Leicester could have gone level on points with Manchester City and Everton spent the best part of an hour fourth in the virtual table and ended up seventh, but while clubs with lofty ambitions could both rue a missed opportunity, perhaps a draw only had one real loser: Jordan Pickford.
As Brendan Rodgers, sacked by Liverpool 90 minutes after a Merseyside derby draw, can testify, a 1-1 at Goodison Park can have damaging consequences. The England goalkeeper blundered in front of the watching Gareth Southgate, gifting Youri Tielemans an equaliser and meaning James Rodríguez’s sumptuous strike became a subplot.
A glorious goal was cancelled out by a more fortunate one, but Leicester’s was nevertheless the more positive performance. Yet, wonderful as Rodríguez’s first goal since early October was, Tielemans’s less impressive effort may carry more significance and not merely because it stopped Everton from going above Liverpool. Teed up by Harvey Barnes, he drilled a shot through a crowd of players. Yet it was scarcely headed for the corner of the net and Pickford, who got both hands to it, only managed to push it on to the post and into his net.
“The view of Jordan was not so good,” Carlo Ancelotti insisted. “He can do better but it doesn’t matter.” Southgate may not concur. Pickford is no stranger to errors, though they invariably seem to come in his club’s colours. On a night when Nick Pope produced a brilliant display for Burnley, Pickford’s timing felt particularly poor.
As Leicester had 18 shots and 65% of possession, their leveller could be attributed to weight of pressure, except that Everton had been valiant in protecting Pickford. Ancelotti had staffed his back four with a quartet who are centre-backs by trade and they produced an array of blocks in a fine rearguard action. Ben Godfrey added to his burgeoning reputation with another precocious performance while a midfield shorn of his two summer signings, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré, lacked a natural defensive presence, adding to the workload of his battalion of central defenders. “We defended more than we attacked,” admitted Ancelotti.
Rodríguez gave them something to hold on to with a goal that brought a reminder of his early season brilliance but which surprised his mentor. He had scuffed a low cross, except that Wesley Fofana’s clearance was equally unconvincing, returning the ball to the Colombian. He took a couple of touches before curling a shot in off the far post with his less favoured right foot. “Unbelievable. I don’t remember him scoring with his right foot before,” said Ancelotti, who also managed him at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. “It was really fantastic.”
But for Fofana, a revelation in his debut campaign for Leicester, it was a rare hiccup. “We made a mistake for their goal,” Rodgers said. “He was outstanding over the course of the game. He just had a heavy touch and James Rodríguez finishes it with great quality.”
And it undid their early fine work. If Southgate’s trip was designed to scout Barnes and James Maddison, two outsiders for a place in his European Championship squad, each showed his confidence. Barnes nutmegged Mason Holgate on a solo run. Maddison allied trickery with persistence. Each tried to compensate for the absence of Jamie Vardy, who is sidelined by a hernia problem.
With Everton defending so deep, it was hard to argue Leicester missed Vardy’s pace. Yet they had not drawn a save from Pickford until Marc Albrighton’s rather tame effort on the stroke of half-time. James Justin really ought to have levelled but placed his shot the wrong side of the post. With Wilfred Ndidi having limped off with a hamstring problem, Leicester could be forgiven for thinking it was not their day.
“It was about how we responded,” Rodgers said. “In the second half we were outstanding.” They were relentless and Pickford aided their comeback. “We should’ve gone on and won the game, that was maybe two points dropped for us,” Rodgers added. Leicester certainly had the ambition. Cengiz Under proved a lively substitute and Maddison had a shot well-saved by Pickford and another deflected over as Everton hung on. Dominic Calvert-Lewin could have won it for them, heading Lucas Digne’s cross just wide but Ancelotti had no complaints. “I’m happy with the draw,” he said. “The result is fair.”