A game that saw numerous goalscoring chances, plenty of saves by both goalies, three disallowed ‘goals’ and the woodwork rattled was finally settled by a late strike from Leeds Brazilian forward Rafinha.
Another huge game for the Boys in Royal Blue as teatime Saturday heralded the arrival of Leeds United to the Grand Old Lady but, a very different kind of Leeds to those of yesteryear. Long, long gone are the days of the dour, dossier toting Don Revie, the talented but ‘dirty Leeds,’ now replaced by a more vibrant, almost entirely attack-minded side coached by Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa.
Fresh from victory over Fulham last weekend, Everton were dealt a hammer blow on Thursday as influential left back Lucas Digne was ruled out for possibly three months having sustained an ankle ligament injury that needed surgery. And with skipper Seamus Coleman still unavailable, no first pick fullback on either flank saw many expecting a back three with whoever Carlo Ancelotti selected to replace Coleman and Digne to play as wing backs in five-man midfield behind the strikers.
Speaking on Friday, Ancelotti commented, “It is a big loss, because Lucas is a fantastic left-back, one of the best in Europe. It is a loss, but we have to manage this. Unfortunately, during the season it can happen, you can lose some important players. I think we will be able to adapt to the loss of Lucas for two or three months.”
He expanded further adding, “Seamus is doing his individual rehab and he will not be available for the Leeds game. But we have good substitutes in that position [full-back]. We have Niels Nkounkou, who doesn’t have experience in the Premier League, but he has shown good quality in the games he has played. We have Jonjoe on the right. He recovered from his injury, which was not an easy injury. He is not at 100 per cent but is available to play. I think he is not at his best [physically] in this moment because we was out for three weeks. But now he is training with the team and soon he will be at 100 per cent.”
Looking ahead to the game, our Italian maestro added, “We have to be concerned because we conceded too many goals from my point of view. We scored a lot of goals and were efficient and our strikers did really well. But we conceded too much and have to avoid this. We need to have balance. It will be an open match, I think, with a lot of intensity. All Marcelo Bielsa teams keep high intensity with and without the ball and we expect this kind of game.”
After much deliberation, Carlo selected this starting eleven: Pickford, Godfrey, Keane, Holgate (c), Davies, Doucoure, Allan, Iwobi, Rodriguez, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
Leeds have made an impressive return to the Premier League winning many plaudits for their open attacking style of play under Bielsa but despite dominating Arsenal last time out, they’ve only won one of their last six games in the top flight.
As well as being an attacking side under Bielsa, Leeds have been solid and miserly at the back with 41 clean sheets in the 101 league games under his leadership. In Patrick Bamford, they have a striker – like Dominic Calvert-Lewin – in outstanding form, and were he to net at Goodison, he would equal the record of Thierry Henry in scoring in his sides first five away games.
Bielsa joined other managers this season in talking highly of his opposite number when he said in his pre-match press gathering, “I have respect and admiration for Ancelotti. First of all, he’s been wanted by all the best teams in the world. He has been chosen by some of the most powerful institutions in football which shows how good he is. The second thing is that he has triumphed everywhere he has been and the third thing is that he is a manager who is well respected by the players as well as his other colleagues. The last thing is that he’s never been criticised on his way of playing, it’s always an unselfish one and it is always valuable. To have all of this in one manager is not very frequent.”
The Argentine had no injury concerns ahead of crossing the Pennines and duly named the same starting line-up that drew 0-0 with Arsenal: Meslier, Ayling, Koch, Cooper (c), Alioski, Phillips, Raphinha, Klich, Dallas, Harrison and Bamford.
On a cool, damp evening, our referee was Chris Kavanagh.
Ahead of kick-off, Everton and Leeds paid tribute to the passing of Diego Maradona with a minutes applause, Carlo Ancelotti clearly emotionally moved as he applauded from the touchline.
Leeds in maroon kicked off attacking the Gwladys Street End and Raphinha caused a very early problem, Ben Godfrey getting back to clear the first hint of danger. It was a busy start by the visitors with the offside Bamford shooting narrowly wide after Raphinha pounced on a loose ball to find him on the edge of the Everton area. The Blues hit back with an excellent chance as DCL found Davies in space behind the Leeds left back and his cross was met by Doucoure, Meslier denying him with a strong hand low to his right to push the ball away.
An error from Holgate gave Leeds the chance to break and a great ball from Raphinha found Harrison but under pressure from the oncoming Pickford, he pushed his shot wide when a goal looked a certainty. A good break by Allan ran out of impetus as he gained the edge of the Leeds area, his short pass finding Richarlison only for his shot to be of no strength to worry Meslier.
A quarter of an hour gone and Leeds had looked the sharper side as Everton tried to get used to playing the back three formation with Iwobi and Davies as the wing backs in midfield.
The legs of Jordan Pickford came to the Blues rescue as Leeds moved the ball quickly down their left flank, the ball falling to Bamford who really should have done better with his shot from eight yards. Everton were denied an opening goal in the 24th minute as a lofted cross from Richarlison found Rodriguez and he jinked passed the defender to net from a narrow angle, only for the flag for offside to be raised.
Ayling was booked for pulling back on Richarlison as the Brazilian span and tried to get away, the free kick sent in by Rodriguez saw Keane get to it but, send his header over the bar. Leeds though were dictating the game and it needed a good save from Pickford from a Raphinha header and Godfrey clearing off his line from a Harrison shot at the expense of a corner to keep the score still at nil-nil.
Alioski was lucky not to be booked for a poor challenge on Rodriguez on the half hour mark and as Leeds again got forward in numbers, it needed more defending by Holgate and Keane to keep them at bay.
Some excellent work from Rodriguez led to him being fouled 35 yards out, he took the free kick to find Holgate arriving at the back post to force Meslier into another sharp save. VAR looked at a potential handball against Alex Iwobi, thankfully common sense prevailed as he had no chance as the ball bounced up from very close range.
Davies getting forward found DCL and his lay off to Richarlison saw Meslier go full length to his left to push the ball behind for a corner. And from the set piece, the ball was swung in for Richarlison to head home only for Ben Godfrey to be (rightly) adjudged offside, the Blues second disallowed goal of the half.
Allan bursting forward fed Richarlison, his low shot gathered by Meslier and on the response Harrison climbed to reach a long cross from the left only to see his header beat Pickford and come back off the crossbar.
Two added minutes were signalled and when a shot from Ayling came back off Keane to Klich, he pushed his first time effort wide from the edge of the area to end an entertaining half of football that somehow ended goalless.
Half Time: 0-0
No changes by either manager for the start of the second half which, again saw Leeds brightly before a long ball from Pickford sent DCL away for a shot that Meslier turned away for a corner. End to end stuff saw Bamford again have a short range effort blocked and cleared for DCL to get away on the left this time and send a shot beyond both the goalie and the far post.
Another flowing Leeds move came to nothing as Klich rushed his shot to send it ballooning high and wide. A poor ball from Keane was picked off and played forward for Bamford, his first time effort was well off target but again, a warning sign for Everton to heed. Meslier with a poor clearance saw Rodriguez try and audacious chip, the French goalie getting back just in time to catch the ball and hold it in play.
A decent Everton move begin by Iwobi and involving Davies and Rodriguez saw the ball end up at the feet of Richarlison only for his weak shot to be easily gathered by Meslier. Pickford, being watch by England manager Gareth Southgate gathered a low shot from Harrison on a lay off from Bamford, Everton countering with a surging run from Allan and a shot that hit the side netting.
Fabian Delph was the first Everton change, joining the action on the hour mark replacing Tom Davies on the left side.
Good work by Phillips and then Raphinha caused more concern at the back for Everton, the latter turning well only to push a side foot shot wide of the target. Bamford had the ball in the Everton net but, the flag was correctly raised against Alioski for a combination of the ball having gone behind anf him being offside before he played the cross.
A second Blues change on 66 minutes saw Andre Gomes replace Alex Iwobi. Considering neither Tom Davies nor Alex Iwobi are anything like natural wing backs, they hadn’t let themselves or the side down against a hard running and energetic Leeds outfit.
An Everton attack started by DCL to find Doucoure ended with Rodriguez testing Meslier from twenty yards, the Leeds keeping spilling the shot but recovering in time to foil DCL on the follow-up. A loose ball from Dallas was picked off by Allan to again burst forward before sending his shot wide of the target.
Reaching the final quarter of an hour, this entertaining game was still poised on a knife edge, both sides committed to attacking but struggling to find that all-important killer touch in front of goal.
A great flick-on from DCL on a long ball from Pickford found Rodriguez and his instant ball for Richarlison saw the Brazilian snatch at his shot and it sailed harmlessly into the Street End seats. Gomes with a teasing cross into the Leeds area saw Cooper clear in a hurry.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 79th minute as Leeds got the ball to Raphinha and he delayed before firing a low shot beyond the full stretched Pickford to give the visitors the lead.
Needing something inspirational now, Everton made their final change replacing captain for the day Mason Holgate with Bernard for the final nine minutes.
Leeds withdrew scorer Raphinha with five minutes to go in the ninety, Poveda his replacement. It was all or nothing time now for Everton but it was Leeds who nearly doubled their lead, Alioski shooting wide from an offside position as Everton were slow to get back, and Costa replacing Harrison who limped off on 89 minutes.
Three added minutes were signalled as Leeds sent Rodrigo on for Bamford. Allan picked up yet another yellow card for protesting too strongly having conceded a free kick. Pickford performed heroics to deny Costa from making it two-nil at the back post.
At the final whistle and if we’re honest, Leeds deserved their victory for deploying their players with seemingly boundless energy and a gameplan they were clearly able and happy to work to.