A superb game of Premier League football full of ace and endeavour saw the Blues record just their sixth victory at Elland Road coutesy of first half strikes from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin and some find goalkeeping from Robin Olsen.
After taking just one point from two home games against Leicester and Newcastle, Everton went into two tough away games starting at Elland Road against Leeds, another side looking to complete a league double over Carlo Ancelotti and his boys in Royal Blue.
Elland Road has been far from a happy hunting ground for Everton as in 58 all-time visits, we’ve recorded just five victories, and as one of those was a Division 2 game in 1951 and another the 1985 FA Cup tie, just three wins there in the top flight is an awful statistic and a record that needs some serious addressing!!
And the name of our leading goalscorer at Elland Road won’t surprise anyone – one William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean and even the greatest ever only bagged three there.
Leeds have been mercurial this season both winning and losing when they weren’t expected to, their 3-1 win away at Leicester last time out being a prime example of how capable they can be of causing upsets in their first season back in the ‘big time’.
Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa is massively popular with the Leeds fans for his down-to-earth, man of the people approach to being manager, often being spotted shopping in his club track suit and shunning the pitchside dugout to sit on an upturned bucket with a cup of coffee to hand. Ahead of this clash and looking for a third straight win, Bielsa updated the media on his squad situation saying, “Rodrigo is having a scan at the moment to evaluate his condition, he had an action where both of his feet were very wide apart, and potentially that excessive stretch could have caused a muscular injury. Two days prior to a game you can’t be sure that any player will be available for the game. The only thing to add is that the problem Rodrigo has to overcome to be available on Wednesday is bigger. The problems that Raphinha and Patrick Bamford have to overcome, are more simple.”
Raphinha was the match winner when the two sides met at Goodison back in November and when asked for his thoughts on what he expects from Carlo Ancelotti’s side this time he commented, “In the last two games they had segments and periods of the games, they’ve shown why they have been protagonists in the league this year. They’re a team with very big players, very good players and good behaviour. Whilst they suffer the problems that we all suffer, sometimes they’ve had absences of players. As I stated, I think they are one of the protagonists in the league and the way they play is very creative and very good.”
Looking to prevent Everton being creative and very good, Bielsa selected his starting eleven thus: Meslier, Ayling, Struijk, Cooper (c), Alioski, Phillips, Raphinha, Klich, Dallas, Harrison and Bamford.
Very much needing a reaction from his players after the dismal, lack-lustre showing against Newcastle, a performance even Carlo Ancelotti called ‘lazy’, the boss spoke on Monday saying, “The team has to switch on its mental attitude. We are used to showing this. We showed this against Leicester just three days before [the Newcastle match]. In all the games we won, the spirit was good. Against Newcastle, no. In that aspect they were much better than us. I was disappointed and frustrated because we lost an opportunity to go up the table. The good run we had was not just because of our quality. Of course, we have quality, but without spirit, you are not able to show this.”
Having been far from their best against Newcastle, Ancelotti was grateful that the congested fixture schedule gave his players a quick chance to redeem themselves when he remarked, “It is a good opportunity to be back playing soon. It will be a difficult game against Leeds. But all the games are unpredictable. With our supporters, I don’t think we could have lost these games at home, and maybe we couldn’t have won all these games away with the opposition fans,” he added before musing, “But this is football now and it is good for us we have an opportunity on Wednesday [to win again].”
With the club busy concluding a number of late deadline day loan deals for Jonjoe Kenny, Cenk Tosun and Anthony Gordon, The Don was down to his core players and from them named his starting line-up: Olsen, Holgate, Mina, Godfrey, Digne, Doucoure, Gomes, Iwobi, Sigurdsson (c), Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
Entrusted with keeping order, our referee was Michael Oliver.
A quick throw-in caught Digne napping and Godfrey was called upon to block a Raphinha shot out for a first minute corner that was poor by the home side, the Blues calming things down to quell the early rushes by Leeds and build from the back themselves in the ensuing minutes before a superb pass from Gomes found Digne wide on the left flank and his equally superb cross was superbly met by Gylfi Sigurdsson getting between Cooper and Phillips to side foot the Blues into a ninth minute lead.
DCL fired a low shot that Meslier dealt with while at the other end, Olsen took not chances with a shot from Klich, turning it behind for a corner that saw Mina head behind for a third. Meslier held a deep cross from the right aimed at Mina as the opening quarter hour saw play entertainingly switch from end to end. Iwobi won a free kick from Harrison that saw the Leeds player booked and the free kick saw Sigurdsson’s set piece played too strongly.
Ayling with a cross from the right found the head of Bamford but his header was well over the bar and no trouble for Robin Olsen in the Blues goal. Leeds won a fourth corner as Digne took the ball off the toes of Bamford, Rafinha firing it in at pace and Alioski saw his first time volley cannon back off the post, Olsen claiming the follow-up effort comfortably. Leeds were pushing hard and Godfrey did well defensively clearing twice in quick succession to deny the home side.
The pace of the game was considerably greater than the Newcastle game, both sides working hard, Doucoure and then Iwobi working hard and Mina looking to find DCL saw his ball played too strong for the Blues number nine. Olsen tipped a header from Struijk, on a cross from Phillips, over the bar for another corner and Iwobi put that behind for sixth that Everton defended well.
Richarlison slipped when intercepting a loose ball from Cooper, Leeds got forward and Doucoure cleared the Everton area well, Godfrey breaking up the next Leeds raid to go on the attack, find Iwobi and his cross couldn’t find DCL and the ball coming out to Sigurdsson for a shot well handled by Meslier. The pace was relentless and the first half hour had absolutely flown by.
A flowing move started by Doucoure saw Gomes take over and move the ball quickly on to Richarlison to cross for Sigurdsson only for the offside flag to be raised against the Brazilian. Doucoure looked to find DCL with a reverse pass, Leeds prevented him getting on the end of it to break away and Godfrey shut the door on the raid. A long free kick from Olsen nearly got through to Iwobi but play was halted for a foul by DCL. Excellent harrying from Iwobi won the ball and he threaded a great ball through to DCL and with Richarlison to his left, DCL took the shot on and pushed it well wide of the target.
Gomes, Iwobi and Doucoure were working well together and another move involving all three ended with Holgate cross being easy for Meslier. DCL won a corner off Struijk that Sigurdsson took to swing in, the flick on header at the near post from Ben Godfrey finding Dominic Calvert-Lewin arriving at the back post to head home from close range to double the lead four minutes before the interval.
Olsen took a high ball into his penalty area as Leeds tried to hit back quickly, the Swede exuding an air of calm confidence to boost the players who were working so hard in front of him. A lovely swivel and turn from Sigurdsson won a free kick that Leeds cleared at the second attempt and two added minutes were signalled at the end of a breathless first half.
Half Time: 0-2
No changes by either manager for the second half and Leeds hit back inside three minutes as Mina and Holgate failed to clear a bouncing ball and Bamford got it to Raphinha and he placed it perfectly through the legs of Godfrey to beat Olsen inside the far post. Game on.
Leeds had seized the initiative and were forcing Everton back, Digne hooking a clearance after Ayling had crossed for Bamford who couldn’t direct his header on target. Mina fouled Alioski to give Leeds a free kick on their left as the home side looked to keep the pressure on, DCL with a good clearing header getting the ball away.
Godfrey did well to hold up Ayling and get the Blues moving forward and leading to Phillips bringing down Iwobi to win a free kick that came to nothing. Iwobi and Doucoure got the ball forward, the latter getting the ball into the Leeds area before it was cleared, possibly off the arm of Ayling, and the quick break again saw excellent defending by Ben Godfrey.
Just like the first half, the pace of the game was breathtaking, both sides giving their all in a terrific game for any neutrals viewing. And the rain, that had made the playing surface slippery, returned before a fantastic double save by Robin Olsen from Raphinha and Klich prevented Leeds pulling level, and a third on a shot from Harrison protecting the Blues lead.
Richarlison saw a shot from the left fly wide of the target on a rare foray forward by the Blues before Leeds got forward again and making their first change on 68 minutes, Klich replaced by Roberts. Bamford hobbled away from a tackle from Mina and Richarlison cleared the resulting free kick. Leeds still on the front foot but, Doucoure found DCL and his bustling play got the ball into the Leeds half and win a throw-in.
Into the final twenty minutes and a cross from Dallas saw a looping header from Bamford go over off the top of the crossbar. Good work from Holgate in the Leeds half as he combined with Iwobi eased the Leeds pressure and when Doucoure fed DCL, Cooper made an excellent tackle to prevent the Blues leading goalscorer getting a sight of the target.
Into the final quarter hour and Mina driving forward with Holgate and Sigurdsson in support saw Leeds pressured before clearing, and Leeds made a second change, Hernandez replacing Alioski. Digne with some good work dispossessed Raphinha before taking a tough challenge from Ayling that saw him booked.
Michael Keane was the Blues first change on 79 minutes replacing Richarlison to strengthen the defence for the final impending onslaught from Leeds.
New signing Josh King stripped off in readiness for his Everton debut as Leeds built a steady attack that broke down with a ball into the box than ran all the way through to Olsen. Holgate defended well against Harrison before the next Leeds attack saw Mina bring down Roberts, Phillips lofting the set piece to the back post where Mina climbed to head clear and launch a Blues break that saw Doucoure thread the ball through to DCL only for Meslier to race off his line and block the shot with his legs.
Josh King came on for a cameo role replacing Alex Iwobi in the 87th minute, and Leeds made their third change, Costa replacing Harrison.
Gomes fed DCL who did well to hold the ball up and play it back to eat up a few seconds, before Holgate took one for the team, yellow carded for pulling the shirt of Raphinha as he got away from Sigurdsson. Before the free kick, Tom Davies replaced the Icelander and Holgate headed the set piece clear. Raphinha put a cross from the left behind for a goal kick and we hit the ninety and another rive minutes were indicated.
Olsen was booked for time wasting at the goal kick and King bustled forward before losing the ball. Good work by Godfrey and Keane saw a shot from Ayling blocked and put behind for a corner as Leeds kept on coming. Costa with a cross from the left couldn’t find a white shirt and Gomes worked the ball into midfield and eventually back to Olsen to run some time off the clock. Bamford got free in the area and crossed for Roberts who blazed a shot high and wide and the points were the Blues – excellent game, excellent win.