A window into two teams with long-term ambitions to upset the established Champions League order at Goodison Park revealed both Everton and Leicester City remain flawed and searching for the perfect formula, even if that will sting sharper for the latter.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side, knocked off stride before the coronavirus-enforced suspension of football, are unbeaten since the season’s restart. They became the latest team to huff and puff to slowly blow Leicester’s top-four objective away.
Goals by Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson, who slotted the first penalty Everton were awarded in this campaign, gave the visitors a thankless task just 16 minutes into the encounter.
Leicester, long struggling to rediscover their swagger in the final third, were again laboured in attack during the opening half. Kelechi Iheanacho was substituted on and reduced the deficit early in the second stanza courtesy of a little fortune, with his teammates upping the ante afterwards.
Everton were forced into a defensive stand and intelligently held out but there was a short stanza of play that summed up the uncertainty of both sides.
On 62 minutes, Jordan Pickford let a harmless low cross from the left roll through his hands, with Michael Keane nearly knocking it over the line. He recovered to clear, but three minutes later, Everton were on the ropes again.
Pickford rushed off his line to claim a Marc Albrighton cross, but Jamie Vardy reached it first. He nodded the ball to Iheanacho, who flipped it over the head of Keane by then horrendously shot over.
Neither team had any composure, the play coloured by desperation rather than good decision-making.
Everton, undoubtedly, will be happier – not just with maximum points, but the fact they could switch between offensive and defensive approaches as the game called for it.
Brendan Rodgers looked relaxed ahead of kick off during a lengthy, light-hearted conversation with Seamus Coleman, belying his concern that Leicester’s efforts for this season could fall flat at the final stretch.
Hopes of Champions League football, a concrete prospect for so long, fades by the gameweek. As opponents continually pick at their weaknesses, rivals to take a seat with Europe’s elite – Chelsea, Wolves and Manchester United - salt their wounds.
They are powering up just as Leicester go lights out.
There was a lot of promise in their second-half fight, but points are king right now. As per the form guide, none of their top-four foes have lost in the last five league games.
Rodgers side have conversely only picked up two victories in the last 11. The pendulum has been swinging in this direction for a while.
By Christmas, Leicester had positioned themselves as Liverpool’s closest contenders. That picture was quickly shredded when the champions scorched them 4-0 with ease at King Power Stadium on Boxing Day, exposing an extensive chasm between the sides.
And since the turn of the year, the 2015-16 title winners have sparkled in phases – not with consistency or in a way that would worry the traditional powerhouses.
For a team that has finished 12th and consecutively ninth following their 5000-1 miracle, a top-six placing would be decent for Leicester. But given their start to the campaign, it will scream anti-climax especially as they progressed far in the domestic cups only to be dumped out.
This is par for a young team, still developing together, with chance creation drying up and one of the league’s grossly underrated players – Ricardo Pereira – being unavailable due to a knee injury.
Harvey Barnes is 22, Youri Tielemans, Ben Chilwell and James Maddison are all 23, Caglar Soyuncu is 24 and playing his first season in England’s top-flight.
The service to Jamie Vardy has gone AWOL. He has only struck twice in his last 11 games in the division stretching back to Christmas and didn’t have a shot of any kind at Goodison, although he did make two key passes.
James Maddison, their creative fulcrum, was brought off the bench here and influenced Leicester’s attack. The midfielder, whose displays have been impeded by a hip injury for a prolonged period, needs to rediscover his best in order for the Foxes to do the same.
Everton, by contrast, started the season atrociously but have been revitalised under Ancelotti. They are unbeaten in their last nine top-flight fixtures at home and have shown an elevation of purpose and intensity.
The Italian has superbly sharpened up their off-the-ball play and has also helped them strike earlier with Everton scoring a league-high percentage of their goals this season in the first half.
When he took charge, the Merseysiders were 15th and just four points clear of the relegation zone. They are facing upwards now, hoping to seal a Europa League place.
If Leicester do not course correct soon, that is the continental competition they will be involved in.