Everton kept up their post-restart push for a place in next season’s Europa League with an impressive victory over Leicester at Goodison Park.
The Blues are unbeaten since the Premier League began again two weeks ago, with a second successive win coming courtesy of two goals in quick succession in the game’s first quarter.
Richarlison struck from close range before Gylfi Sigurdsson scored a debatable penalty, awarded following a lengthy VAR review for handball against Wilfred Ndidi.
Leicester rallied at the start of the second half and pulled a somewhat fortuitous goal back when Mason Holgate’s attempted clearance flew into the net off the face of substitute Kelechi Iheanacho.
But they were unable to make the most of the larger share of possession and chances to gain parity.
It is another blow for the Foxes, who exited the FA Cup at the hands of Chelsea at the weekend and now face a real test to hang on to their top-four spot in the table.
Two points from their past three games has opened the door to Manchester United and Wolves, both of whom are only three points behind Leicester and in much better form.
Everton, though, are looking up the table, with this win leaving them one point behind eighth-place Tottenham – a position that could be good enough to secure a European spot for next season.
Richarlison limped from the field in the second half following a challenge by Ndidi, although manager Carlo Ancelotti eased fears after the game by stating the Brazilian should be fit to face Tottenham in five days time.
Ancelotti continues to make his mark
Everton came into the game off the back of a seven-day rest from action – a rarity in this post-lockdown rush to conclude the 2019-20 season.
It enabled Ancelotti to make only minor tweaks to a side that had initially struggled in a 1-0 win at Norwich in their previous game.
Sigurdsson, who came on to contribute to an improved second-half display at Carrow Road, was restored to the team, as was fellow midfielder Anthony Gordon for his second Premier League start.
The pair both contributed to Everton’s first-half onslaught, which brought the two goals that won them the match.
Gordon’s whipped cross from the left laid Richarlison’s 11th goal of the season on a plate, while Sigurdsson demonstrated calmness to slot away the spot-kick soon after.
The Iceland international had to wait to dispatch it, with the video official needing numerous replays to decide if the ball had struck Ndidi’s outstretched arm during his aerial challenge with Michael Keane.
Everton could be forgiven for being shocked at the award of the penalty – it was their first in 38 league games, and the first they have scored at Goodison since Wayne Rooney against Swansea in December 2017.
They were forced to dig deep for the win, though, especially after the double blow of conceding and losing Richarlison to injury.
Everton gave away 65% of possession and numerous chances to Leicester, and almost gifted them an equaliser through a mix-up between Keane and keeper Jordan Pickford before the defender hacked the ball off the line.
Leicester’s top-four grip loosens further
Unlike their opponents, Leicester’s involvement in the FA Cup meant they had only two days after the FA Cup quarter-final defeat to recuperate and refocus on the league task at hand.
That involves securing a Champions League spot to reward what has been a season of significant progress under manager Brendan Rodgers.
But that is looking a lot less certain than it did before sport was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is not just that Leicester have dropped points; it is that they look so bereft of creativity and threat for long periods, especially before the break, when a Jonny Evans’ effort from close range that was saved by Pickford was the best opportunity they fashioned.
The absence of James Maddison, who sat out the cup defeat, did not help in the first half, but his introduction for the second – along with Iheanacho – at least gave them some impetus.
They moved the ball quicker, pressed better and had more players on the pitch who could damage the home side, even if this was only by sticking their head in where it hurts as Iheanacho did to reduce the deficit.
Jamie Vardy was involved in the build-up to the goal but he was otherwise given very little to work with as he went in pursuit of a 100th Premier League goal.
Leicester’s race is far from run, though, with this unorthodox, condensed end to the season meaning the chance to rectify matters is only ever a few days away.
Man of the match – Michael Keane (Everton)
‘The dream of the Europa League is very important to Everton’
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti told BBC Sport:“We started well, got in front and had control. But second half was totally different,” “Leicester changed shape, put more pressure on us and we had difficulties.
“We didn’t play well but we were focused defensively.
“The team are showing a good spirit and motivation. The dream of the Europa League is very important for us and for this reason we are going to fight. There are a lot of teams fighting for the Europa League and it will be an exciting run.”
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers:“We’re disappointed with the start, it’s something that has crept back into the game. We gave away a soft goal, but I thought the penalty was harsh.
“I assume the responsibility for the results. That’s what I’m here to do.
“We’re in a strong position. We still have it within our hands to achieve what would be a dream for us. Since we’ve come back we’ve not got the performance right. The second half was better. We need to win on Saturday.”
On Everton’s penalty:“I think it was so harsh. We’ve had so many of those that we haven’t had this year. It was difficult to go behind with that. It wasn’t clear and obvious.”
Everton making Goodison a fortress
- Everton are unbeaten in their past nine league games at Goodison Park (W5 D4), their longest run without defeat there since April-December 2016 (11 games).
- Leicester have failed to win any of their past five away league games (D2 L3), after winning six of their past seven away matches before that.
- Six of Everton’s seven league wins under Carlo Ancelotti have been by a one-goal margin, including both since the competition restarted last month.
- Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers suffered his first defeat against Everton in the Premier League since March 2012 (Everton 2-0 Swansea), having been unbeaten in eight games against them before this match.
- Since the start of last season, Neymar (28) is the only Brazilian player with more goals than Everton’s Richarlison (24) in the top five European leagues.
- Everton had gone 38 league games without a penalty, their joint-longest run in the competition (also in 2008).
- Since making his Premier League debut in August 2015, Kelechi Iheanacho has scored eight goals as a substitute. Only Olivier Giroud (16) has more in that time frame.
- Leicester striker Jamie Vardy is goalless in his past four away league games – his longest run since seven barren matches from September to December in 2017.