Everton welcome Leicester to Goodison Park in their final home match before the World Cup break.
There has not been a build-up to a World Cup quite like this one for several reasons, not least because it is occurring just as the Premier League should be gathering momentum.
The Toffees travel to Bournemouth twice in five days – once in the EFL Cup and then in the league – next week before domestic football shuts down until Boxing Day.
It is a great chance for Everton to end the first half of the season on a high before taking stock and reflecting on the progress made over recent months.
Last weekend’s goalless draw Fulham may not live long in the memory, but it was an accurate guide as to where the team is at present.
They are so much more solid and resilient defensively than they were last season, where they would wilt under even the slightest bit of pressure, but lack creativity at the other end of the pitch.
Better than they were, not quite where they need to be.
The World Cup break could help Everton in that regard as it will give Frank Lampard and the players not going to Qatar time to work on things. It also means there are just four league games until the January transfer window opens.
Yep, we are there again.
I’m not expecting fireworks when it comes to incomings given the club’s still fragile finances, but I have much more faith in their recruitment processes under Lampard and Kevin Thelwell than I did under previous regimes. If there is a bargain to be had, a gem to be uncovered, then I back them to find it.
With typical timing, Everton look to be playing Leicester just as they look to be reviving a season that has at times bordered on the calamitous.
After losing six of their first seven matches to slump to the bottom of the table, the Foxes have won two and drawn one of their last four matches, conceding just one – Kevin de Bruyne’s wonderful free-kick for Manchester City last weekend.
Their rotten start does have parallels with Everton last season. Like the Toffees Leicester had FFP concerns over the summer so could not strengthen their squad significantly despite selling players such as Wesley Fofana and Kasper Schmeichel.
The awful start raised the pressure on Brendan Rodgers, but there were rumours the hefty cost of sacking the former Liverpool boss was prohibitive given the club’s ropey finances.
But the decision to stick with Rodgers looks to be paying off regardless as their form has slowly turned around, with a 2-0 win over Leeds and thumping 4-0 victory at Wolves much more like the Leicester side we have seen over recent seasons.
They do though have a poor recent record against Everton, with the Toffees unbeaten in five, winning three of those.
That includes the vital 2-1 victory at the King Power Stadium in May that contributed to their dramatic escape from relegation.
Leicester 1-2 Everton, 8 May 2022
Everton’s survival bid gathered pace with an absolutely vital win at the King Power Stadium. Vitaly Mykolenko’s stunning volley put the Toffees in front only for Patson Daka to level the scores a few minutes later. But Mason Holgate’s header before half-time was enough to make it back-to-back wins for Everton and their first away league win since August.
Ben Godfrey and Yerry Mina are both back in full training but are not yet ready to make a first-team return.
Nathan Patterson is pushing for a start after coming off the bench against Fulham last weekend.
It means Andros Townsend is the only player not currently training with the senior squad.
What they said
Everton manager Frank Lampard: “We want to play like we did against Palace. We want to play with an energy and intensity in our game and with an idea. We just have to keep believing and understand we have to work for that.
“We have three big games coming up now before the break. It would be great to finish this block well, going into the World Cup.
“Consistency is what separates the top boys – the ones who win titles – from the rest in the league.
“We have to strive to control what we can, how we train, how we prepare, and hope the result of that is starting to win back-to-back games and getting consistency on that front.”
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers: “We still have a long way to go. We are defending much better and giving ourselves a platform in games. We’ve played better and we want to continue with that. Ideally you wouldn’t be [in the bottom three during the World Cup break] but it will still be very early in the campaign. It is something we have been buoyed by, our mentality and form. We’ve got two tough away games to come, but we are ready for the challenge.
“We’ll play an Everton team that have done well and made a steady start to the season. For us, it is just a case of looking to the next game and maintaining our mentality.”
I would have been a lot more confident about this game a few weeks ago when Leicester looked an absolute mess. But they have picked things up recently and will be motivated by the opportunity to climb out of the bottom three. Still, if Everton can match the intensity they showed against Crystal Palace they should have enough to get something.