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Everton at Leicester City: The Opposition View | A cagey affair

We spoke to Foxes fan and writer Jake Lawson prior to Wednesday’s clash at the King Power Stadium

Leicester City v Everton FC - Premier League
Leicester won this fixture in the last minute last season, in what proved Marco Silva’s penultimate game in charge
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Everton will look to build on Saturday’s win over Chelsea when they travel to high-flying Leicester City on Wednesday.

The Foxes are four points ahead of Everton and will start the game in the Champions League places, after an impressive 3-0 home win against Brighton on Sunday.

Brendan Rodgers’ men, who could end this round of fixtures top of the league, will not welcome fans as Everton did on Saturday, though, given Leicester remains in tier three of the UK lockdown system.

This fixture last season ended in a 2-1 Leicester win, after VAR ruled Kelechi Iheanacho was just onside for his injury-time winner, with a crestfallen Marco Silva sacked as Everton boss one game and four days later.

Ahead of Wednesday’s game, we spoke to Jake Lawson, Foxes fan and writer for SB Nation’s dedicated Leicester site, Fosse Posse:

RBM: Firstly, Leicester are just one point off top spot and just one point worse off than this time last year. Can they mount a title challenge, or is that too premature?

Jake: It’s possible, but it’s just too early and too tight to start thinking about it. If I were a betting man, I’d take the field against any one single club.

There are five clubs within five points of the top right, and I get the sense no-one is going to run away with it this year. For now, I think we just enjoy where we are and try not to get ahead of ourselves.

FBL-ENG-PR-LEICESTER-BRIGHTON
Leicester have started this season in similarly impressive fashion to last term
Photo by MICHAEL REGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

RBM: Are Leicester a better team now than they were last season?

Jake: I think we will be if we ever get our first choice XI on the pitch at the same time.

All three of our big summer signings have been encouraging: Timothy Castagne filled in admirably for Ricardo Pereira before he got hurt, Wesley Fofana has been thrown to the wolves way too early and he’s looked up to it, and Cengiz Ünder has people whispering the name ‘Mahrez’.

RBM: Jamie Vardy, who will turn 34 next month, already has 12 goals this season. Have you seen any signs of the striker wilting yet?

Jake: He’s not quite as fast in a straight line as he was, and he picks up more knocks than he did, but I’d say he’s more than made up for it by improving his first touch, his finishing, and his tactical awareness.

I suspect there’s a painting of him in an attic somewhere that is ageing unnaturally fast. That’s the only explanation.

Leicester City v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Vardy was on target for Leicester again against Brighton on Sunday
Photo by Ben Stansall - Pool/Getty Images

RBM: Do you worry Leicester could suffer from fatigue more than most over this busy period, especially given they’ve had six Europa League group games to play since October?

Jake: I’d expect it, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far. Everyone talks about Liverpool’s injury problems, but we used eight centre-halves in the first eight matches and we’ve been using our fourth-choice right-back an awful lot this year.

The upside of this is that we’ve learned we have more depth than we thought and we’ve only had one player (James Justin) play every minute of every league match, so when the long-term injuries clear up, we may not be as fatigued as we normally would have been. That’s a real stretch when it comes to trying to find silver linings, isn’t it?

RBM: Leicester’s great start to the season has been slightly undermined by home defeats to West Ham United, Aston Villa and Fulham. How much do you think the absence of fans is contributing to stuttering form at the King Power?

Jake: It certainly didn’t help. I’ll be honest, though: West Ham and Fulham outplayed us. The Villa match was pretty even, but we certainly didn’t do anything to deserve to win it.

Like any good fan, I question the tactics we used in those matches and I think the makeshift nature of the back line was a huge problem. Will getting supporters back in the stadium help us? I can’t wait to find out. Wear your masks, people.

Leicester City v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
There were no fans at Leicester on Sunday, as there won’t be on Wednesday, either
Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

RBM: What impressed you most about Leicester in their convincing win over Brighton on Sunday?

Jake: The tactical flexibility of the team was the key factor for me. It didn’t start well for us and by all rights we should have been down a goal when Danny Welbeck was one-on-one with Schmeichel.

We changed the system after that, going to a flat four at the back, and the Seagulls simply didn’t have any answers for Justin on the right. The ability to change things up when Plan A isn’t working without having to make a substitution is something we haven’t had in the past and it bodes well for us going forward.

RBM: How do you expect Leicester to set up on Wednesday? Can you see Brendan Rodgers rotating given they have Tottenham Hotspur next weekend and Manchester United on Boxing Day?

Jake: That’s a fine question. Rodgers has been using the Europa League to rotate the squad and, if he wants to keep switching things up, he’s going to have to start doing it in league matches as well.

We used three at the back with wing-backs to cover for our injury problems at the back, but that system has been exposed of late in the league. I expect on Wednesday, we’ll line up with a more conventional four-defender setup, Wilfried Ndidi and Youri Tielemans in front of the back four, and then Harvey Barnes and Cengiz Ünder out wide and James Maddison in the pocket behind Vardy.

Did I say ‘expect’? I meant ‘hope’. We’ll line up in a 3-4-2-1.

Leicester City v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Maddison scored twice in Leicester’s 3-0 win over Brighton on Sunday
Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Jake: It has to be Vardy, doesn’t it? It doesn’t seem to matter if you plan to mark him out of the game, his movement is just so good that he’ll get a chance or two no matter what.

Now, if you’d asked me ‘Who on Everton will cause you the most problems?’, that would be a much more interesting question this year than it has been in the past. Dominic Calvert-Lewin looks unplayable, and James Rodriguez has such amazing vision and range of passing.

But for me, if Richarlison is on song, he’s the guy who scares me. I don’t think we have anyone who matches up well against his combination of power and pace, especially with Jonny Evans missing the match.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game?

Jake: In spite of all the firepower, I think it’ll be a cagey affair. I’m going to go with 2-1 to the Foxes thanks to a very contentious late penalty. As above, I may have confused what I ‘expect’ with what I ‘want’, but that’s a big part of being a Leicester supporter.

Our thanks to Jake for his time.