Somehow only one goal materialised from Everton and Leeds trading blows all evening at Goodison Park but the visitors will not complain at the meagre return. Raphinha’s first goal for Leeds since his £17m arrival from Rennes settled a hugely entertaining contest to give Marcelo Bielsa’s side their third Premier League away win of the season.
A second successive home defeat for Everton, plus a suspected hamstring injury to Allan, may have been hard to take for Carlo Ancelotti but his team had enough chances to have prospered before the Brazilian struck in the 79th minute.
An open, 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. Everton had two goals disallowed for offside and failed to convert at least four other good chances. For their part, Leeds created seven clear opportunities but a combination of poor finishing, bad luck and good goalkeeping ensured they departed frustrated at the interval too.
The game intrigued tactically. The Everton manager responded to the absence of his first choice full-backs, Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne, by deploying midfielders Tom Davies and Alex Iwobi as makeshift wing-backs. Iwobi, effective on the right at Fulham last weekend, was switched to the left where Raphinha relished the space inside the Nigeria international and Mason Holgate.
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. He also scored what would have been a sublime opening goal but for a close offside decision.
Raphinha broke clear with only a minute gone when Patrick Bamford chest the ball into his path. The Brazilian beat Jordan Pickford as 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 with a fine lay-off. Doucouré met Davies’ 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’ deep cross against the post from close range moments before the break.
Pickford also saved well from Raphinha’s header and foiled Bamford at close range, to Bielsa’s utter disgust, after a defensive mix-up between Godfrey and Michael Keane.
Rodríguez conjured a majestic goal 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. 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 goal-line, 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. Mateusz Klich and Bamford shot high over Pickford’s crossbar, Calvert-Lewin dragged a chance wide and, having lived dangerously when he sprayed a clearance straight to Rodríguez, Meslier had to back-pedal to catch the playmaker’s attempted lob.
Then it was Leeds’ turn to have a goal disallowed when Bamford steered home Raphinha’s cross-shot through a crowded penalty area. Alioski was clearly offside when crossing for the Brazilian. Richarlison should have done better from Rodríguez’s lay-off inside the area but sliced wastefully wide with his left foot.
The miss assumed greater significance minutes later when his compatriot collected Kalvin Phillips’ 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-hand corner. Finally.