Romelu Lukaku revives Everton as Leicester City lose way in a thriller

Andy Hunter at Goodison Park
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring Everton’s fourth goal in their topsy-turvy game against Leicester City at Goodison Park.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Rachel Holborn/CameraSport via Getty Images</span>
Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring Everton’s fourth goal in their topsy-turvy game against Leicester City at Goodison Park. Photograph: Rachel Holborn/CameraSport via Getty Images

The winning run is over for Craig Shakespeare but he will not dwell on a first defeat in charge of Leicester City, only the lessons. The interim manager was unable to equal Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti in winning his first six Premier League matches as Everton won a seventh home game in succession. Emulating the duo’s achievements in the Champions League would be ample compensation.

Leicester may have lost an important Premier League game and momentum in the lead-up to the Champions League quarter‑final first leg at Atlético Madrid on Wednesday but there was little evidence at Goodison of a side losing their way. Shakespeare rang the changes ahead of the club’s historic date in the Spanish capital but the team’s focus and counterattacking strategy remained steadfast throughout an absorbing game. There will be concern at the champions’ defending without Wes Morgan, who Shakespeare confirmed will miss the first leg with an ongoing back problem, and the lapses in concentration from his replacement Yohan Benalouane. But better to be exposed and learn at Goodison instead of the Calderón.

“I don’t think we will lose momentum because of this,” Shakespeare said. “Footballers are resilient and these players are resilient. I told them afterwards that we have been on a really good run and now we have to go on another. We came up against a potent threat in Everton. They have some very good players but two set plays was the most disappointing thing. They have won the game on that.”

Commitment to attack, defensive inexperience, errors and a sprinkling of quality made for a richly entertaining contest in which Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley responded impressively to the criticism their performances at Anfield last weekend had invited. Lukaku struck his 22nd and 23rd league goals of the season while Barkley delivered a decisive moment of class.

“We speak a lot about Romelu and Ross because they are really important players who can make the difference between Everton and the opponent as they did today,” said Ronald Koeman, who reiterated his stance on the pair’s respective contract situations. “They are different – Rom has two years and Ross has one year remaining. We have offered Ross a new contract and so there are two possibilities. One is to sign the contract and if he doesn’t sign we need to sell the player. It’s simple.”

It was another homegrown midfielder, Tom Davies, who set the tone for a first half where the lead changed hands three times by scoring the quickest Premier League goal of the season on 29 seconds. Kevin Mirallas surged beyond Daniel Amartey and Benalouane before being pulled down by Danny Simpson’s replacement at right‑back. The referee, Robert Madley, played an intelligent advantage as Davies took over, shifted the ball on to his left foot and beat Kasper Schmeichel at the near post. Madley’s role was not overlooked by Morgan Schneiderlin, who congratulated the match official during Everton’s celebrations. They did not last long.

Leicester’s changes included bench duties for Riyad Mahrez and Simpson plus a day off for Christian Fuchs, Shinji Okazaki and Wilfred Ndidi but their potency on the counterattack remained. Only four minutes had elapsed when the impressive Demarai Gray surged upfield. A more seasoned right-back than Mason Holgate would have taken a yellow card for the team by tripping Gray but he ran through to release Islam Slimani on the right. The unmarked striker finished expertly under Joel Robles.

Koeman was down to the bare bones defensively with Séamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori out with long-term injuries and Ashley Williams suspended, and inexperience cost Everton again when Leicester took the lead through Marc Albrighton. Matthew Pennington conceded a cheap free‑kick having turned into Jamie Vardy and trouble when a first‑time clearance was required. Albrighton curled his delivery from the left over the unreliable Robles and into the top right‑hand corner.

Holgate and Pennington overcame their early jitters to provide valuable contributions to a home display that was elevated by the craft and industry of Lukaku and Barkley plus the fit-again Schneiderlin. “Morgan played a really clever role in front of the centre-halves,” said Koeman.

Goodison was treated to a fourth goal with 23 minutes on the clock as Everton levelled in style. The central midfield trio of Schneiderlin, Davies and Idrissa Gana Gueye worked the ball out to Barkley on the right, who whipped a glorious cross behind Leicester’s defence for Lukaku to head home. It was a sixth assist of the calender year for Barkley and the eighth consecutive game in which Lukaku had scored at Goodison – the first time an Everton striker has accomplished the feat since Fred Pickering in 1965.

Barkley looked certain to restore Everton’s lead when put through on goal by Davies’s challenge on Vardy. The midfielder rounded Schmeichel and struck for goal, only for the Leicester keeper to get the slightest touch on the shot and steer it wide. Barkley looked on in disbelief but, from the resulting corner by Mirallas the captain, Phil Jagielka, climbed highest and headed his second goal of the week into Schmeichel’s top corner. Another Mirallas corner, another Jagielka touch and more weak defending at a set-piece enabled Lukaku to lash home Everton’s fourth in the second half.

The Leicester substitutes Mahrez and Leonardo Ulloa twice combined to threaten late on but Gueye and Robles respectively blocked the striker’s headers to ensure their winning sequence was ended. On to Madrid.

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