This weekend’s game of the week came at Goodison Park where two attacking sides exchanged blows during a high-tempo opening quarter. Ronald Koeman saw a disciplined display by his young side towards the latter stages of a match which delivered a valuable three-points.
Leicester City, meanwhile, went into this match with less pressure following the five consecutive league wins that pulled them away from the relegation zone.
Everton welcomed back January signing, Morgan Schneiderlin, following his two-game injury lay-off, which allowed Tom Davies to form a midfield three along with Idrissa Gueye.
The Toffees were, however, without the suspended Ashley Williams after his red card during the draw at Old Trafford last Tuesday.
As a result, Matthew Pennington partnered Phil Jagielka in defence as the hosts set-up in a 4-3-2-1 formation.
Craig Shakespeare clearly had the Champions League on his mind as he replaced half of his starting outfield players from the midweek win over Sunderland. Danny Simpson, Christian Fuchs, Wilfred Ndidi, Riyad Mahrez and Shinji Okazaki were all rested ahead of their trip to the Spanish capital for their quarter-final tie against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.
With only 30 seconds played, Davies scored his second Premier League goal to give Everton a very early lead. It was the joint-fastest goal of the season, assisted by Kevin Mirallas’ impressive run.
The Belgian capitalised on Leicester’s lapse in concentration as versatile Daniel Amartey was pulled way out of position. Referee, Robert Madley, played advantage as Davies beat Kasper Schmeichel at his near-post.
But Leicester were level just a few minutes later as Islam Slimani slotted his shot between Joel Robels’ legs following Demarai Gray’s quick counter.
It was all triggered by a turnover of possession in their defensive third with Leighton Baines caught up field in support. Holding midfielder, Schneiderlin, jumped into a tackle on Gray which allowed the former Birmingham winger to attack Everton’s backline at pace with Jamie Vardy and Slimani in support.
The visitors completed the turnaround by the 10-minute mark as Marc Albrighton whipped a cross-come-shot into the far top corner. There were question marks again over Robles who misjudged the flight of the set-piece as he stepped forwards expecting a cross into the crowded penalty area.
A quarter of the game in and the hosts equalised through star striker, Romelu Lukaku. Ross Barkley drifted out to the right-wing and produced a cross of real quality which Lukaku gratefully headed home.
Both players involved in the goal were criticised following their performances in the Merseyside Derby last week. Lukaku also received an ear-bashing from Williams as he failed to retain possession or exploit decent openings that would have doubled Everton’s advantage against Man Utd.
Barkley, meanwhile, produced a man of the match performance that saw him rank second for take-ons (four), attacking third passes (23/28) and overall pass completion (89.2%), which was marginally bettered by Gueye’s 89.6%.
Leicester on set-pieces
Five-minutes before half-time saw Everton turn the game on its head. Jagielka met Mirallas’ corner and headed beyond Schmeichel from close-range as Yohan Benalouane failed miserably in marking the scorer.
This was the third time this season a Premier League match had five goals in the first-half, each one finishing 4-2 (Crystal Palace v Liverpool, Hull v Middlesbrough and Everton v Leicester).
With over half an hour remaining, Jagielka again was first to a Mirallas corner which Lukaku eventually swept into the corner. The former Chelsea forward’s brace means he’s now four clear of Harry Kane in the league’s scoring charts and one ahead of Middlesbrough’s season total.
But Shakespeare will be particularly concerned with Leicester’s defending from corners, especially as they’ll be up against an Atletico side who thrive on set-pieces.
However, despite scoring from three of their 14 attempted crosses during the entire game, Everton only put the ball into the box on two occasions in the second-half.
Unsurprisingly, the decision to sack Claudio Ranieri – who had led Leicester to a miraculous title win last season – raised a number of sentimental eyebrows. But the Thai owners’ difficult decision has been vindicated as Leicester and Shakespeare have earned 15 from a possible 18-points.
Below are two tables comparing the last six league games of Ranieri’s tenure with the first six of Shakespeare’s:
As you can see, there’s been a marked improvement in the average number of goals per game since the change in late-February, and that’s been helped by a 50% increase in shots per game.
The number of goals conceded has nearly halved despite a very similar amount of shots against per game, which brings into question the quality of those opportunities since Shakespeare took charge.
Two other areas of difference are the number of successful tackles and ball possession. Ranieri’s last half-a-dozen matches saw Leicester have 5% less of the ball and succeed with five fewer tackles compared to their most recent league fixtures.
Granted, the fixtures themselves would have an influence on the above stats, e.g. Man Utd and Chelsea at home for Ranieri would naturally result in far less possession. But there were signs that Leicester’s struggles were due to a combination of new personnel, a slightly altered approach as opponents became familiar with their previous tactics, and additional fixtures.
The table below shows Leicester’s rediscovered form has them much closer to last season’s averages:
One player who has appeared to benefit from the managerial change is Vardy. Leicester’s top scorer has unearthed his ruthless streak to quash any thoughts that he’s a one-season-wonder. The England international has achieved an impressive five goals and three assists in his last six league appearances, which is the exact same stats he managed during his first 22 appearances under Ranieri.
Leicester will be hoping to dust themselves down having won the previous six matches under Shakespeare, but there are clear areas for improvement before what is one of the biggest games in the club’s history. Their aim should be to at least remain in that tie after the first-leg, much like they did at Sevilla in the previous round.
Koeman, meanwhile, needed this win having seen his side perform poorly at Anfield and then miss out on a great win in the dying moments against Man Utd. That probably explains the reduced attacking ambition (one shot and one cross) once his side got that two-goal cushion.
Coupled with West Brom’s home defeat to Southampton, seventh appears all but sealed and the Toffees can now look forwards as they try to catch Man Utd and Arsenal.
Given the resources available, being the best of the rest outside of the top six will be an achievement in Koeman’s first season. The Dutchman will hope to maintain that momentum into the summer transfer market and following season as question marks remain over the futures of Barkley and Lukaku.
EPL Results (Gameweek 32):
Tottenham 4-0 Watford
Man City 3-1 Hull
Middlesbrough 0-0 Burnley
Stoke 1-2 Liverpool
West Brom 0-1 Southampton
West Ham 1-0 Swansea
Bournemouth 1-3 Chelsea
Sunderland 0-3 Man Utd
Everton 4-2 Leicester
Crystal Palace 3-0 Arsenal