Everton beat Leicester to boost Europa League hopes

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Gylfi Sigurdsson strikes from the spot to give Everton a 2-0 lead
Gylfi Sigurdsson strikes from the spot to give Everton a 2-0 lead
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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.

Deal of the day

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.