Carlo Ancelotti predicted an open affair but took no satisfaction, or points, from being proved correct. Knowing how Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds play does not equate to stifling them, and Raphinha’s first goal for the club since his £17m arrival from Rennes delivered another highly impressive away win for the entertainers from Elland Road.
The first meeting between Bielsa and Ancelotti was worth the wait. Everton and Leeds traded 38 shots on goal – 23 of them from the visitors – and while one goal represented a meagre return from an end-to-end, engrossing spectacle there would be no complaints from Bielsa.
A third away win of the season was merited reward for Leeds’ enterprise, Raphinha’s potency and Kalvin Phillips’ commanding display. Everton had their chances, too, and two goals disallowed for offside, but lacked a clinical touch and have now taken merely four points from the last 18 available.
“We knew it would be this kind of game,” the Everton manager said. “And the team that scored first could always win. They played well. We didn’t play bad but it was not enough to get the result. We needed to be more clinical with the final pass or shot. That was the game.”
It was hard to disagree, although Ancelotti missed out the carelessness and defensive errors that crept into his team’s performance late in the game and enabled Raphinha to settle matters in the 79th minute.
“He has all the attributes to adapt quickly to the Premier League,” said Bielsa. “He is potent, he moves all around the pitch and he can unbalance an opponent from everywhere.”
An absorbing game was preceded by a minute’s applause for the late Diego Maradona. His death deeply affected the two managers at Goodison – Bielsa as a proud compatriot of the Argentinian and Ancelotti as a former opponent turned friend – and there were tears in the eyes of the former Milan midfielder as applause echoed around the eerily empty stadium.
By half-time, the two managers would also share bewilderment at how the contest remained goalless. The game intrigued tactically too. The Everton manager responded to the absence of his first choice full-backs, Séamus Coleman and Lucas Digne, by deploying the midfielders Tom Davies and Alex Iwobi as makeshift wing-backs. Bielsa attempted to nullify the threat of James Rodríguez by detailing a man-marking job for Stuart Dallas. Ezgjan Alioski dropped to left-back whenever Dallas followed the Colombian deep into the midfield but Rodríguez could not be contained entirely and was at the heart of Everton’s brightest moments.
Raphinha beat Jordan Pickford with only a minute gone when the Everton keeper hared off his line but Ben Godfrey covered behind to clear the danger. The hosts’ first opportunity fell to Abdoulaye Doucouré when Dominic Calvert-Lewin released Davies down the channel. Doucouré met Davies’s low cross at full stretch but his shot was too close to Illan Meslier, who did well to smother and collect as Calvert-Lewin closed in.
The attacking intent from both sides was unremitting with the gaps down their respective wings encouraging the end-to-end flow.
On another day Jack Harrison would have had a hat-trick by half-time. But not this one. He side-footed wide from Raphinha’s threaded pass with only Pickford to beat, saw another effort cleared off the line by Godfrey and headed Dallas’s deep cross against the post. Pickford also saved well from Raphinha’s header and foiled Bamford at close range after a defensive mix-up between Godfrey and Michael Keane.
Rodríguez conjured a majestic strike out of nothing when Richarlison sent a cross deep into the Leeds area and, for once, Dallas gave his marker a yard of space. First he controlled on his chest on the byline, then cut inside Dallas before clipping the ball over the Leeds goalkeeper at the near post. But the assistant referee, backed up by VAR, spotted Rodríguez was fractionally offside when the cross was played.
The same outcome denied Richarlison when he headed a Rodríguez corner past Meslier two minutes before the break. Godfrey, standing in an offside position near the goalline, made an attempt to connect with Richarlison’s effort as it sailed in and Everton were thwarted again.
The wide-open fun did not halt in the second half, to the visible annoyance of the managers. Richarlison should have done better from Rodríguez’s lay-off inside the area but sliced wastefully wide. The miss assumed greater significance minutes later when his compatriot collected Phillips’s pass 25 yards from the Everton goal. Godfrey, the recent signing from Norwich, stood off Raphinha too long and the Leeds winger drove a superb finish between the defender’s legs and inside Pickford’s bottom-left corner.