The Foxes drew the short straw with a horrible away tie against Everton in the FA Cup. The Toffees have improved after a difficult autumn and will be expecting to punish a Leicester side that is missing two stars in Mahrez and Islam Slimani. You can watch this tie on a free live stream with a funded account at Bet365.
Everton have been hard to pin down this year. They had a pretty strong start and a lot of tipsters had them down to trouble the top four, but since October they’ve been all over the place.
At times, like in the composed win over Southampton on Monday or the surprise defeat of Arsenal, they’ve looked a strong, cohesive team. But then you have to balance that with the meek derby surrender last month and the frustrating draw at Hull over Christmas.
Part of the problem has been that they’re very reliant on Romelu Lukaku up front. If he’s in the mood they can overcome most opposition, but other days his touch can be very heavy and he drifts through matches, and so the team is listless too.
Ronald Koeman might have found a remedy for this by playing Enner Valencia alongside him in that drubbing of Southampton. In a two-man attack Lukaku is able to find space more often instead of worrying about being a target man when he’s by himself.
One of the things that has brought about this change of system is the injury to Yannick Bolasie, leaving the Toffees low on first-class wingers. Even Kevin Mirallas, the obvious replacement looks happier playing behind the strikers, as he did on Monday.
By playing a little narrower, Everton also create more room for the in-form Leighton Baines to attack. He was instrumental yet again on Monday and resurrected his career this season under Koeman.
The Africa Cup of Nations will rob Everton of their player of the season, as Idrissa Gueye will head off to link up with Senegal. With Gueye out of the team Everton will find it much harder to control the middle of the pitch.
On the face of it there isn’t much to replace him, with James McCarthy struggling with a hamstring tear and Gareth Barry in the twilight of his career. Koeman has turned to the 18-year-old Tom Davies, who did well in his first league start of the season against Southampton on Monday.
Everton Predicted Teamsheet:
Robles; Coleman, Williams, Mori, Baines; McCarthy, Davies; Barkley, Mirallas; Lukaku, Valencia
Leicester have woken up to the fact that they’re in a relegation scrap and have given up on the 4-4-2 that guided them to the title last year. In the last couple of match-days that has been discarded for a three-man central midfield.
Funnily enough, this is much more Ranieri’s sort of style. And in Monday’s match with Middlesbrough there was a resilience about the Foxes that we haven’t seen much, particularly in the league this season.
We’re also now realising that N’Golo Kanté was doing the work of two men in that midfield last year.
It could be that the pressure of knockout football might rekindle some of the Foxes’ fire after last year’s fairytale. We’ve seen them take Champions League football in their stride and breeze into the round of 16.
And they’ve also raised their game for a couple the big Premier matches, as we saw when they obliterated Man City last month and should have easily beaten Arsenal at the start of the season. So a change of airs might refresh Ranieri’s team, as they’re bogged down by the nitty-gritty of weekly Premier League football.
One man who had a quiet Christmas is Jamie Vardy who missed the entire program through suspension for a red against Stoke. Leicester did OK without him, and Vardy probably needed the rest after a breathless 12 months that saw him involved at the Euros after a title victory last season.
Like many Leicester player he’s been out of sorts in 2016-17 but has raised his game for the big fixtures. So what’s the betting that he returns from his Christmas break with a goal at Goodison?
Perhaps the other reason for the big formation change on Monday is that Leicester now face several weeks without two of their key players. Islam Slimani and Mahrez both join Gueye at the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.
The competition hurts Leicester more than most teams, and they’re going to have to find other sources of creativity and goals to avoid a slump this January.
This finally gives Demarai Gray an opportunity to show what he’s about this season. Because without Mahrez there’s suddenly a lack of inspiration in this team that needs to be addressed quickly.
The England u21 winger is very slippery in the right setup, but doesn’t have the same composure as Mahrez. Still, Ranieri has kept him around the squad even while he’s been on the fringes of the team, and we’ll see whether Gray can repay some of that faith.
Leicester Predicted Lineup:
Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; King, Mendy, Drinkwater; Gray, Ulloa, Albrighton
When Will Everton vs Leicester Take Place?
The match will be played at 15:00 GMT on Saturday 7 January at Goodison Park.
Everton vs Leicester Prediction:
Both sides are weakened by their Africa Cup of Nations absences, but Everton are better equipped to cope, if Tom Davies’ showing on Monday is any indication. Of the two teams, Leicester could also do without the clutter of another cup competition this season.
So looking at form and circumstances we’re predicting a home win at Goodison Park. The Foxes turned their match on Monday into an attritional slog, so we reckon this is going to be a dour game of football that Everton will shade 1-0.