuries to point to, perhaps only that to Phil Jagielka can really be cited as a significant factor in the Blues' recent record.

The England international undoubtedly brings more leadership to the central defence where two young centre-halves continue to perform well enough individually but who aren't cutting it as an effective and watertight partnership and are being punished for any lapses. That is exacerbated by the uncertainty created by Howard who perioidically pulls off good saves still fails to command his area, remains vulnerable to crosses he flapped at one in ludicrous fashion late in the first half and belied all his experience with a rash foul on Vardy for the second goal.

A gruelling run of 10 games against all of last season's top sides is safely in the rear-view mirror but the last seven from a section of the fixture list that was supposed to be a goldmine of points for Martinez's team have yielded just two victories despite performances that arguably merited at least four more. Wins in just two of those would have the Blues sitting nicely in fifth place over Christmas, with the resurgence from last term's slump still in place. Instead, the Blues are drifting in mid-table again, six points off the top four, as many off the bottom four and searching for the winning mentality that Martinez keeps saying is the key objective.

Martinez now needs to ring the changes to a side has been largely unchanged for four matches now but has only delivered three points from the 12 available. It's time that Kone made way and Mirallas was given a chance to win back his place; Deulofeu could probably use a rest to refocus given how inconsistent he has been lately; and Joel Robles should absolutely be handed the gloves in preparation for the all-important League Cup semi-final.

How the Catalan responds during a festive period that was alarming this time last year in what it revealed about the manager and the lack of true depth in the key areas will be instructive in what this Everton side can achieve this season. Three eminently winnable games follow before the first leg of the cup tie against City but the attractiveness on paper of the fixtures has been no guide in recent weeks; there are no more easy games in the top flight any more and if there are, Everton have already had them in the form of Aston Villa and Sunderland at home. It's time to deliver, because in League terms it could be over by the first week of January.

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Reader Comments (11)

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Helen Mallon
1 Posted 21/12/2015 at 07:06:52
Good article, Lyndon. Can I say that until Saturday Kone has been a good foil for Lukaku but he should have been replaced a lot earlier.

We have a good manager with the best young players in the league and a plan. I know some will leave if we don’t make top four but even if we do Lukaku will be off because Everton are not as attractive as PSG or Juventus, that’s how it is. We still have two cup games get behind the manager and team.

Christopher Timmins
2 Posted 21/12/2015 at 07:12:56
Lyndon, the point about Robles getting game time in advance of the semi finals is well made. Those two games are now the most important two games of our season.

Mike Powell
3 Posted 21/12/2015 at 11:53:15
We have a great squad of players but a buffoon of a manager who is ruining them. I am convinced if we had any other Manager in charge with this team, we would be in the top four.

Helen can you please explain why you think Martinez is a good manager? We are 10th in a poor league. When he was at Wigan, they needed to score 4 to win a game; we have to score 3 to get a draw. He as a plan A and, if that's not working, he goes back to... erm... Plan A.

Good article, Lyndon.

Brian Williams
4 Posted 21/12/2015 at 13:13:05
What’s most annoying about the outcome of that game is that it was so so easy to avoid. A daft penalty by Funes Mori, what in my opinion wasn’t a penalty against Howard (well, Vardy played for it and left his foot in there) and a stupid, badly thought-out throw-in which gifted them a goal.

From what I saw they weren’t a huge threat at any time... but... they do what they do and do it very well. Simple, quick, decisive... effective!
Mike Powell
5 Posted 21/12/2015 at 15:08:06
Helen, we have a good Manager? Really? His record is poor. If we had Moyes in charge of this group of players we would be challenging for the top spot.

With Martinez we are nearer the bottom. Good manager, are you sure?
Fran Mitchell
6 Posted 21/12/2015 at 18:30:29
Facts are fact. We don’t win enough games, we can’t defend and it doesn’t appear that any of this will change.

On the plus side, Barkley’s pass/flick to Mirallas, albeit mere consolation, was absolute brilliance.

Is Martinez the problem? He could well be. We play with a naive style, lose concentration and give up stupid goals. That is despite having quality individuals in Stones and Mori. Jags is missed, but even with Jags we were making the same mistakes.

I don’t know who our defensive coaches are, but changes in this area are needed.

Klopp at Liverpool is showing that a simple manager change brings no guarantees, but sometimes we need to be proactive.

The team plays well for 60% of games, and what is most annoying is that we should really be 10 points better off. Maybe a new defensive coaching setup, added to a new keeper could bring improvements.

Harold Matthews
7 Posted 21/12/2015 at 19:52:12
Top class report Lyndon and very interesting views on the present state of our first XI.

It's a tricky one this. Tactics play such a big part when it comes to player selection and we don't know the exact details of what the manager is asking them to do. We know he is obsessed with keeping possession but it all gets a bit hazy once we enter the final third. When to cross, when not to cross. When to pass, when not to pass. When to dribble, when not to dribble. When to shoot, when not to shoot.

Oh yes, there will be rules. This is Martinez. There will be precise rules. In a perfect world he would have eleven robots out there, carrying out his instructions and winning every game. Unfortunately, it's not a perfect world and his robots are not programmed to deal with matters when they are without the ball.

In the real world our defenders require expert coaching. One young chap backs off from the attacker, inviting him to shoot whilst making sure his body is not in line with the shooting foot. Fear of being struck by the ball runs throughout the whole team. Howard, Jags, Funes Mori and Robles being the only squad members who do not turn their backs

Yes Lyndon, there will have to be changes but a tough no-nonsense defensive coach would seem to be the No 1 priority right now. Our boys are defijnitely not being drilled in the proper manner. They are all extremely talented but lack of real defensive know-how is continually catching them out. Let's get it sorted. Pronto.

Michael Penn
8 Posted 21/12/2015 at 20:31:24
The statistics are giving a pretty clear picture of the problem. Total goals scored this season: 3rd highest in the league (31 goals). Total goals conceded: 6th worst (24 goals).

We have missed Jagielka more than I think many of us expected (more than Baines was missed). But as Lyndon says, a major factor in our defensive fragility is due to the continued deterioration of Howard’s abilities. A team which fields a goalkeeper that is unwilling or unable to catch the ball is not one that will realistically keep clean sheets or finish in the European spots.

Robles is an okay backup but I don’t think anyone feels super confident with him in goal either. In my opinion top priority should be given to getting a new goalkeeper and a no-nonsense CB. The (new) rumours about getting Yarmolenko are all well and good, but I think we already have the creativity up front. The best Xmas present we could get would be Tony Pulis being appointed defensive coach...
Phil Walling
9 Posted 21/12/2015 at 20:55:38
I heard only a biased commentary on the OS followed by brief snatches of the goals on MotD so I am hardly qualified to comment on the game. But picking up on Lyndon's headline I got the impression that Leicester's 'double-act' performed better than ours.

I think it fair to say that the Vardey - Mahrez duo are a mite more gifted than Lukaku - Deulofeu if only because they are less predictable. Or was it that they were more prepared for the task in hand than our lads? Roberto seemed to imply as such in his 'THEY knew exactly what they were doing... WE need to become a bit more experienced' comment. (My emphasis).

Of course, THEY may not be anywhere near the 'shake-up' next May but what little old Leicester have done this season is to show that if you have a couple of whiz kids on fire and the rest of the team are well drilled, reputation counts for nothing and you can ruffle the feathers of the 'millionairos' to the extent that all those 'elite' managers come under fire.

That the Foxes will top the table at Christmas must finally remove the 'knife to a gunfight' mentality that should have departed with the last manager but still lingers in the excuses of far too many Evertonians.

Charles Barrow
10 Posted 22/12/2015 at 13:16:54
Like many posting here I was at the game. MotD was a criminal misrepresentation of the game. They made out Leicester bossed the game and Vardey etc were sensational. What a load of bollocks!

We lost it – they didn’t win it. They were well organised and slightly above average. We let them win with three stupid defensive mistakes or at the very least two eminently silly goals to give away – the Funes Mori penalty when he could have booted it out and the last goal. The Howard howler was at least a good play from Leicester.

Frustrated like everyone else – we should be up there with Leicester. Let’s cut out the mistakes and then we’ll fly up the table.

Tom Bowers
11 Posted 22/12/2015 at 23:11:24
Some changes are needed as we all agree. Points are being dropped like crazy and surely RM has to make a move. Kone appears to have lost that early form and one or two others are making bad, costly mistakes.

I agree, Robles should be recalled as well as Besic, along with Mirallas just for starters. I would like to see Jags back to hopefully steady the ship as the two centre-backs don’t seem to be on the same page both having similar styles.

Barry and Cleverley both get leg weary and the absence of McCarthy has contributed to recent results.

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