Everton may have showcased their best and worst sides in last weekend’s chaotic win over Fulham, but the result was all important after three successive defeats and stabilises a season that had threatened to spiral worrying downwards.
It has been an equally up and down week, with news of supporters being able to return to Goodison, albeit in small numbers, from next month a real boost after such a terrible year.
That news was tempered by confirmation Lucas Digne suffered an ankle injury in training that requires surgery, ruling him out for two to three months.
It is a huge blow just as Everton’s injury and suspension situation looked to be easing. The Frenchman is one of the best full-backs in the division and a key cog in the Toffees side at both ends of the pitch.
It represents a great opportunity for Niels Nkounkou to step up in his absence and will likely see a continuation of the 3-4-3 formation we saw at Fulham last week, which would ease the defensive burden on the young Frenchman.
Victory on Saturday would lift Everton back into the top four and within a point of leaders Spurs, reviving European qualification hopes and going a long way to repairing the damage caused by that horrid run of three straight defeats.
If they play like they did in the opening 45 minutes at Craven Cottage then they have a great chance. Turn out anything similar to what we saw during the second period and the outlook is not so bright.
It was a long 16 years in the wilderness for one of the country’s most traditional and well-supported clubs.
Leeds United paid a heavy price for chasing the dream of Premier League and Champions League glory at the start of the millennium. Their huge financial gamble backfired spectacularly and triggered a chain reaction that sparked a fire-sale of players, mounting debts and a tumble down the divisions before eventually settling in League One.
Numerous managers and owners have tried and failed to revive their fortunes since, but the takeover of Andrea Radrizzani in 2017 and appointment of Marcelo Bielsa the following year finally saw things click.
Bielsa is one of the game’s most fascinating characters, whose arrival at Elland Road was seen as something of a coup. His breathless, high intensity, all-action style and minute attention to detail finally moulded a rag-tag bunch of players into a cohesive unit. After missing out in the play-offs in the 2018-19 campaign, despite spending much of the season in the top two, Bielsa completed the job the following year as the Whites lifted the Championship title to return to the Premier League for the first time since 2004.
The Yorkshire club, three times champions of England, have made a solid start back to life in the top flight and look to have enough to avoid relegation this season.
That said, they go into this game without a win in three games featuring back-to-back 4-1 defeats before last weekend’s gritty goalless draw against Arsenal.
They are a well-drilled, super-fit side who like to break rapidly on the counter, with perhaps only a lack of quality in key moments letting them down. It promises to be a fascinating encounter between two of football’s most experienced managers.
September 25, 2012 Leeds 2-1 Everton (League Cup third round)
You have to go back eight years for the competitive meeting between the two sides and a League Cup third round encounter at a sodden Elland Road in September 2012. Goals from Aidan White and Rodolph Austin gave the Championship side the win, with Sylvain Distin’s late header not enough for the Toffees.
Their last meeting at Goodison was a happier occasion, with Steve Watson grabbing a hat-trick in a thumping 4-0 victory in September 2003.
Fulham (A) Won 3-2
Manchester United (H) Lost 3-1
Newcastle United (A) Lost 2-1
Southampton (A) Lost 2-0
Brighton (H) Won 4-2
Arsenal (H) Drew 0-0
Crystal Palace (A) Lost 4-1
Leicester (H) Lost 4-1
Aston Villa (A) Won 3-0
Wolves (H) Lost 1-0
Everton will be without Lucas Digne for 2-3 months after suffering an ankle injury in training, with Niels Nkounkou likely to come in.
The Toffees will also again be without Seamus Coleman due to a hamstring injury, with the Irishman being assessed on a week-by-week basis.
Jonjoe Kenny could come in after it was confirmed he missed the Fulham game through injury. Jean-Philippe Gbamin is around two weeks away from making his long awaited comeback.
What they said
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “We have to be concerned because we conceded too many goals, from my point of view.
“We are working on this. We scored a lot of goals and were efficient and our strikers did really well.
“But we conceded too much and have to avoid this We need to have balance.
“Leeds is a dynamic team. It will be an open match, I think, with a lot of intensity
“All Marcelo Bielsa [Leeds manager] teams are like Leeds, they keep high intensity with and without the ball and we expect this kind of game.”
Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa: “I have respect and admiration for Ancelotti. First of all, he’s been wanted by all the best teams in the world. He has been chosen by some of the most powerful institutions in football which shows how good he is.
“The second thing is that he has triumphed everywhere he has been and the third thing is that he is a manager who is well respected by the players as well as his other colleagues.
“The last thing is that he’s never been criticised on his way of playing, it’s always an unselfish one and it is always valuable. To have all of this in one manager is not very frequent.”
This is set up to be a really intriguing match. Leeds’ rapid counter-attacking style could cause Everton real damage if they are not careful. Their league position is also perhaps not a fair reflection on their performances this season, meaning this is a much tougher game than it may seem from the outset.