Here we go again. For what feels like the fifth or sixth time already this season, Everton boss Marco Silva leads the Blues into a match with his job potentially on the line.
Certainly for many Evertonians, last Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat to Norwich City was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This, after all, was a Canaries side bottom of the league, with a solitary away point and goal all season, with one draw and six defeats from their last seven games. And they thoroughly outplayed Silva’s side on their own turf.
Now, Everton enter a torrid pre-Christmas Premier League programme, consisting of clashes with three of the top four, Manchester United and Arsenal. Director of Football Marcel Brands has called for unity, while Silva has said he is not losing sleep over his job security, but if the Toffees take a beating in the East Midlands on Sunday, it may become even harder to see a future at Goodison Park for the Portuguese boss.
On paper, even the most ardent Everton fan would struggle to make a case for their side at the King Power Stadium. The Blues are 16th, on the back of a wretched defeat, with a litany of issues all over the pitch. Leicester are third, on the back of five straight league wins, with 31 goals netted, the top scorer in the Premier League in Jamie Vardy, and the division's meanest defence.
Not only that, but Silva has an ever-increasing list of injuries to mould Sunday’s team sheet around. At least six of Everton’s first team players look set to miss the trip to the Foxes, whereas Brendan Rodgers has had the luxury of naming the same Leicester starting line-up for the last five games.
Will these two sides stay true to form on Sunday? It would take extreme bravery to bet against it, that’s for sure.
Since leaving Celtic for Leicester in February, replacing the much-maligned Claude Puel, Rodgers has transformed Leicester’s fortunes and improved them immeasurably, with virtually the same squad of players he inherited.
Only Ayoze Pérez, Youri Tielemans (on loan at Leicester from Monaco last term) and squad players Dennis Praet and James Justin were added over the summer, but the Foxes look a far better side than the methodical, often dreary outfit under Puel.
Even at the age of 32 now, Vardy shows no signs of wilting with 12 goals already this term, while James Maddison, who is constantly improving, complements him perfectly from the number ten position. Wilfred Ndidi and Tielemans offer a sturdy and classy base in midfield, Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira help swarm the opposition by flying forward from full-back with great regularity, while Çağlar Söyüncü and Jonny Evans have formed an unlikely yet supreme central defensive partnership.
Already this season, they have demolished Southampton in a record-breaking 9-0 away win, have beaten Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at the King Power, and have kept clean sheets in their last four matches. Significantly, at this stage in 2015-16, their title-winning campaign, they had amassed one point fewer after the same number of games (13) than their current haul of 29, with many Foxes fans rating this side even above Claudio Ranieri’s 5000-1 heroes.
In many ways, they embody everything Everton should be; a united group of players unquestionably committed to the cause, a dynamic, affable manager, shrewd operators in the transfer market, all underpinned by a clear vision, a decisive plan of action as to where the club are going.
January 1, 2019 - Everton 0-1 Leicester - Premier League (match report)
God, this was dire. For a start, a lunchtime kick-off on New Year’s Day was always going to trigger an eerie, muted atmosphere, with much of the crowd nursing heavy hangovers. So, too, it seemed, were the men on the pitch wearing royal blue, who hardly tested Puel’s men aside from a fierce Jonjoe Kenny long-range strike that hit the bar.
Leicester were hardly much better, but Vardy made Michael Keane pay for a poor first touch, which Ricardo intercepted but the Foxes number nine finished in his typically clinical style. Not a match that any Evertonian will have fond memories of.
Of course, Leicester will be back at Goodison in two-and-a-half weeks for a Carabao Cup quarter-final - Everton will need to deliver a much better showing than this if they are to stand any chance of progressing on December 18.
Norwich City (H) Lost 2-0
Southampton (A) Won 2-1
Tottenham Hotspur (H) Drew 1-1
Watford FC (H - Carabao Cup) Won 2-0
Brighton & Hove Albion (A) Lost 3-2
Brighton (A) Won 2-0
Arsenal (H) Won 2-0
Crystal Palace (H) Won 2-0
Burton Albion (A - Carabao Cup) Won 3-1
Southampton (A) Won 9-0
At the worst possible time, Silva has an injury crisis to deal with. Long-term absentees André Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin remain out, but there are several more Everton players joining them on the sidelines this weekend.
Seamus Coleman is definitely out with an undisclosed injury, while Theo Walcott, Fabian Delph and Morgan Schneiderlin are all major doubts as is Beni Baningime who left the midweek U-21 game injured. In fact, Tom Davies may be Everton’s only match-fit senior central midfielder for the trip to Leicester.
The positive news is that Bernard, sorely missed in the last month, may return having been kept out for a month with a knee injury.
As for Leicester, other than Matty James, who is a bit-part player at best anyway, they have no such worries about any of their players. Evans was substituted in last weekend’s win at Brighton with cramp but has made a full recovery.
It never rains, but it pours for Everton.
What they said
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers: “They [Everton] are not doing as well as they would like but they’ve got a talented group of players, and maybe coming away from home there may be less pressure for them.
“We’re happy to be at home but we will expect a tough match against any Everton team.”
Everton boss Marco Silva: “Our confidence is not at the top but the players are working really hard to get better and get a result at the weekend.
“I prefer to get them [the players] enjoying what we’re doing. I as a manager have to understand the reactions, work hard, and to give them [the fans] the performance and result they want to see.
“I share all the frustration with the fans and the players. I have to be fair with my players as well, they came here since the first day of this week and they are working really hard to get better and get the result in the next game.”
All signs pointed to an Everton win last week, but quite the opposite transpired; Silva will need a similarly surprising turn of fate for his side to get anything at Leicester on Sunday. He may have led them to a 2-1 win at the King Power last season, but both side’s fortunes have changed rather drastically since then. Sadly, Everton’s typically awful away form has not.
Ahead of a daunting Merseyside Derby at Anfield on Wednesday, if the Portuguese manager will need a result in these next few games to save his job, he could barely have set himself a more uphill task; in that respect, perhaps it’s hard to see Brands’ words this week as nothing more than the old dreaded vote of confidence. The players’ attitude tomorrow will tell us whether they have tuned Silva out or not, just about the last thing the manager has going for him.
On several occasions this season, Silva has gone into Everton matches with his job possibly on the line, and has repeatedly pulled off unlikely victories. He had no such luck against Norwich; he will need far, far more of it this time around.