Leicester City v Everton. The Everton Forum preview

Stuffed at home, in the relegation zone, knocked out of a cup, without a manager and yet still, somehow, there’s an air of positivity about Everton.

It’s been a mad week for the blues and now, as we approach another massive game, there’s a new-found confidence about the place.

The big game is Leicester away, it’s on Sunday at 4pm (live on Sky Sports) and Everton need the 3 points.

The Foxes

Leicester (14th) have had an interesting few weeks themselves.

Having slumped to a disappointing 6 points from their 8 matches, Leicester’s Thai owners took the decision to remove their newly-appointed head coach, Craig Shakespeare.

Michael Appleton took temporary charge of the foxes last weekend at Swansea and in true ‘first game after a manager gets sacked’ style, the East Midlands side returned home with a morale-boosting 2-1 win.

A few days later, Appleton’s rejuvenated foxes welcomed Leeds United to the King Power stadium in the Carabao cup, producing an impressive 3-1 victory with a rotated team to send them through to the quarter finals.

Then the following day, from nowhere, it was announced that Leicester had appointed last season’s Southampton manager, Claude Puel to be their new boss.

I don’t really know how I feel about Puel. On the one hand, he delivered an ‘okay-ish’ season with Southampton (8th place and a cup final), but on the other, his team were very boring to watch and only won 46 points.

Puel’s Saints side managed just 41 goals, however their defence (upon which he prides himself) only conceded 48. It was boring but it got results more often than not.

So whilst the Frenchman probably wouldn’t have been the first name on Leicester fans lips, I can only presume Leicester’s owners are thinking Puel can solidify them and keep them in the Premier League for the foreseeable future.

I mean, to be fair to the Leicester owners, everybody laughed when the ‘tinker man’ Claudio Ranieri was appointed and that didn’t go too badly. 

Given Leicester’s first team played well last weekend and their fringe players also did well in mid-week, it’s nigh-on impossible to predict what team Puel will pick in his first game in charge. However, given the lack of training ground time Puel’s had with his new squad, I’d be surprised if there were any drastic tactical changes for this, so I think it’s likely we’ll face Leicester’s usual 4-4-2 come 4-4-1-1 on Sunday.

If I were to guess, I’d suggest we’ll see Schmeichel in the Leicester goal, Morgan, Maguire, Morgan and Fuchs across the back, Iborra and Ndidi holding in midfield and Mahrez and Albrighton in wide midfield areas. Up top, the leggy pest that is Jamie Vardy will probably supported by the industrious workhorse Shinji Okazaki.

Should Puel choose to go with other previously less preferred players, it’s possible Dragovic could come in at the back, Gray could play out wide and Iheanacho or Slimani could support Vardy.

As ever with this Leicester side, the two primary danger men will be Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.

The Algerian, Mahrez is a very good winger and (with all due respect to Leicester) one who should really be playing at a higher level. He appears to have found his mojo since the departure of Shakespeare, recording assists to both goals Leicester against Swansea and a goal off the subs bench against Leeds.

Vardy, the Non-League to Premier League champion poster boy of Leicester’s remarkable 2015/16 feat, continues to offer a constant goal threat through his pace, work rate and movement.

There are definitely more technically gifted players out there and good God, he winds me up when he plays against us, but most sides would love to have a player like him among their rank.

We can expect a no-nonsense defence coupled with a lot of hard work from Leicester on Sunday. The likes of Albrighton, Vardy and Ndidi will all work their socks off whilst Mahrez and Iborra will provide them with a bit of culture other Leicester players may lack.

Overall, it’s going to be another tough game. Leicester have found some form and have a new manager they’ll be keen to impress whilst Everton haven’t won an away Premier League game since January (although 1 of our 4 PL away wins under Koeman did come here last December).

The Blues

Looking at what’s happened in the last seven days, anyone who doesn’t support Everton could easily be forgiven for thinking this week has been an awful one for us.

Yet, despite everything that might seem so negative from the outside looking in, I’m sitting here writing this preview feeling positive about Everton for the first time in a long while (why do we do it to ourselves?!).

There hasn’t been a morale boosting win to turn the tide or the arrival of a big-money striker to end our goalscoring woes but suddenly, something just seems different about the place.

Obviously, the main difference is crystal clear – Ronald Koeman is no longer manager of Everton Football Club.

Much has been, and will be, written about the Dutchman’s departure so I’m keen to gloss over it briefly, however I’ll just say this on the matter:

Should he have done things differently? Yes.
Was the slump all his fault? No.
Did he have to go? Yes.
Will he be missed? No.

When a team’s in the middle of a season and nothing’s working, right or wrong, it’s the manager whose neck’s on the block. I admit, I didn’t see it coming this soon but I’m pleased the club acted decisively and in doing so basically told the Football world, ‘Everton aren’t going to stand for mediocrity and excuses anymore’.

I want this club to be a winning one and not one who takes some strange pride in not sacking failing managers. The game’s moved on and these days, if a manager isn’t doing it, they’re out the door, end of story. As Ronald Koeman said many times during his reign, ‘that’s football’.

No new manager has been appointed as of yet but former Everton stalwart, penalty-taker supreme and under 23 manager, David Unsworth has been given the job on a temporary basis.

‘Unsy’ (or ‘Rhino’) has wasted no time in bringing something resembling a feel-good factor to the club. Both of his pre-match press conferences have been immaculate and the photos taken at his training sessions have been all smiles.

He took a changed Everton team down to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday where they reduced Chelsea to precious little and walked away really unfortunate to lose 2-1 after an exceptional second half display, in which a number of chances were missed.

I was there on Wednesday night and you could really feel a sense of positivity throughout the away end. The team sheet, with it’s surprise inclusion of 19 year old Beni Baningime and the previously-banished James McCarthy, Aaron Lennon and Kevin Mirallas instantly looked fresher than the same old, same old we’d seen under Koeman.

Despite it being another defeat, the lads were cheered off at full-time and for the first time in a while, it felt like the light at the end of the tunnel was coming into sight.

So now it’s on to Leicester this Sunday and a huge game with a bit of the old swagger back…

Much like picking Puel’s first team, it’s really hard to predict the starting 11 Unsworth will go with here. Some have said the team for Chelsea was what he considered to be his best, whilst others have pointed to some of the ‘star’ names missing from Wednesday’s team to suggest he prioritised this match.

Personally, I think we’ll see a few changes on Sunday. I suspect Michael Keane will return in defence, Gana Gueye in midfield, Gylfi Sigurdsson in attacking midfield and Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front.

It’s also possible Morgan Schneiderlin will return on Sunday (and I think Unsy probably will select him), however, I’d personally keep the more dynamic Tom Davies in the team alongside the returning Gana Gueye.

My team for this one would be; Pickford, Kenny, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Gana, Davies, Sigurdsson, Mirallas, Vlasic, Calvert-Lewin.

However, despite him slowing our play, I’d be really surprised if Wayne Rooney wasn’t selected somewhere or other. I’d personally prefer to have Rooney on the bench for this alongside impact-sub supreme Oumar Niasse, Aaron Lennon, James McCarthy, Ademola Lookman and Mason Holgate.

I’m sure there will be calls for Beni Baningime to play in this match. Whilst the youngster was really good at Chelsea and I’d be happy to see him get more opportunities, I personally see him as being behind Gana, Davies, Schneiderlin and McCarthy in the pecking order.

No matter what team we pick, I just want to see 11 lads playing in their natural positions (with no ‘I’ve got to get him in there somewhere’ picks) enjoying their footy and actually having a good go.

At Chelsea in the second half there was some bite in our play along with width, a bit of pace and even shots on goal – it got us nothing on the night but for the first time in a while the team did what we expect and that’s why they got clapped off – it wasn’t rocket science!

My main worries for this match are twofold; our slow defence dealing with the pace of Jamie Vardy and a creaking Leighton Baines having to contain Riyad Mahrez. With these two elements in mind, I do think we’ll need to sit quite deep and go fairly long to Calvert-Lewin and I also think the left winger will need to be told to protect Baines.

It’s going to be a tough match but if I’m honest, I don’t think Leicester are a team Everton should be fearing, they’ve had a good week but they’re 1 point ahead of us and we’ve been awful.

We need to stop the rot, we can beat Leicester and with the new-found confidence, I hope we’ll do it on Sunday. The second half against Chelsea set the bar, now we need to maintain that and reap the rewards.

Match Prediction, 1-2 Everton. COYB!

Finally, the referee for this one is Andre Marriner. He took charge of our 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford, correctly awarding Manchester United a penalty.

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