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Everton take on the champions as the road to Wembley begins

Can Everton end 22 years of hurt?

Leicester City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

It has been such an eventful week for Everton it is perhaps easy to forget there is a big game to be played at the end of it.

Post-Christmas and post-holiday blues usually loom menacingly over the first week of January. But for Evertonians the early days of 2017 have brought nothing but optimism.

A comfortable 3-0 over Southampton was followed up by a positive general meeting, where the club set out its ambitions for future growth both on and off the pitch.

On Thursday Charlton teenager Ademola Lookman became Everton’s first signing of the window in a deal that could rise to £11m.

Then later that evening it emerged a naming rights deal for Finch Farm involved a company owned by one of the richest men in Russia, Alisher Usmanov.

It’s enough to send even the most cautious of supporters into a tailspin of giddy excitement.

After years of treading water and just surviving, Everton finally to have a plan, direction and the means by which to achieve their objectives.

Part of that plan is to end the club’s achingly long trophy drought, now into its 22nd year. As Farhad Moshiri said, we don’t want to be a ‘museum’.

The FA Cup therefore represents a wonderful chance to end that long wait for silverware.

I’ve always loved the FA Cup, even if it’s lost some of its sheen in recent seasons thanks to the growth of the Premier League and Champions League.

Everton v Manchester United - The Emirates FA Cup Semi Final
Everton reached the semi-finals last season but lost 2-1 to Manchester United at Wembley
Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

I still think there is something special about the world’s oldest football competition and third round weekend remains one of the most memorable dates of the football calendar.

Everton have, of course, lifted the famous old trophy on five occasions, most recently in 1995.

They also have a decent track record of reaching the latter stages in recent years. Their third round replay defeat at West Ham in 2015 is the only time they have fallen at the first hurdle in the past eight years.

In that time Everton have reached the final once and semi-finals twice, losing to Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd respectively.

What will this year bring?

The opposition

Although the current Premier League champions, Leicester City is perhaps not the most glamorous draw Everton could have received in the third round (and before Leicester fans get angry, I’m sure the feeling is mutual).

Part of the novelty of the competition is facing lower league sides that view these games as a chance of making headlines and causing an upset.

The supporters also respond, often travelling in number and taking advantage of the larger away allocations permitted in the FA Cup.

Drawing a team we played just two weeks ago doesn’t really have the same appeal.

It will be interesting to see how Leicester approach this game given their struggles in the league.

As I mentioned in my Leicester league preview last month, the Foxes have struggled to replicate the form of last campaign that saw them storm to the title by 10 points.

Leicester City v Everton  - Premier League
Romelu Lukaku was only target when the two sides met on Boxing Day
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Since they lost to Everton on Boxing Day, Leicester picked up four points from games against West Ham and Middlesbrough to ease the pressure and lift the club six points clear of the relegation zone.

However, given relegation could cost a club upwards of £100m it would be understandable if Claudio Ranieri sees the FA Cup as low on his priority list, especially with the Champions League returning to their schedule next month.

Team news

Everton will be without a number of players at Goodison Park including Maarten Stekelenburg as the ‘keeper continues his recovery from a dead leg suffered against Liverpool.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin is out after he was ruled out of two months with an ankle problem. Idrissa Gueye is also sadly absent as he has joined up with the Senegal squad for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Ronald Koeman has also confirmed there are injury doubts over James McCarthy and Aaron Lennon while new signing Ademola Lookman misses out with the forward cup-tied having played for Charlton earlier in the competition.

Final word

With Everton already out of the League Cup and not in Europe there is no reason not to have a real go at the FA Cup.

Moshiri has stated the club’s ‘gold standard’ has to be the Premier League but ending the painfully long wait for a trophy is also high on their priority list.

Therefore there is no real need to Koeman to make wholesale changes, bar a rest for those feeling the strain after a busy festive period.

Predicted starting XI: Stekelenburg, Baines, Funes Mori, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, Davies, Mirallas, Barkley, Valencia, Lukaku.