Coming off a much-needed ten day hiatus, Everton face Leicester City on Wednesday in what could prove a pivotal match for the beleaguered Merseysiders. The break has given manager Frank Lampard opportunity to recover some players, such as key centre half Yerry Mina and midfielder Donny van de Beek, from injury and to work the team on the Finch Farm training pitch.
Whether either player will be fit to start against the Foxes is yet to be determined especially with an Anfield derby coming up, but both will be in competition for places in the matchday squad, which will be a huge boost going forward. Leicester, in contrast have played three matches since the Toffees last saw action and this could be a major factor under the lights at Goodison Park. Here we take a look at the visitors, led by ex-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
Rodgers has brought stability to a team that had failed to kick on from an unlikely Premier League title win in the 2015-16 season. In the past two completed seasons, he’s led the team to back-to-back fifth place finishes in the league and a first FA Cup final win for the east Midlands outfit. This campaign has seen a dip in performance and the Foxes sit in ninth position in the table, safe from any relegation concerns but with no chance of achieving qualification for any European competitions through a league finish. With eight games to play they are truly mid-table, essentially just playing out domestic fixtures with their true focus on the first leg of their impending Europa Conference League Semi-final against AS Roma on 28th April. Winning that competition offers Leicester their only chance of playing continental football next season.
Leicester’s visit to Goodison Park is the sixth of nine fixtures they play this month and their overall form has been good since the end of February, registering seven wins from 12 in all competitions. They come into Wednesday’s match coming off a 2-1 loss away at Newcastle United on Sunday, though several important players were rested following a European match against PSV Eindhoven three days previous.
Style of Play
Rodgers is flexible in the way he sets up his team, though traditionally he favours a back four, typically in a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 formation. During the final months of last season, he switched to a variety of back three setups, enabling the on-form Kelechi Iheanacho to partner talismanic striker Jamie Vardy in a front two, but this campaign he’s largely reverted to his preferred back four. The Northern Irishman is a long-time advocate of the possession style of football, playing out from the back and through the thirds, with little alteration (the side enjoy 50.3% possession both home and away). The Foxes have some quality technical players in their ranks, such as Youri Tielemans and James Maddison but most of their players are comfortable on the ball and the side is able to compete for control against all but the division’s elite. A criticism this campaign is that the side is too slow in build-up, leading to them taking only 11.7 shots per game (tied with Everton in 13th position).
Leicester use a lone striker but have missed Vardy for much of the current campaign and have utilized Iheanacho, or newcomer Patson Daka up front in his absence. The squad possesses pacey options cutting in from either flank, in the likes of Harvey Barnes or ex-Blue Ademola Lookman. Attacking width is provided by the full backs and injuries to high-calibre performers such as Timothy Castagne, Ricardo Pereira and James Justin has hurt the team; possibly as a result, the Foxes attempt the fewest crosses in the league, just 14 per game. Defensively, the visitors have been missing key players throughout the season and have looked uncharacteristically vulnerable, conceding four times on the counter, joint fourth (with the Blues, again) in the league. Set-piece defending, a problem last campaign has degenerated further and Leicester have shipped 16 goals, tied with Leeds United for the worst performing team. Rodgers’ men have been disorganised on the road, letting in an astonishing 12 goals from set-pieces and giving away five penalties.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has been one of the division’s best for a number of years, but he’s having something of a down season. Leicester’s captain brings leadership to a defence that has been patchwork and erratic but he is conceding slightly more goals than would be expected, considering the quality of those chances. To an extent, this could be explained by the volume of shots he’s having to deal with: 146 with eight league games to go, only eleven short of the most he’s faced in Leicester’s colours (back in 2016-17).
Tielemans is an elite midfielder who controls much of Leicester’s play, a well-rounded and intelligent technician with an excellent passing range, who is contributing almost three shot-creating actions per 90 minutes (SCA90) played in the league. He is also a goal threat from range. Maddison, deployed either behind a striker or, as more recently on the right is on course to break a personal record for goals scored in the league (currently on eight) and is a dangerous playmaker (3.55 SCA90 this term). Breakthrough star Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall is proving himself a genuine box-to-box midfielder in his debut campaign in the Premier League, offering indispensable energy and putting himself about defensively. Going forward he looks lively and creative, though perhaps inclined to shoot too often from range at this point.
Just three points clear of relegation rivals Burnley (albeit with a game in hand), Everton face some arduous games in the near future: a visit to Anfield, followed by hosting reigning European champions Chelsea and then a return match against tomorrow’s opponents at the King Power Stadium. The Blues have all the advantages against Rodgers’ side, in terms of freshness, backing by the raucous Goodison Park faithful and ample time to work on a game plan. The Foxes have the upcoming distraction of a big European Conference League semi-final and though they can’t be expected to roll over on Wednesday night, Lampard’s outfit need to win and should be more motivated. Leicester can be a bit meticulous and tentative and if the Blues can impose themselves, engineer plenty of set-piece situations and fire in crosses towards a (hopefully) fit and sharp Dominic Calvert-Lewin they will have every chance to take all three points at the Old Lady, in what could prove a memorable night.