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Koeman forced into defensive reshuffle for visit of Leicester

Everton short of centre-backs as the revitalised champions roll into town

Everton v Leicester City - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

While Everton got what they deserved at Anfield last weekend, they can justifiably feel aggrieved to have taken just a point following a much-improved performance at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

Yes, they did invite pressure in the closing stages and the substitutions were questionable (as discussed in our analysis) but to get so close to a memorable win and have it snatched away at the death is hard to take.

Some perspective is needed though given the number of injuries affecting the squad and the response shown (for the majority of the game at least) from that disappointing derby defeat.

If anything it highlighted the paucity of options available to Ronald Koeman. The squad is very much work in progress and remains light on numbers in key areas. So it is to be expected that injuries would take their toll eventually.

Ashley Williams’ late red card on Tuesday compounds the problem, leaving Koeman with some thinking to do when it comes to organising his defence this weekend.

Manchester United v Everton - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

However, it is still a point from a ground where we have traditionally struggled and a valuable lesson for some of the younger players.

The draw leaves Everton in their familiar position of seventh, seven points clear of West Brom below them but seven points behind Man City in fourth.

Therefore fifth place looks to be the best we can hope for at the end of the season.

That doesn’t exactly make for a thrilling edge-of-the seat run-in, but these remaining seven matches could be invaluable for Koeman as he continues to rebuild his squad.

And given we endured back-to-back bottom half finishes under Roberto Martinez, seventh is still a significant first step in what is a long-term project.

The opposition

The Leicester City dream looked to be turning into a nightmare just two months ago, when defeat at Swansea – their fifth in a row – left the Foxes just a point above the relegation zone.

An FA Cup defeat at Millwall ratcheted up the pressure still further on Claudio Ranieri, with even a credible performance against Sevilla not enough to save the Italian from the sack.

The decision to dispense with the eminently likeable Ranieri caused much consternation given he had led the club to the title just nine months earlier.

Leicester City v Sevilla FC - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

But six successive wins later, the decision by owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha to sack Ranieri and replace him with assistant Craig Shakespeare looks inspired.

Five of those wins have come in the Premier League to lift the Foxes to 11th, their highest position since September, and eight points clear of danger.

The other win, of course, was against Sevilla in the Champions League round of 16 second leg, setting up an historic quarter-final against Atletico Madrid.

On the face of things it seems like Shakespeare has gone back to basics, turning to the players and trusted 4-4-2 formation that served them so well last season.

The return to form of Jamie Vardy is also critical. The England striker has scored six goals in his last seven appearances after registering just three in his previous 26.

On paper then it looks like the worst possible time to play the resurgent champions. But with their first leg against Atletico coming up on Wednesday, Shakespeare may well rest some key players.

But before you get too confident – remember a much-changed Leicester team dumped us out of the FA Cup thanks to a 2-1 win at Goodison in January.

Team news

Morgan Schneiderlin is to be given as much time as possible to prove his fitness after a recent calf injury.

The French midfielder has missed Everton’s last two matches but will be assessed closer to kick-off.

Everton v Hull City - Premier League Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

Aaron Lennon and James McCarthy are also sidelined, while Mo Besic is not yet ready to return from a knee injury.

Ashley Williams will serve a one-game ban following his late red card at Man Utd, leaving Koeman short of defensive options. Matthew Pennington is likely to come in at centre-back, unless Koeman shifts Mason Holgate into the middle and brings in Jonjoe Kenny at right-back.

Leicester remain without Papy Mendy and captain Wes Morgan for the trip to Merseyside.

Manager Shakespeare may tinker with his line-up with Wednesday’s trip to Madrid in mind.

Final word

After two tough away trips the return to fortress Goodison is welcome.

Home form has been the bedrock of the team’s success this season, particularly since the turn of the year.

They have a 100% record in the league at home in 2017, plundering 22 goals and conceding just three.

With Leicester coming into this game in fine form too it has the makings of an entertaining encounter, with the Foxes’ European distractions perhaps being the decisive factor in determining the final result.

Predicted starting XI: Robles, Baines, Jagielka, Pennington, Holgate, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Davies, Mirallas, Barkley, Lukaku.