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DAVID MADDOCK: Lukaku gives Leicester a taste of Champions League quality as Shakespeare tastes defeat at Everton

Date Posted,April 8, 2017

On the surface, a walloping at Goodison is hardly the best dress rehearsal for the biggest stage of your life.

Yet as Leicester now focus on their fairytale visit to Atletico Madrid in the Champions’ League quarter finals – and another potential date with the history books – they were at least given an insight into the sort of quality they will face at that rarified European level.

Romleu Lukaku’s two fine goals took his season’s tally in all competitions for club and country to 30, and ensured he scored for the eighth consecutive occasion on his home ground – a feat not achieved here since big Fred Pickering went on the rampage in 1965.

He also reinforced his grip on the Premier League’s Golden Boot trophy, taking his domestic tally to 23, and no doubt increasing again the price he will command in the summer as yet more moneybags clubs scramble to secure his services.

Lukaku scored a brace as Leicester were shown what awaits among Europe’s elite (Photo: Michael Steele)

The Belgian showed he is more than an adequate understudy for Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann, who will do well on Wednesday to match this impressive display of pace, power and aerial ability that ultimately proved the difference between the two sides.

It was an afternoon for records at Everton. They have already scored more goals in 2017 than they did in the whole of 2016, and four more here took their total in the last seven league matches to a mind-boggling 26.

It is their best winning run at home in the Premier League era.

Lukaku has 12 of those, and it is not hard to see why he will be the summer’s hottest transfer property. In fact, should Griezmann move as expected at the end of the season, don’t be too surprised to see him at the Vicente Calderon in Madrid.

He would certainly fit into the highest levels of La Liga, no question. His finish from Ross Barkley’s sublime cross to level at 2-2 after 23 crazy opening minutes was a case in point – that rare beauty of the perfect header, a lost art these days.

The Belgian reminds us of the lost art of the perfect header (Photo: Michael Regan)

Yet he is so much more than that. As visiting boss Craig Shakespeare conceded afterwards, his side’s six game winning run came to an end in part because of the five changes he made with an eye to Wednesday, but also because of “Everton’s potent attacking threat”.

That was evident within 30 seconds in fact, a mad opening that set the tone for the rest of the game when Kevin Mirallas produced a stunning piece of skill to skin Yohan Benalouane before being fouled, but Tom Davies was quick enough to seize on the ball and finish at the near post.

You feared for Leicester then, without their injured skipper Wes Morgan, but instead, they were in the lead before 10 minutes were out. First the impressive Demarai Gray ran hard from his own half to give Islam Slimani a perfect assist.

Then when young Matthew Pennington fouled Jamie Vardy out on the left, Marc Albrighton’s free kick delivery completely deceived Everton keeper Joel Robles and floated over him into the roof of the net.

Craig Shakespeare finally tasted defeat as he rested key players ahead of their Champions League challenge (Photo: Plumb Images)

The home side were undone by their enforced changes at the back, with Pennington and fellow youngter Holgate struggling, but it was Leicester’s disarray in the absence of three first choice defenders that proved the game’s pivotal point.

Lukaku levelled on 23 minutes, and then just before the break, skipper Phil Jagielka got above the entire visiting defence to glance home Kevin Mirallas’ corner, before repeating the trick after the break, to this time put the ball at the feet of Lukaku.

He doesn’t often miss those – strikers at that level don’t. It is perhaps the most important lesson Leicester learned before their date with destiny in Madrid on Wednesday night.

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