It was billed as a battle between two of the Premier League’s most dangerous attacking partnerships and the meeting of the Premier League's top goalscorers as Leicester City, the team confounding all prediction and logic by sitting top of the pile heading into the festive season, came to Goodison Park.
Romelu Lukaku may have scored, taking his tally in the League to 13 and extending his scoring streak to seven consecutive matches (eight in all competitions), but Gerard Deulofeu endured an afternoon of frustration and the Jamie Vardy-Riyad Mahrez double-act came out on top, as did the Foxes who deepened the demoralisation in the blue half of Merseyside by plundering all three points.
Vardy didn't find the net but he drew the reckless foul by Tim Howard for Leicester's second penalty – both converted with a aplomb by Mahrez – and set up Shinji Okazaki for what proved to be the winner as Roberto Martinez was left counting the cost of more defensive fallibility and a failure to either take or make enough chances at the other end.
Annoyingly, the match played out mostly the way you'd have expected it to given the modus operandi of Claudio Ranieri's side this season. Everton controlled the game for long stretches, dominated possession and always looked the most likely to score if they could just find a telling final ball but were undone by the visitors' effiiciency in capitalising on the few chances that fell their way.
That the home side weren't able to make their territorial superiority tell was credit to the Foxes' well-organised defence where Robert Huth's absence, on paper a boon for the Blues, was more than compensated for by Marcin Wasilewski and Martin Fuchs largely shut down Deulofeu's game, restricting him to just a couple of genuinely dangerous moments before he was eventually withdrawn in favour of Aaron Lennon with 17 minutes left.
If there was a sense and a hope that Everton, as a club with Champions League aspirations, could be the team to pop Ranieri's bubble – after all, of the other four teams in the top five Leicester had faced three prior to today and failed to beat any of them – it was only enhanced by the manner in which they assumed control of the game from the outset. Deulofeu was looking lively down the right flank and Barkley also looked up for it, weighing in with a couple of impressive defensive tackles in his own half as the home side signalled their intentions.
Their infamous lack of killer instinct raised its head, however, in the couple of minutes before, once again, they conceded the first goal. First Arouna Kone, selected again as Martinez opted consistency in personnel over demonstrated form over the last couple of games, passed up the chance to put his foot through the ball from 18 yards after the ball broke to him off Wasilewski's boot; then Lukaku floated a beautiful cross to pick out Barkley at the far post but rather than attempt to bury it with a first-time header or bring the ball down to shoot, he badly mis-hit a volley from close range.
A Fuchs cross that Ramiro Funes Mori had to head over his own bar aside, Leicester hadn't really been in the contest from an attacking point of view but they were gifted the lead when the Argentine mis-judged a flick-on from a harmless throw-in down the visitors' left, tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick and ended up hauling Okazaki to the ground. Referee Jonathan Moss pointed to the spot and Mahrez did the rest.
Just as they did against Crystal Palace in the last home game, the Toffees hit back and were level within five minutes when Lukaku swept home in typically predatory fashion after Barkley had been foiled first by Kasper Schmeichel's foot and then Andy King on the goal line. Like 12 days ago, however, they weren't able to take the shift in momentum and go on to win the game.
Though they employed a mix of direct mostly fruitless long diagonal balls with passing interchanges through midfield, Everton always looked more threatening when working things down the flank, with a heavy bias to the right side where Deulofeu continued to be thwarted by Leicester bodies getting blocking his cross behind. Coleman, meanwhile, forced Schmeichel to bat a cross-cum-shot over and referee Moss inevitably waved away claims for handball against Fuchs in the Leicester box but as the match moved towards the hour mark, the visitors began to raise the temperature of their own game and it became a more end-to-end affair.
Vardy skidded a shot past the post and, in a cautionary moment for how worryingly open Everton were becoming at the back, Leighton Baines had to scamper across brilliantly to block a shot as the home defence was caught out-numbered as Leicester counter-attacked. But it was the oceans of space in midfield afforded to Mahrez that became all the invitation he needed to advance and then slide a perfectly-weighted ball in behind Stones for Vardy who was then sent sprawling by Howard as he rushed off his line. The Algerian midfielder sent the American 'keeper the wrong way with another calmly-taken penalty.
Under Martinez, the Blues have become accustomed to playing with fire at the back so it wasn't really a surprise when, five minutes later, the otherwise impressive Coleman elected not to take a throw-in down the line but threw it short to Tom Cleverley, leaving the home defence exposed when the Irishman's attempted clearance came off Marc Albrighton's hands and fell straight to Vardy. A couple of touches and a square ball to Okazaki as John Stones battled in vain to recover from his starting position by the corner flag and it was goal number three. There was a strong case for handball against the midfielder – with the appallingly bad Moss in charge, Everton have now lost five of their last six so no shock that nothing was given – but there could be no excuse for more slack defending and a lack of shape and organisation at the back.
Again slow to make much-needed changes, Martinez was finally forced to act by withdrawing the ineffective Kone and the frustrated Deulofeu, with Lennon and Kevin Mirallas thrown on to see if they could turn the tide. Initially it was Barkley who went close when the ball sat up nicely from 25 yards out but his goal-bound shot was deflected wide and Lukaku hammered a presentable chance over from the angle and then saw a direct free kick shortly afterwards sail disappointingly over.
The Blues' persistence paid off two minutes from the end of the regulation 90, though, when Barkley played Mirallas in with a breathtaking heel flick and the Belgian fired home the goal that could have sparked a frenzied search for the equaliser over the remaining five minutes of play. Unfortunately, while Barkley had one last shot that he despatched too close to Schemichel and was saved, there just werent't enough opportunities and Howard had to make one last save with his leg to deny Leonardo Ulloa at the death.
Just two wins from the last 10 matches and only five from 17 so far this league season tell the unfolding story of another season of under-achievement at Everton. This time there is no World Cup hangover or Europa League to blame and if there have been key injuries to point to, perhaps only that to Phil Jagielka can really be cited as a significant factor in the Blues' recent record.
The England international undoubtedly brings more leadership to the central defence where two young centre-halves continue to perform well enough individually but who aren't cutting it as an effective and watertight partnership and are being punished for any lapses. That is exacerbated by the uncertainty created by Howard who perioidically pulls off good saves still fails to command his area, remains vulnerable to crosses – he flapped at one in ludicrous fashion late in the first half – and belied all his experience with a rash foul on Vardy for the second goal.
A gruelling run of 10 games against all of last season's top sides is safely in the rear-view mirror but the last seven from a section of the fixture list that was supposed to be a goldmine of points for Martinez's team have yielded just two victories despite performances that arguably merited at least four more. Wins in just two of those would have the Blues sitting nicely in fifth place over Christmas, with the resurgence from last term's slump still in place. Instead, the Blues are drifting in mid-table again, six points off the top four, as many off the bottom four and searching for the winning mentality that Martinez keeps saying is the key objective.
Martinez now needs to ring the changes to a side has been largely unchanged for four matches now but has only delivered three points from the 12 available. It's time that Kone made way and Mirallas was given a chance to win back his place; Deulofeu could probably use a rest to refocus given how inconsistent he has been lately; and Joel Robles should absolutely be handed the gloves in preparation for the all-important League Cup semi-final.How the Catalan responds during a festive period that was alarming this time last year in what it revealed about the manager and the lack of true depth in the key areas will be instructive in what this Everton side can achieve this season. Three eminently winnable games follow before the first leg of the cup tie against City but the attractiveness on paper of the fixtures has been no guide in recent weeks; there are no more easy games in the top flight any more and if there are, Everton have already had them in the form of Aston Villa and Sunderland at home. It's time to deliver, because in League terms it could be over by the first week of January.
The Blues dominated play but Funes Mori got caught out by Okazaki and Mahrez converted from the spot. Everton replied with a fine goal for Lukaku after Barkley's shot was cleared off the line. But another penalty came for the Foxes in the second half, despite Everton dominance, and a third goal by Okazaki sealed it, despite Mirallas's late consolation.
Everton were unchanged as they took on Premier League leaders Leicester City at Goodison Park this afternoon. Mo Besic returned to the bench for the first time in a month, at the expense of the restless Naismith.
The Foxes kicked off in the driving rain and immediately showed close pressing as they sought to harry Everton players into making mistakes. Barkley's first pass was a nice one out to Deulofeu, and Everton started to probe forward.
Barkley put in an amazing tackle to win the ball back but his pass was off. However, Everton were trying to play their normal game, building from the back, Deulofeu eying an early cross, Wasilewski getting the interception to deny Kone at the price of a corner that was delivered well by Baines. A second corner followed, stupidly played short and wasted.
Funes Mori was in the right place to halt Leicester's first attack and then deal with a difficult cross on the follow-up, heading behind for a corner that was delivered well and Barkley headed it away but Okazaki almost got in.
Everton were playing rather too many high balls down the middle to either Kone or Lukaku, more it seemed as a softening-up strategy as Deulofeu was being closely marked and not getting the space he wanted, and starting to throw tantrums. When he did cross, it was too random, and the Foxes were putting up some feisty resistance to prevent Everton getting a clean sight of goal.
Coleman battled Albrighton for another corner, swung in by Barry but cleared at the near post and Leicester broke, then winning a free-kick that was driven over everyone.
Foxes were too alert for the Blues in too many instances, and a ball falling perfectly for Kone demonstrated the contrast as, with a rare chance to shoot, he completely failed to pull the trigger before being closed out.
Vardy tackled Coleman poorly and drew plenty of derision from the Everton crowd, who were expecting a lot more goalmouth action. It came when Lukaku crossed to Barkley who made a terrible hash of his first-time volley.
Everton were clearly being harried out of their slick passing game in the final third, but worse was to come at the other end, Okasaki and Funes Mori tangling for a soft penalty that Howard almost got his hand to but Mahrez's spot-kick was too good.
But a little more determination, Deulofeu crossing to Lukaku and opportunities for Cleverly then Barkley whose shot beat Schmeichel at the second attempt but was headed off the line, straight to Lukaku who smashed it in with power to put Everton level.
Kone won another corner that Baines delivered very well, but it came off Lukaku's head with far too strong a contact. Everton looked to build again with some good passing but Schmeichel was off his line fast to punch away Cleverly's dangerous cross.
The bouncing ball was too much for Lukaku on a couple of occasions as he failed to impose himself on it, not mastering the ball in any way. At the other end, Funes Mori took the ball off Vardy's feet fro a corner that ALbrighton seemed to glance but it went over everyone in the end.
Stones was well positioned as Leicester came through the middle, denying a rare and well constructed attack from the visitors but at the other other end Kone hesitated again and another possible chance was gone.
It had not been an easy half for Everton, who had struggled for space against the close attention of the visitors, while crucially failing to create or follow through on a couple of developing opportunities.
Everton resumed proceedings, still swinging long balls forward, but not catching out the visitors, and a lovely ball to Deulofeu, he allowed it to run under his foot and out of play.
A sudden movement form Barkley and The Blues were attacking at pace, Coleman swinging in a cross to the far post that needed Schmeichel's touch to keep it out for a corner. Barkley was showing some excellent desire but the intricate passing into the Foxes box was not working today.
Deulofeu put in a piece of magic that won another corner, Baines putting this one deep and fans calling for handball but the second corner was taken short and again led to a Leicester break but Everton played their way out of it well ad Deulofeu again had a chance to run at the Foxes defence.
With a good Everton attack building, a poor pass by Cleverly saw Foxes break and Vardy drove his shot wide of Howard's left post as the tight game showed signs of opening up. Funes Mori was booked for fouling Vardy as Leicester broke and it needed a perfect interception from Baines to stop Okasaki from shooting.
Barry played a lovely forward pass to Lukaku who controlled it superbly but he was offside and the Foxes broke, Mahrez playing in Vardy; he appeared to be tripped by Howard as he tried to go around the Everton keeper, who was booked and sent the wrong way on Mahrez's second penalty.
Everton responded, Baines with a superb cross for Lukaku but too high. Well past the hour mark, and of course no sign of Mirallas to show something different as it looked like the game would go away form Everton, a chance coming from nothing for a massive third goal powered in by Okazaki as Everton stopped for a handball claim.
Lukaku got behind the defence on a superb ball but on his right side and he blazed it over. Finally, far too late, Kone was replaced by Mirallas. Lennon also replaced Deulofeu but the task looked impossible. Barkley did well to force a shot but it was deflected over the bar. Baines's corner was too close to Schmeichel at the near post.
Mirallas's first corner was far too high and strong: wasted. Barkley was fouled by their big Polish defender but Lukaku welled the spot-kick high and wide. Good work by Coleman and a nice cross for Lukaku but headed behind by a defender and Baines's corner collected again by Schmeichel.
The Blues were trying everything and eventually it paid off, a tremendous drive from Mirallasto pull one back after a fantastic instinctive first-time backheeled layoff by Barkley when Lukaku's strike was blocked.
Mirallas was lucky to win a free-kick on the corner of the box into 4 mins of added time, Baines playing across to Barry, his shot blocked to Barkley whose shot didn't quite come off as Ulloa had a crazy chance for a fourth that Howard saved well with his outstretched leg. It was a crazy final few minutes but all the points went to League leaders Leicester in the end, plundering their first win at Goodison Park in 30 years, and putting another massive dent in Everton's hopes for the season.
Scorers: Lukaku (32'), Mirallas (89'); Mahrez (pen:27', pen:65'), Okasaki (69')Everton: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Baines, Barry, Cleverley, Barkley, Deulofeu (74' Lennon), Kone (74' Mirallas), Lukaku.
Subs not Used: Robles, Gibson, Besic, Osman, Galloway. Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan (c), Wasilewski [Y:82'], Fuchs, Mahrez (83' De Laet), KantĂ©, King, Albrighton (71' Dyer), Okazaki, Vardy (87' Ulloa).
Subs not Used: Kramarić, Benalouane, Schwarzer, Inler.
Referee: Jonathan Moss
From My Seat: Leicester (H)
We assembled in the Room of Nonsense full of Christmas cheer and good will. A festive occasion plus a sell-out crowd and it was soon heaving. There was a match on the screens but no one seemed bothered as the chat was of impending festivities, with only the team selection and the need for three points being paramount as far as football was concerned. The walk up was wet but atmospheric as each ale house we passed seemed to have its own choir and, as the junction of Spellow Lane and Goodison road was reached, there were young ladies handing out mince pies for free and NSNO were handing out their excellent printed fanzine. Their editor, Simon Paul, deserves congrats for its presentation. A little corker it is.
All the outlets were doing well with long queues and who was lucky enough to get a Blue Nose and a Blue and White Everton Santa hat?
Into the ground for Z-Cars with the ‘Alder Hay Heroes, as mascots. Our Ref was Jon Moss which always brings a sinking feeling as he is not the best I have seen but is usually bad for both teams. The game commenced with us attacking the Park End. The game started in regulation fashion with some sparring and generally eying each other up with Everton playing the keep ball stuff and the visitors all workrate and closing down. The first action that resulted in loud crowd noise was when Barkley lost the ball and then made a fair but ferocious tackle to win the ball back but he then lost it again with a poor pass. Then a decent move saw Deulofeu on the ball down the right and put in a first time cross that was meant for Kone but deflected for a corner. Baines took one of his better ones which was defended at the expense of another corner, this time played short which brought groans from the faithful as whatever was supposed to happen didn’t and once again we gained no reward from a dead ball kick.
We were in keep ball mode now until it was punted forward but each time the Foxes' defence was comfortable. We tried getting Deulofeu going down the right but the opponents were ready for him and marked tight and threw in a few dark arts which had the Spaniard throwing tantrums and squealing which brought a response from the home crowd for him to get on with it and don’t be a tart. He did it a few more times which did not endear him to the faithful at all and comments were ripe and to the point. He didn’t seem to like tight marking and when he did get a cross in it wasn’t of his usual quality. He will have to learn that he has started to make a name for himself and easy rides will become rare. That undoubted skill will need channelling and using in the right way.
The game continued with us looking to attack and the Foxes looking to nick it and counter at pace. We had some goalmouth action but without much conviction, with Kone being the biggest culprit for not getting a shot off quickly as he tried to manoeuvre into a perfect position which Leicester were not interesting in affording him. The crowd gave him a few hurry up instructions but he took little notice and repeated the act a couple of more times. Leicester were playing the sort of game that had me thinking that we needed a goal to see if they had a plan B.
Well, on the half hour mark I got my wish for a goal unfortunately it went against us after Mori gave away a daft penalty when instead of booting the bloody thing he tried to wrestle his man to let the ball run out for a goal-kick. He got it wrong and pushed his man down. The ref said foul and pointed to the spot and Mahrez converted with aplomb, even though Howard dived the right way and looked to get close to it. What a downer.
Five minutes later and Deulofeu did better and put in a decent cross which found Cleverly beyond the far post who shot but the ball came out to Barkley. He had a shot cannon back to him so he shot again and beat the keeper but it was headed out from the goal line, only to Lukaku who does not miss those chances. Some fine celebrations which left the faithful with the thought that perhaps now we could press on and pick up three valuable points. We pressed forward but despite getting in some good positions that final ball was always almost but not quite. We got crosses in that the keeper fisted out, Lukaku was having trouble with a lively bouncing ball and Kone was narking the crowd by not shooting first time. Leicester were always looking to counter with Vardy being a strong runner and but for a timely tackle by Mori that robbed him at the expense of a corner. Stones showed a good turn of pace to thwart a fast move into our box that had danger written all over it. He got a clap for that.
1-1 at the break and I thought that we had been too concerned about Leicester which had stopped us from really opening up in the final third. Their reputation on the break seemed to have gone before them so making us that bit more hesitant despite the tireless promptings of our captain Barry.
Second half and more of the same we were intent on playing out from the back through midfield and create a chance in the box. It was working to a point... that point being the final third. Barkley was suffering with this as he would strongly stride to the edge of the box but his final ball always seemed to be within reach of a defender. He did feed Coleman wide who let rip a cross-cum-shot that the keeper had to stretch to tip over. Deulofeu showed us a rare piece of instant trickery and won a corner that Baines took well and right into the mix a melee took place and those nearest put up a mighty roar of ‘Hand Ball’ but a corner was the best the ref could allow.. Annoyingly, this corner was taken short and we made a mess of it and allowed Leicester to break on us but we smothered that wide left and played some delightful passing triangles to get us out of trouble and set up another attack. The faithful liked that one and clapped.
The hour mark came and many were calling for Kone to be replaced by Mirallas but no sign of activity. Barry hit a beaut of a pass to Lukaku who looked through on goal but the linesman flagged, that must have been close. Just five minutes later and we shoot ourselves in the foot again when Leicester broke very quickly and Vardy was put in chasing the ball toward the box. Howard came out and for some reason, although Vardy had kicked the ball well beyond him, the keeper went to ground and Vardy did not need a second invitation to find contact with Howards leg to sprawl in the box. Penalty said Mr Moss and once again Mahrez obliged sending Howard the wrong way. Now giving away one pen when no need is sloppy, to give a second was just plain careless. No one was happy of a Goodison persuasion.
Still no sign of Mirallas and with Deulofeu now almost invisible getting back into the game seemed well away from us and, after a couple attacks that came to nought again in the final third, we managed to shoot ourselves in the foot again in a most unprofessional way. We seemed in control of a situation near the junction of Bullens Road and Park End when, from an attempted clearance, a mighty shout of ‘Hand Ball’ went up from players but the ref showed no interest. We stopped playing, they didn’t and the ball reached Okazaki who unceremoniously lashed past Howard into the bottom corner. Well that looked very like all over and just a few minutes later our present manager changed Kone and Deulofeu for Mirallas and Lennon. This caused some ribald comments toward the manager to be heard around the ground.
We gave it a go and attacked well trying all routes but without much luck. Then just before the board went up Barkley at last got a first time pass in the box to Lukaku who had his shot blocked, the ball came loose just to the left of goal and the man we had been calling for some time, Mirallas, smashed home.
Four minutes up on the board and despite a Goodison Roar an equaliser could not be found.
MotM – Barry
Not the best way to start the festivities and made worse by the fact that we managed to gift the opposition their win with sheer sloppiness. I know Christmas is the time for giving gifts but not like that.
Today I thought our only consistent player was Barry and when you think he is 35 then it’s not saying much for these Fab players we are supposed to have. We had an attendance of all but 40.000 and we serve up a show like that – no wonder there was little but grumbles on the walk back and it’s a long time since I have heard a match-going crowd to be questioning the manager's worth and suggesting change may be needed. That is up to the board of course but there sure is some disgruntlement building.
The airplane with the banner reading ‘Thanks Bill Kenwright’ was spotted and I have no doubt some would be thanking him if he did make a change. The big fear seems to be that if we carry on like this then our top players will want away and someone will have to start over. The next two games come very quickly, neither is a gimme so it will be very interesting to see how our manager and players handle them. Then hot on their heels comes Spurs, Chelsea and City twice. Oh dear. Let us hope we win them all.
May I wish you all a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year.
All the very best
UP THE BLUES
Charitable Everton provide unwanted festive deja vu
Strung on the couch since Thursday with a rough bout of tonsillitis, I was touch and go as to whether I was going to make the game, though eventually I manned up and got in the car with Gaz and Ste for the game against the surprise league leaders, Leicester City.
Being a little under the weather and on penicillin I was on the lemonades in the pub, with a startled Gary observing "what are you on there?".
We got the team news and it surprised no one that, despite two successive draws (three in total), the team remained unchanged. What was perhaps a bigger surprise was that Steven Naismith, a man so highly revered this week in the local press for his good attitude and popularity, was not even amongst the substitutes, leaving no strikers on the bench, though three central midfielders. Way to keep your important fringe players happy, Roberto!
As we left the pub and routed to the ground the rain was tumbling down and there was noticeably a lot of zip on the turf as we looked down from our seats. In a really lovely tribute, children from Alder Hey hospital where invited to lead the teams out onto the pitch. The rain persisted, Goodison was full against the league leaders and we attacked the Park End for the first half. A plane flew through the gloomy clouds with a banner stating THANK YOU MR KENWRIGHT. Excitement was brimming, so you could count on Everton to let you down.
We began the game brightly and were having the better of things against an industrious and motivated Leicester City who do a great job of defending from the front. Despite creating little, we were the team on top and were looking good in the game, only to throw it away cheaply, when Funes Mori got caught on the wrong side of Okasaki resulting in a coming together, and thus a penalty for which Jonathan Moss really had to give. Riyad Mahrez converted with Tim Howard guessing the right way but the ball just out of his reach and in the corner.
Everton reacted well and levelled in five minutes. We found ourselves in the penalty area and when the ball broke to Ross Barkley he showed remarkable composure to create a little space and get his shot away. Schmeichael repelled it but it came back to Barkley who drove at goal and this time it was cleared off the line by Andy King. It rebounded to Romelu Laukaku who instinctively drove back at goal and into the net to put Everton back level. Relief and delight all round and we went into the break all square and the only boos were reserved for Jonathan Moss who had made some bafflingly inconsistent decisions throughout the half.
There was more great charitable giving by Everton at half time with a Blue Santa presenting gifts to the children of Alder Hey hospital. Unfortunately Everton proved just as charitable on the pitch as they were off it, again gifting the visitors a penalty, this time Tim Howard the culprit. It was deeply frustrating as, much like the first half, up until then we had been the more likely side.
Things got worse when just four minutes after going ahead, Leicester City gave themselves a two goal cushion. I'd momentarily looked towards the substitutes bench in hope when Coleman fluffed his clearance but the groans told me something negative had occurred. You could see the goal coming after that and Okazaki showed good composure to score Leicester City's third. If Kone had that opportunity you somehow figure he'd take too many touches and fail to get his shot away.
The team, from manager down to players and even the frustrated substitutes warming up all looked numb. We became idea-less and lacking in any morale. Despite this Claudio Ranieri still made a change before Roberto Martinez, with Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon finally thrown on to rescue the game on 74 minutes.
We still couldn't get going and it was only a late charge which gave us a lifeline when Kevin Mirallas, after an exceptional assist from Ross Barkley, fired home to give us hope. I hope Roberto took a good look at what Mirallas can do. Few, if any, others in our squad can churn that sort of opportunity into a goal.
It was all little too late however and Leicester City successively battened down the hatches to hold out for the three points to put the visitors an astonishing five points clear at the league summit.
We trudged away disappointed with Roberto Martinez the target of our frustrations and that too of those on the Radio Merseyside football phone in as Gaz drove us back home. It's Roberto's inability to learn and stubbornness with team selections which kills me the most. We've one heck of a squad there and it's not being utilised, instead the same players are being selected week in-week out. We then take too long to make a substitution if we make one at all and the opportunity has often past when we do finally get around to changing it. We just don't improve in defence and teams carve us open far too easily, whilst we never finish teams off when we're on top, though the team must also take responsibility for this of course.
I worry about our season and I worry about our team. We are only two point better off than this time last year, and it's all horribly reminiscent of this time last season when we lost four games in a row, two of which were a mirror of our December fixtures last season of Newcastle United and Stoke City (albeit in reverse order). Our January fixtures are then horrific.
The way teams are beginning to pick up points below us is also alarming (Bournemouth now only four points off us) and with all that's been said above, fourth place is out of the question. I worry this will trigger the departure of out biggest assets and how they are replaced I just don't know.
Over to you Roberto. Erm...Happy Christmas, Blues!
Howard: I'll have to see how bad a mistake he made for the second penalty though he did make one good second half save and seemed helpless with the other two goals. Defending at corners has become absurd however. There was one corner kick in the first half which flashed right through our six yard box and it was a miracle it wasn't buried by a Fox. This isn't just Howard, it's our entire defence. Working on set-pieces would certainly help, but so too would a solid, commanding goalkeeper. There was one at the other end. 5
Baines: Useful getting forward and flipped in some good balls into the box. He's galloping up to fitness pretty well. 6
Funes Mori: Though generally sound, I always feel he's got a mistake in him and so it proved when he conceded the penalty kick. The sooner Phil Jagielka is back the better for me. 5
Stones: Though he always shows some classy play on the ball, he still has a lot to learn and plays immeasurably better alongside Jagielka. 6
Coleman: At fault for their third goal apparently but had a reasonable game otherwise. 6
Barry: Comfortably my man of the match. Perhaps the only leader on the field for us. Lead by example time and time again and will have been exasperated with some of his teammates I suspect. 8
Cleverley: A game of two halves for Tom. Decent first half, but sloppy second despite his best efforts. I was furious with his stupid foul in injury time which stunned all our momentum. Should have been substituted long before that though. 5
Kone: A few bright moments first half and contributed towards the first goal somewhat but isn't doing enough to warrant a place in the team when MIrallas and Naismith are available. As Ste pointed out, if Kone did start more from the bench doesn't this then also provide an opportunity to rest Lukaku from time to time and add another option in attack from the bench? 5
Deulofeu: We must get less predictable to get more out of Deulofeu. Nothing comes down our left so we can't give it to Gerard on the right EVERY time. It's little wonder he gets double-marked and thus tired and frustrated come the hour. Even then I don't see why he was substituted. He was still the most likely to unlock the door for us and a more balanced team might have provided more space for him without over-reliance on him. It's not rocket science, Roberto. 6
Barkley: I like the fight he's showing at the moment. Last season in a game like this he would have curled up into a ball and hidden. This season, when things aren't going for the team he isn't hiding and is getting involved, making a few tackles and taking responsibility. The result - two assists. He was one of few positives in an otherwise dissapointing day. 7
Lukaku: A seventh goal in a row in the league for Lukaku and he must be getting mighty aggrieved with some of his teammates for persistent inability to keep teams out. He's one who will leave for sure if we can't offer him any Champions League football. 7
Mirallas (for Kone): Took his goal very well and I wait in hope that this is enough to get him into the team for our Boxing Day trip to Newcastle Utd but I won't hold my breath. He took a little bit of time to get going but did well once he was settled in the game. Give him a start Roberto. The supporters really demand it now. 7
Lennon (for Deulofeu): Showed some bright work down the flank and got inside them a few times. 7
When the 2015-16 fixture list was released back in June, Everton vs Leicester City was regarded as another run-of-the-mill encounter and, given the Foxes' close brush with relegation last season, probably seen as one of those games that the Toffees should win.
16 matches into the current campaign and it's one of the most intriguing matches of the season so far, bringing together the Premier League's two most productive attacking partnerships and its two leading goalscorers.
Leicester – quite astoundingly – come into the weekend as League leaders and in Jamie Vardy, a fairytle story for the ages himself, and Riyad Mahrez they have a duo that has been responsible for more top flight goals than any other this season. Vardy recently set the record a Premier League of 11 consecutive games with a goal and currently has 15 to his name while his
Egyptian Algerian "partner in crime" has 11.
Sandwiched in between on 12 goals them is Romelu Lukaku who is on a run of scoring in six straight League games, half of them thanks to the other side of Roberto Martinez's own dynamic double-act, Gerard Deulofeu. The Spanish wizard shares second place in the table of assists thus far with Mahrez, adding to what has all the ingredients to be a mouth-watering exhibition of attacking football.
If that wasn't enough, this will be a contest featuring two of the least secure defences in the top half of the division. The only team to have shipped more goals so far than the Blues' 21 is Leicester who have conceded 22, a testament to the never-say-die attitude that Claudio Ranieri, a man widely derided as a poor fit at the King Power Stadium when he was appointed as successor to Nigel Pearson over the summer, has perpetuated among his charges.
As Everton found out last season, the Foxes often didn't know they were beaten even back then. They came from behind in both games and actually led at Goodison Park back in February until Matthew Upson's own goal two minutes from time ensured that the two meetings between the clubs in 2014-15 would finish 2-2. In that respect, they’re probably the last team you want Everton to face in view of the last three Premier League matches where Martinez's men dropped valuable points on each occasion having easily been the better side and held the lead.
Indeed, there so much to admire about the mentality that Leicester have embodied so far, one that renders hollow any excuses that Everton might come up with for not having matched their achievements so far this term. Reality may well catch up with Ranieri's team sooner or later but they have already demonstrated the power of positivity, determination and abandoning all notion of an inferiority complex against the so-called big boys who were supposed to have a lock on the Champions League places this season.
Like the Toffees they have beaten Chelsea at home but unlike their hosts this weekend they have also registered wins over teams in the top half of the table and ground out important away wins over the likes of Swansea and Norwich. That has been the 12-point difference between the two clubs coming into Saturday's game.
The hope, though, is that Leicester's lofty position coming into this one might shift how Everton’s players approach the game psychologically and that they can feed off a motivation to be the team that shoots the flying Foxes down and brings them back to earth. Leicester will have had two days' less rest than the Blues, having featured in the Monday night game that proved to be Jose Mourinho's last at Stamford Bridge, and they will be without central defensive linchpin Robert Huth who is suspended. They also have a doubt in Danny Drinkwater who would represent another disruption to the flow that has made them the unlikely Premier League pace-setters.
Martinez, meanwhile, should have the same squad available as the last two League games. James McCarthy was set to undergo another late fitness test to see if he is over the hip problem he picked up at Bournemouth but with Tom Cleverley filling his role in impressive fashion, there is no need to rush the Irishman back so it would not be a surprise if he isn't selected.
Importantly, John Stones has been declared to be in "perfect condition" despite falling awkwardly on his ankle in the warm-up at Norwich last weekend and then requiring treatment during the match after colliding heavily with advertising hoardings. The defender played the full 90 minutes at Carrow Road, however, and appears to have shown no ill-effects since which will be hugely important for the Blues' prospects.
The fascinating dimension to this fixture is that both teams can be explosive on the counter-attack, with Leicester particularly reliant on forfeiting possession and drawing opponents onto them with the intention of hitting them on the break. Whether Martinez's preference for keeping the ball will play into Ranieri's hands in that respect or whether Everton's superiority on paper will give them edge remains to be seen. Of course, it could come down to which of two fallible defences performs better on the day or which of the hot attacking duos wins out. Whatever happens, let's hope the "Moss factor" doesn't influence the outcome – the Blues are on a run of three successive defeats with the headmaster officiating and have won just one of their last six with him as referee.
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Predicted line-up: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Baines, Barry, Cleverley, Barkley, Deulofeu, Kone, Lukaku