'New year, new me': Jamie Vardy shines in otherwise tepid Leicester City-Everton game
Win over Everton brings up half-century of league games for Claude Puel, with prospect of dismissal receding
After a tepid affair, it may be an exaggeration to say the battle for seventh place is heating up. But if it could sound a dubious distinction to say Leicester City are now the best of the rest, Claude Puel took typically quiet satisfaction from that.
A manager whose position seemed imperilled has prospered under pressure and if the Frenchman remains a mumbling enigma, he has displayed his survival instincts. “It was a good first half of the season to finish seventh in the table,” Puel said.
Leicester have taken the unorthodox route above their rivals. Their festive fixture list has been an exercise in unpredictability, yielding defeat to Cardiff City but landmark wins over Chelsea and Manchester City.
Defeating Everton brought up a half-century of league games at the helm with the prospect of the sack receding.
“There is speculation, I don’t know why,” Puel added.“I cannot manage the rumours. I am just a person who serves the club and I would like to continue this way.”
Instead, defeat brought scrutiny of his Everton counterpart, who was at a loss to explain an uninspired, error-strewn display. “Our team was too nervous and anxious without reason. It doesn’t make sense,” Marco Silva said.
If his finest result as Everton manager was winning away at the King Power Stadium three months ago, a defeat in the reverse fixture could leave his side in the bottom half later on Wednesday and compounded a difficult run.
Everton’s 2019 began as their 2018 ended, with a 1-0 defeat, and their last eight games have produced a solitary victory and no clean sheets. They have not won in four games at Goodison Park and were booed off.
“A poor performance from the first minute,” Silva accepted.
Not for the first time, Everton were architects of their own downfall. Theo Walcott, with a strange header, was the initial culprit, but Michael Keane was the greater one, managing only to clear the ball as far as Ricardo Pereira.
The Portuguese had seemed a strange selection on the left wing but, in an instant, he provided Puel with vindication as he sent Vardy scurrying in behind the Everton defence. The finish was calm, the celebration surprising, as he unveiled a backflip.
“New year, new me,” the striker said, but he has been the scourge of Everton before and there was something distinctly familiar in the way a man who had scored Leicester’s decider at Chelsea on the counter-attack staging a sequel.
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It is less than two weeks since Vardy conceded Puel’s style of football does not suit him, but a striker with a stellar scoring record against the top six struck against a side with aspirations to finish seventh. It was a goal out of nothing, and he had been starved of service before that.
“They played 4-5-1 and waited for our mistake,” Silva said.
It materialised. Puel had prioritised caution, leaving James Maddison an unused substitute to bolster the centre of midfield. If it seemed unambitious, Leicester’s safety-first selection kept Everton at arm’s length. Silva’s side failed to muster a shot on target until the 74th minute and both subsequent efforts, courtesy of the substitute Cenk Tosun, were comfortably repelled by Kasper Schmeichel.
“We didn’t play with enough quality to change the score,” Silva lamented. “We create only one chance."
Even that was not really created: Lucas Digne’s low cross evaded everyone until Jonjoe Kenny ran on to meet it and drilled a shot that clipped the post, the woodwork denying the right-back a first career goal.
Despite some wayward passing, Kenny staked a case to replace the rested Seamus Coleman on a more permanent basis with some enterprising moments. He supplied the cross when his fellow Under 20 World Cup winner Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed over the bar.
In mitigation, Everton have had the shortest turnaround of any team over the Christmas period, playing four times in under 10 days. “We are playing a lot of games in a row with no times to rest, but that is not an excuse when you miss some simple things,” said Silva, who supplied a warning to those who have underachieved of late.
“To be here, you have to show the capacity to deal with this normal pressure.”
Updated: January 1, 2019 08:49 PM