As Everton work hard on bringing unquestioned pedigree to the club in the form of ex-Milan and Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, the fort is currently being held by club legend Duncan Ferguson. The Scotsman – known during his playing career for an abrasive playing style which saw him imprisoned in 1994 for an on-field headbutt – has certainly marked a change in approach from the quiet, methodical and ineffectual ways of Marco Silva. It has also brought four league points from tricky-looking games at home to Chelsea and away to Manchester United.
Tonight, Ferguson makes his third and possibly final appearance in the Goodison dugout with the visit of Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City side. The Foxes are unbeaten in ten matches, although it will be interesting to see how they deal with the bump in the road that came with a 1-1 draw at home against the eminently beatable Norwich. As the focus on their climb up the table has grown, the pressure on Rodgers’ charges will have done likewise – and with two league fixtures against Manchester City (directly below them in 3rd place) and Liverpool (above them in 1st) awaiting in the next eight days, we may also see a reshuffled pack from the visitors.
Iheanacho to lead the line for Leicester?
After the experts concluded that Leicester’s goal in the 1-1 draw with Norwich was a Tim Krul own goal, Jamie Vardy found his bid to break his own record for goals in consecutive Premier League games (11, in 2015/16) frustrated at a total of eight. Nonetheless, his effervescent form has been invaluable in getting the Foxes to their present position, which is exactly why Rodgers is likely to leave him on the bench this evening. Amid a busy December calendar with some tough opposition to face down, this is one game where the XI can be chopped and changed.
This means a likely start for Kele Iheanacho, who was substituted early in the Norwich match and scored in his two previous outings for the side. The Nigerian was believed to have been replaced for fear of a disciplinary flashpoint after he attempted to score rather than returning the ball to his opponents after it had been kicked out for an injury stoppage. Rodgers denied this, saying he had identified a necessary tactical change, but either way Iheanacho will likely start this evening, as the obvious replacement for Vardy in a single-striker formation. He’s 11/8 with Ladbrokes to notch on the night, and has been in fine scoring form recently.
Everton to keep recent improvement going?
When a team suddenly starts performing above expectations after weeks – months, even – of appearing listless, it’s often hard to avoid a sense that the players need to look at themselves in the mirror. The suspicion that runs far and wide right now is that Toffees players were, by the end of Silva’s run, just not playing for the boss. With such immediate improvement since Ferguson took the job on a caretaker basis, one has to wonder where Everton might be in the table had the same players found the ability to play like this earlier: probably not in 16th place, is the unavoidable answer.
Nonetheless, a home game with the potential to keep a cup run going – it’s an attractive prospect for a team that has not won a trophy since 1995. Leicester have been in form recently, but are likely to rest more than one of the standout players that have been so key to this recent run, so this is a match that the Toffees can address with the very real prospect that it can be won. As such, given Leicester’s own attacking abilities, it’s not hard to see both teams scoring; en eventuality that is priced at 7/10 by Gamebookers.
End result too close to call
These sides met at the King Power Stadium at the outset of December, and the Toffees took a first half lead through Richarlison before Iheanacho, on as a sub, set up Vardy to equalise on 64 minutes. Silva’s frenzied attempts to hang on to his job were almost rewarded with a point as the sides were locked at 1-1 going into time added on. The dam finally broke as Iheanacho ran on to a Ricardo through ball and stabbed home to secure all three points for the home side. It was, in fairness, one of the better performances the Merseyside club have managed this season.
Tonight, they have a lot going in their favour. Everton are at home, the team is playing like a side that wants to win games, and although both are likely to chop and change their playing staff, it’s a fair bet that Leicester will do it more. Therefore, on balance, over 90 minutes and potentially penalties beyond that, it’s a fair shout that the hosts will progress this evening – which, at Evens with Paddy Power, they are marginally the underdogs to do. We’d expect a score draw or a narrow home win here, but either way we’d back Everton on the To Qualify market.
Bets of the Day
Everton to progress (Paddy Power, Evens); Both Teams To Score (Gamebookers, 7/10); Iheanacho to score (Ladbrokes, 11/8)