Everton v Leicester City | Saturday 19 December | Goodison Park | 17:00
It’s rather depressing that Nigel Pearson’s Herculean efforts in keeping Leicester alive are going to fade into the ether of remembrance in the wake of Ranieri’s revival. Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy are currently competing in their own Player of the Year sub-plot, while Roberto Martinez’s side have failed to capitalize on several opportunities to stamp their identity on the league in recent weeks. Romelu Lukaku is attempting to emulate Vardy in terms of scoring in consecutive games, setting up what could be an absolutely thrilling encounter this weekend.
To Win (80 Mins)
Martinez’s side have put in some tired second half performances in recent weeks that could ultimately compromise their European ambitions come season end. Deulefeou’s almost telepathic connection with Lukaku has proved revelatory for Everton, and I’m sure that the Toffees will be targeting Fuchs as a potential weakness in the side. Barry has looked a bit leggy in recent weeks, leading some to believe that Everton may target a new holding midfielder in the upcoming transfer window. Leighton Baines will only get better with more game-time and will fight out an intriguing dual with Simpson.
I think that Everton need to rejig their front four a wee bit this week. Kone has been slightly ineffective in comparison to Barkley and Deulefeou. This may prompt a change and see the indefatigable Naismith come into the side and bring a bit more defensive awareness into the front four. Barry, Cleverley, and McCarthy - depending on which combination they have utilized - have been left slightly exposed against counterattacks. And we all know that Mahrez, Albrighton and Vardy are as deadly on the break as any trio in the country. Everton’s attacking prowess comes face to face with the unexpected juggernaut that is Leicester.
Free pizza for the entire country. That could well be on the cards if Ranieri can guide the Foxes to an improbable top four finish. There are a few worrying issues at hand however. Firstly, the injury to Drinkwater could be a potential forewarning of the limitations in Leicester’s depth of squad: despite King being a noteworthy replacement. Furthermore, are the Foxes going to be able to keep hold of Vardy and, more importantly, Mahrez. Goal-scoring streaks - as amazing as Vardy’s was - come and go and can make amazing trivia questions. Mahrez is the heartbeat of the side, with goal-scoring potency supplementing his undeniable creative flair.
One thing that concerned me was the manner in which their performance somewhat flat-lined under constant Chelsea pressure in the last half hour. It seemed as if their legs gave way somewhat under the intense scrutiny of Leicester’s high octane game-plan. This coupled with Everton’s attacking proclivities should result in an open game that has high goal scoring potential. Lukaku will test the physical prowess of Morgan and Huth to the maximum while Stones vs Vardy could be a contender for middleweight fight of the season. This is going to be an open encounter that should be a spectacle of goal-scoring.
Verdict: Total Goals Over 3.5 - 29/20
I know this seems like an over-ambitious call, but I feel a 2-2 or 3-2 either way here. Leicester looked a little loose at the back and fatigued the other night, whilst their attacking potency was still electrifying. Everton are similarly dangerous in attack but a little soft in the centre of midfield.
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