Seamus Coleman could start his first senior game for Everton for 10 months
Hopefully refreshed from a 10-day hiatus enforced by their early exit from the FA Cup, Everton are back in action under the lights to face resurgent Leicester City at Goodison Park.
The Blues will kick off in 9th place, five points above the relegation zone and just a point above West Ham United, the team that were second from bottom of the Premier League back in November when Sam Allardyce left his seat in the Goodison Park Directors' Box having witnessed his new team trounce the Hammers 4-0.
Since then, while Allardyce initially built on that victory with three wins out of his first four games in charge, Everton haven't won a game in any competition and the cushion they had established between themselves and the teams fighting it out at the bottom below them has eroded away.
It means that this meeting with Leicester has taken on added importance, particularly in view of what was another limp display last time out against West Bromwich Albion. That fortunate 1-1 draw extended the team's winless run since 18th December to seven matches, a sequence in which Everton scored just three times.
The Foxes will pose stern opposition, though. In a significant measure of trouble themselves around the time Ronald Koeman was sacked at Everton, Leicester have undergone a more enduring turnaround in their fortunes since they dismissed Craig Shakespeare for a run of form that had left them sitting in the bottom three.
Shakespeare will be in the stands at Goodison for this one, of course, with an ear-piece and microphone acting as Allardyce's eyes from a higher elevation but since his departure, Claud Puel has inspired a remarkable recovery in Leicester's fortunes. They have risen to seventh place in the table, six points better off than Everton, thanks to an unbeaten start to 2018.
They will be missing their biggest creative force, however, in the form of Riyad Mahrez who rocked the Midlands club yesterday by handing in a transfer request, presumably to force a deadline-day move to Manchester City.
The Algerian star has been withdrawn from the matchday squad that will travel to Goodison and that will at least alleviate fears among Evertonians for Cuco Martina, the Blues' makeshift left-back who is likely to start again despite Luke Garbutt's anticipated inclusion in the squad.
They still have the in-form Jamie Vardy, though, and players like Shinji Okazaki who provide pace and running that could be employed to unsettle an Everton defence that has looked very vulnerable in recent weeks.
Allardyce's rearguard could be bolstered, however, by the long-awaited return of Seamus Coleman. The Irishman will be on the team sheet for the first time since last March following his recovery from a broken leg but it remains to be seen whether he is deemed fit enough to start after just an hour's worth of action for the Under-23s under his belt.
As far as the rest of the defence is concerned, things could be very much in the air. None of Mason Holgate, Phil Jagielka or Ashley Williams have looked particularly strong recently and Allardyce might feel compelled to throw Michael Keane back into the line-up now that he has recovered from his latest foot injury, even if that will do nothing for continuity in a key area of the pitch.
James McCarthy's own leg fracture will enforce a change in midfield where Idrissa Gueye is likely to start with Beni Baningime and Tom Davies (the 19-year-old was apparently for the last two games) providing cover on the bench and then there's the question of who starts out of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Rooney came off the bench against West Brom to good effect and that could get him the nod this time.
Leicester came to Goodison on a five-game winning streak last season and were put to the sword in an entertaining game that ended 4-2 to the Blues. A similar scoring spree is unlikely given Everton's shot-shy and toothless demeanour these days but it would provide a huge sense of relief of they could grind out another victory and bring the 40-point target that bit closer.
Kick-off: 7:45pm, Wednesday 31st January, 2018
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Last Time: Everton 4 - 2 Leicester City
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Jagielka, Martina, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Rooney, Bolasie, Walcott, Tosun
Quotes sourced from ToffeeWeb match page