Leicester have the edge over Everton in defence, but Everton have better strength in depth… so, with both teams fighting for a top four spot – and potentially the title – who is best equipped to gatecrash the elite as they meet at Goodison Park?
- Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton face off against high-flying Leicester on Wednesday
- Both sides are enjoying excellent seasons with the Toffees pushing for top four
- The Foxes, meanwhile, are surprise title contenders and two points off the top
- Sportsmail outlines which side is better equipped to gatecrash the elite
Who would have thought this fixture would be described as a ‘top four clash’ at the beginning of the season?
On Wednesday night Carlo Ancelotti will lead his side against Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes in the battle of the surprise packages at Goodison Park. It’s been some time since the Toffees were scrapping it out for a Champions League spot but the veteran Italian has turned them into real contenders.
It promises to be an enticing affair with both sides coming off some great form and the match should tell us a lot about who has the mettle to push for a spot in the top four and possibly even the title.
Everton boss Ancelotti (L) will lock horns with Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers (R) on Wednesday in a clash that could prove crucial in the top four race
Everton, who have won four of their last five, have two games in hand over current leaders United, so another three points here would be crucial and could see them slowly working their way towards the summit.
Leicester have won their last three – including a 2-0 success over struggling Chelsea – which took them briefly top of the table. They’ve earned a few other scalps this season, including over Arsenal and Spurs – but this should be one of their toughest games yet.
Sportsmail takes a look at both sides and analyses their strengths and what separates them – assessing which team has the better chance of gatecrashing the top four this season.
Everton: Jordan Pickford
Not everyone’s cup of tea in between the sticks and has been guilty of some glaring errors this season – even while Toffees have been in inspired form. He’s been backed by Ancelotti, who continues to pick him, while he still looks like Gareth Southgate’s choice as England No 1.
But we’ve seen a much more polished Pickford in recent games. He’s kept two clean sheets in his last five games – but only has three overall, with the first coming against Spurs on the opening day of the season.
He’s made 42 saves in this campaign and let in 19 to ensure Everton remain one of the tightest defences in the division – with just one mistake leading to a goal.
Jordan Pickford has looked shaky for Everton in the last year but has improved recently
Leicester: Kasper Schmeichel
Arguably one of the most consistent keepers in the Premier League in recent seasons – even if he’s not quite as spectacular as his father Peter was for Manchester United.
Schmeichel, a Premier League winner with the Foxes in 2016, has helped them keep seven clean sheets this season – including one in each of his last two games.
It’s surprising that no top side has made a move for the Dane, but the club have shown that they are going places and the 34-year-old has been key to that. He’s made 56 saves in 2020-21 with 21 goals conceded and 0 errors leading to a goal.
VERDICT: Schmeichel looks to be a slight level above Pickford and is the most reliable choice.
Kasper Schmeichel is a reliable option for Rodgers and has been crucial to their success
Everton have looked weak at the back in recent seasons but it’s an area they look much stronger in now. Michael Keane has put in some improved displays this season and looks solid alongside Colombian Yerry Mina, while Mason Holgate has made the right back berth his own of late.
Ben Godfrey is only in his first season at Goodison Park since the 23-year-old joined from Norwich, but already has 10 starts at left back. Everton have shipped just 21 goals, which ranks as the fifth-best defence in the division, joint with Leicester and Southampton.
But their back-line has looked vulnerable at times and they have only managed to keep three clean sheets – an area for improvement.
Michael Keane has formed a solid partnership alongside Yerry Mina at the back for Everton
Leicester made a shrewd signing in Wesley Fofana from St Etienne this summer and he looks particularly strong at the back alongside Jonny Evans, the pair having kept seven clean sheets together.
At full-back they have a new face in Timothy Castagne, who looks like another smart signing, and youngster James Justin – who is looking like he could even nail down the left back position for England at some point in the future.
Rodgers wants his teams to play fluidly in attack but deserves credit for keeping his back-line solid at the same time, and the addition of Fofana has really helped in ensuring the defence is organised.
VERDICT: There isn’t too much separating the defence but Leicester look a bit more solid at the back and edge this one on superior clean sheets.
Leicester have managed to stay compact at the back thanks to new signing Wesley Fofana (R)
Arguably one of the best buys in the Premier League last summer was James Rodriguez, who turned out to be a free transfer for Everton, and the Colombian has shown he is far from past his best with a string of impressive showings.
He has made 11 starts, with three goals and three assists, and always carries a threat. Ancelotti can also call upon Icelandic playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson, who hasn’t been as dangerous in the last couple of seasons but has started to come alive in the last month. With two talented attacking midfielders to choose from, it’s a good problem for the Italian boss to have.
In centre midfield the combative Allan has looked steely since his arrival from Napoli and has added grit to the middle of the park, while Abdoulaye Doucoure has looked menacing too. Everton also have the versatile Lucas Digne – usually a left back but has been transformed into a make-shift left-winger at points this season – chipping in with five assists.
Everton have top talent in midfield, including James Rodriguez (L) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (R)
The key man in the Leicester midfield is without a doubt James Maddison – who is enjoying a superb run of four goals and two assists in his last five games, and we’re finally seeing the exciting and energetic star that had England fans raving last season.
Meanwhile, Harvey Barnes is really coming into his own too – he’s scored six in the league this season, the same amount as Maddison, and should be in contention for a place at the Euros with the Three Lions this summer.
Further back Wilfred Ndidi has earned his place as one of the best defensive midfielders in the league while Youri Tielemans helps keep things ticking with his passing and vision.
VERDICT: While the Foxes have a couple of stand-outs in midfield, Everton have more high-quality options to choose from, as well as the likes of Alex Iwobi, Tom Davies and Andre Gomes.
James Maddison (C) has been key to Leicester’s superb recent form and is a game-changer
This seems to be a straight shootout between Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jamie Vardy. Both forwards have been electric this season and it’s not surprise that they’re both level on 11 Premier League goals.
It’s worth pointing out that Calvert-Lewin has only just recently hit top form over the last year, while Vardy has been consistently delivering in front of goal for the last five seasons. With his speed and dangerous runs, you would perhaps lean towards Vardy, but the Toffees also have Richarlison and Cenk Tosun to call upon too.
Leicester won’t have Vardy available against Everton, which means Ayoze Perez, who played in the cup against Brentford, could step in – but Rodgers also has Kelechi Iheanacho as an option too.
VERDICT: Given how crucial Vardy is to Leicester’s cause and the impact he has had on their season, this one swings to Leicester – especially with the attacking threat of Harvey Barnes effectively making him a forward.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is enjoying one of his best seasons for Everton with 11 league goals
Jamie Vardy also has 11 strikes and is proving as crucial as ever for Leicester City
Everton: Carlo Ancelotti
Ancelotti is one of the greatest managers of all-time and has won it all – the Champions League three times, LaLiga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Premier League.
Everton fans must have been pinching themselves when news dropped that they had lured the Italian to Goodison and he is slowly stamping his wealth of experience on the team.
After overcoming a difficult start last season, he now has the personnel he needs to mount a serious top-four bid and having him at the helm will only help in attracting more big names to Merseyside.
Ancelotti is one of the all-time greatest coaches but his stock has lowered in recent years
Leicester: Brendan Rodgers
Rodgers may not have quite the same trophy collection as Ancelotti but there’s no doubting his tactical prowess and style of football, which often makes him one of the top candidates for the big jobs when they become available.
He was forced to bat away speculation linking him to Arsenal last season and committed himself to the Foxes. It looks like he is building something special at the King Power having taken them back into contention for the title. The players have bought into his style, which looks a match for any team in this league.
VERDICT: While Ancelotti has all the accolades, Rodgers is the more in-demand coach and is winning huge plaudits for his style of play – while the Italian’s stock has lowered slightly after being sacked by Napoli last year.
Rodgers is one of the first names linked to big jobs and is one of the most exciting coaches
Everton have spent heavily across the last few seasons, and have a squad filled with talent as a result. Some signings have worked out – like Allan and Doucoure. For others, such as Alex Iwobi and Bernard, the jury is still out. But it means the Toffees have a lot of quality in their midfield and allows Ancelotti to reshuffle his pack when things aren’t working out.
Leicester’s midfield often picks itself, although Rodgers also has the likes of Dennis Praet, Cengiz Under and Hamza Choudhary in reserve. In defence, the Foxes fare better, with Caglar Soyuncu only making four starts this season despite a standout campaign last year. Ricardo Pereira and Christian Fuchs make up the support options at full-back.
Up front, both sides are relatively even – with one key striker and two back up forwards, and it’s the same situation at goalkeeper.
VERDICT: Quite balanced between the two clubs but Everton have a wealth of midfield and attacking options which gives them the edge in depth.
Everton have spent big in recent seasons and have an array of midfield and attacking options
An area where Everton have been lacking in recent seasons but one that has been addressed with the arrival of two-time Champions League winner James Rodriguez as well as former Barcelona stars Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne and Andre Gomes.
But Leicester still have a number of players in their ranks who won the Premier League in 2015-16, including Schmeichel, Marc Albrighton, Wes Morgan and Jamie Vardy, and also have the vastly experienced Jonny Evans – who played nearly 200 times for Manchester United and won the league three times.
VERDICT: The Foxes have more players who know what it takes to win trophies and be successful, and who are engraining that belief in the club’s DNA.
The Foxes still have a few members of their Premier League winning team at the club, such as Wes Morgan (L) and Schmeichel (R)
Both sides should maintain their top four bids for the remainder of the season but Leicester have been the standout side and one who look genuinely capable of not only earning a place in Europe’s top competition, but taking United, City and Liverpool all the way in the title race.
The Foxes agonisingly missed out on the top four last season despite looking a shoo-in for inclusion for most of the campaign, but this time around they look much more focused and consistent in their quest to move up a level.
Everton will be no pushovers on Wednesday night and are more than good enough to put Rodgers’ men to the sword, but Leicester look a more compact and organised unit with a more settled squad who are all heading in the same direction under their ambitious boss.
Leicester are best-equipped to finish in the top four but also have every chance in the title race
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