Clips of a chaotic game are unlikely to leave Atletico Madrid petrified. Leicester warmed up for their maiden European quarterfinal by prioritising the Champions League and losing their 100 percent record under Craig Shakespeare. The caretaker could not join Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola in a select group of managers to win their first six Premier League games.
If the Champions League occupied thoughts around Goodison Park, it is also because Everton prevailed to continue their spirited bid for a top-four finish. It remains unlikely, but a seventh straight home league win took them level on points with Arsenal, albeit having played three games more. Those seven matches have produced 26 goals for the Gwladys Street End faithful to cheer. Everton are providing entertainment and excellence alike and, after being cruelly denied victory at Old Trafford by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 94th-minute penalty five days ago, they flourished in front of their own fans.
Leicester had only conceded four goals under Shakespeare. They let in four more on a frantic afternoon on Merseyside. The shift in fortunes was indicative of changing circumstances. Shakespeare inherited a side in grave peril. They are now perhaps one win from safety. Wednesday’s meeting with Atletico instead loomed large.
Shakespeare had stuck as closely as possible to last season’s title-winning formula. This was more a selection from Claudio Ranieri this season than last, the focus on Europe apparent on the teamsheet. Danny Simpson, Christian Fuchs, Wilfred Ndidi, Riyad Mahrez and Shinji Okazaki will surely start against Atletico Madrid. None did at Goodison Park. Only Simpson and Mahrez were even on the bench and, when Jamie Vardy was withdrawn with half an hour to go, it was a clear sign attention had switched to the game in Spain.
Shakespeare changed his full-backs, but kept his central defenders. It boded badly that, with Yohan Benalouane struggling to deputise for the injured captain Wes Morgan, they sieved four goals, two from corners. While Leicester showed the character to rally after going behind in the opening minute to then lead, they showed shortcomings that Atletico ought to exploit.
As Romelu Lukaku claimed one distinction, he lost another. There is an ever more historic element to his achievements. Yet as he became the first Everton player to score in eight consecutive games at Goodison Park since Fred Pickering in 1965, he saw teammate Tom Davies displace him from the top of another chart. The teenager has now scored the quickest goal in the Premier League this season.
Lukaku struck after 30 seconds against Bournemouth, Davies after 29 against Leicester. The second goal of the midfielder’s career was further evidence of why he has been granted a new five-year contract. He has helped energise Everton and sped into the box to capitalise after Kevin Mirallas, as fired-up as he was at Old Trafford, charged forward and was halted illegally by Daniel Amartey. Referee Bobby Madley played an advantage and was congratulated for doing so by Morgan Schneiderlin; occasionally officials do get credit for their correct decisions.
Everton’s two premier talents deserve plenty of acclaim for their second goal. Lukaku and Ross Barkley had both underperformed in the Merseyside derby defeat. Each had been more prominent in attack at Old Trafford without supplying an end product. Here they combined clinically, Barkley with the David Beckham-esque cross, Lukaku with the glancing header. He doubled his tally — with a remarkable 10th in five games at home — from close range at the back post. It indicated a ruthlessness and relentlessness that is ever more evident in his game.
In the process, he stretched his lead over Harry Kane to four and it becomes likelier he will be Everton’s first Golden Boot winner since Gary Lineker in 1986. With Phil Jagielka heading in a Mirallas corner, it meant the mercurial winger contributed to three goals. Lukaku is not the only in-form Belgian at Goodison Park. But when he scores at such a rate, it is little surprise the limelight lingers on him or that it may be so hard for Everton to keep him.