Everton keep their dream of Europe alive as Leicester fail to impress again
For Carlo Ancelotti the “dream” of Europa League football is gathering pace at Everton. For Brendan Rodgers, so too is the despairing prospect of Leicester finding themselves in the same competition.
You would have been offered long odds on that prior to lockDavid down. It is a reflection of the standards against which Rodgers has ensured his team are judged that anything but the Champions League will seem a disappointment.
He was honest enough to admit his side are not playing well enough to preserve their position and need a “mental reset”.
The coach was comforted by Leicester’s second-half performance, which would have earned more had any of a series of opportunities been taken. That did not disguise his distress at a slow start that made such a reaction necessary, and the self-harm that put the visitors two down after 15 minutes. Wilfred Ndidi will need to be creative to explain why he handled in the penalty area to donate a second goal to Everton.
Once Leicester played with pace and purpose, aided by the introduction of James Maddison, they looked capable of creating at will. Too late, Rodgers acknowledged.
“Too many times I have to deliver a half-time talk to get a reaction,” he said. “If you want to consistently compete at the top of the table it is about mindset. We have to have a reset mentally if we are to achieve what we want to achieve. If we finish outside the top four, we’ve not been good enough.”
It was as if Rodgers asked his players at half-time if they really wanted Champions League football. For 45 minutes it did not show. The same could not be said after the interval, Kelechi Iheanacho setting up a thrilling second half with a fortuitous goal as Mason Holgate’s clearance struck the striker’s chest.
Only Michael Keane’s goal-line clearance prevented a scruffy equaliser, sparing the defender and Jordan Pickford’s embarrassment after what was almost a calamitous misjudgment in the six-yard area.
Ancelotti will justifiably argue his team’s application was worth the three points that take his side within a win of a European qualifying position. “It continues the dream,” the Italian said.
What a turnaround, given Everton were in the bottom three when Marco Silva was sacked in December. Ancelotti’s side are more robust, his options strengthened by Anthony Gordon’s emergence.
His cross for Richarlison gave Everton a 10th-minute lead and Dominic Calvert-Lewin should have given Gordon his second assist of the first half, a gorgeous firsttime pass sending the striker in a foot race with the Leicester defence that required a late intervention from Caglar Soyuncu. That would have put Everton three-up long before Leicester’s response after Gylfi Sigurdsson eased in the penalty. Ndidi was adjudged to have handled after a long Var adjudication. “A harsh decision,” Rodgers said.
Ice cool: Everton’s Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson calmly nets from the penalty spot