Everton have a win and a draw in their last two matches after a run of three losses, and they're looking to take another three points when Leicester City comes to Goodison Park. While Everton have looked better for the majority of this year than for much of last, the Foxes have only recently found any life after a dismal start to the campaign that didn’t see them win a match until the start of October.
The Blues will have to take Leicester seriously, however, as they are still full of talent and are - for the most part - well-coached. While the Toffees will expect to earn three points from the affair, Leicester City will certainly not lay down for the home side.
RBM: First off, good to speak to you once again; I know the season has been unkind to this side thus far, so what might you describe the feeling or feelings around this Leicester City team and its supporters to be right now?
I think, by and large, we’re holding our breath and trying to get to January. Everyone’s frustrated, of course. I don’t think anyone expected the club to be in the relegation zone in November. There’s plenty of blame to throw around, but there’s very little we can do about it beyond supporting the team, and seeing what happens during the upcoming windows.
Both windows - winter and summer - will be telling. We have seven players who will be out of contract this summer, so I would expect some painful departures. We also, at long last, have a director of recruitment, so we should see a fresh face or two. Until then? We’re just trying to hold on.
RBM: What has gone wrong for a side with many of the same players that have been consistently challenging for European positions for the last several years, and managed an FA Cup just a couple of seasons back?
That is a long, long story that goes back several years. After falling short of the Champions League on the last day of the season two years in a row, we spent heavily over the summer of 2021 without selling, which put an enormous amount of pressure on the club to improve.
Several of the players we brought in didn’t work out, and the defence suffered an absurd rash of injuries, so we fell short of our goals. This left us in a precarious financial situation this summer. Add that to the Wesley Fofana drama, the manager’s frustration with ownership, and the baffling inability to add a wide player on the right highlighting a generally awkward squad construction and this is what you get.
RBM: There doesn’t seem to be any sense - that I can tell anyway - that Brendan Rogers is on the hot seat like Steven Gerrard obviously was with Aston Villa; is there a sense that the boss can best utilize this still-very talented roster to dig out of this early season quagmire?
If you’d asked me three weeks ago, I would have conceded that the gaffer either didn’t recognize what was going wrong, or didn’t have it in him to adjust. Now? I’d say I cautiously back him.
In the early going, we were turning the ball over playing out of the back, our defensive line was only a “line” in the loosest sense of the word, and, with Wilfred Ndidi injured, we were playing a defensive midfielder who wasn’t really a defensive midfielder. Now we’re playing more directly, the discipline of the back four has improved, and we’re dropping Youri Tielemans deeper to help out.
I’m certain the sudden defensive improvement has nothing to do with a run of matches against Crystal Palace, Leeds, and Wolves. All facetiousness aside, we looked solid against Manchester City, so perhaps the improvement is real.
RBM: Can the World Cup break and the January transfer window that opens up right after the World Cup ends help this side in its fight to recover form and quality and avoid relegation? Any positions that this side really could use?
We may be the club that benefits the most from having the World Cup in the winter this year. Not only does it mean that we have fewer matches before the window opens, but we will not be losing any of our English players due to Gareth Southgate’s puzzling dislike of James Maddison.
“What we need” is going to be largely determined by “who we lose.” We need a wide man on the right, of course. We’ve needed one since the departure of Riyad Mahrez. I would expect us to try to add at least one central midfielder, a centre-back or two, and maybe a defensive midfielder. I dream of a left-footed left-back, but that’s probably pretty low on the list of priorities.
RBM: How do you expect Leicester to set up on Saturday, and who do you think might cause Everton the most problems?
The interesting thing will be seeing how the defense sets up. Jonny Evans and Ndidi are back in contention, but the back line of Wout Faes and Daniel Amartey has been almost impenetrable. Çağlar Söyüncü looked really strong against the Citizens as well and doesn’t deserve to get dropped even though he almost certainly will be.
If I were a betting man, I’d say we go back to Rodgers’ preferred 4-1-4-1 that’s really a 4-2-3-1 with Evans and Faes at the back, Boubakary Soumare and Tielemans sitting deep, Harvey Barnes, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, and James Maddison in attacking positions behind Patson Daka up top.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s match?
Let me start by saying I’m deeply hurt by the fact that you Toffees picked up three of the players on my summer shopping list for Leicester. James Garner, James Tarkowski, and Dwight McNeil were all players I wanted see at the King Power. I think you did exceptionally well this summer and I’m a little surprised that you’re not in the top half of the table.
I’m going to be the optimist here and, assuming our newfound defensive prowess is real, predict a 1-1 draw.
Our thanks to Jake for his time.