2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)

Not invincible but still certainly imposing, the hunted are the hunters Saturday when reigning champions and second-place Manchester City host Everton at the Etihad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Citizens (13-2-1) had little time to wallow after their first loss domestically last weekend – a 2-0 setback at Chelsea that ended a seven-match winning streak in league play – as they needed a result Wednesday against Hoffenheim to wrap up the top spot in Group E of the Champions League.

Pep Guardiola’s team got that result – a 2-1 victory at home over the German side – but not without some effort as Leroy Sane continued his blistering form with a brace on either side of halftime to negate a first-half penalty by Andrej Kramaric.

Sane’s first was a world-class free kick in first-half stoppage time, and just after the hour, the Germany international finished a 1-2 with Raheem Sterling for his fifth goal in six matches across all competitions.

Manchester City have a limited field of potential opponents in the round of 16 in February, with the toughest of the four they can draw Friday being notoriously stubborn out and Spanish side Atletico Madrid. Other possible matchups could be against 2018 semifinalists and Serie A side AS Roma, German outfit Schalke 04 and Dutch club Ajax.

“Incredible. Today finished group stage in best way,” Guardiola said post-match as City returned to the Champions League knockout rounds for the sixth straight year. “Best 16 teams in Europe. We try to arrive in February in the best condition with players fit.

“Big compliment for this group because every group is tough, and we did it so well.”

As Sane stole the headlines, teenager Phil Foden caught the eye of many as he was given a rare start by Guardiola. The 18-year-old looked composed on the ball and was the focal point of bright, positive play throughout the match in the midfield as England’s pipeline of youth is proving deeper than the 23 who powered the Three Lions to the World Cup semifinals in the summer.

“In general over 90 minutes, Phil was outstanding,” Guardiola beamed. “I never had doubts. The quality he has with the ball. Looks skinny but really strong. Huge talent. England has a diamond. Against German teams it is so demanding, but he played like a man.”

Foden, though, still has to fight to even stay on the bench for City in Premier League play, and City discovered they have a fight on their hands to repeat as champions. This is the first time since Sept. 29 the Citizens are entering play not atop the table as Liverpool moved one point ahead of them.

Guardiola rotated a good portion of his side midweek, some out of protection as midfielder Fernandinho was one yellow card away from being forced to sit out the first-leg round of 16 tie. Sergio Aguero also had that problem but was also not 100 percent due to an adductor injury.

City are also still without winger Kevin De Bruyne, who is close to a return, but fellow playmaker David Silva could be out until at least the new year with a hamstring injury. Kyle Walker played the second half at right back after John Stones played 45 minutes out of position there with Nicolas Otamendi getting the call in central defence.

The squad rotation figures to continue as the fixtures come thick and fast between now and the new year, with City’s next midweek clash a Carabao Cup quarterfinal matchup at Leicester City on Tuesday.

Everton (6-6-4) are seventh in the table and are coming off back-to-back draws following their 2-2 stalemate Monday against Watford in the “Silva Derby.” Lucas Digne’s free kick in the 96th minute bent around the wall and inside the left post, giving the Toffees a share of the points in the first match between the teams since current coach Marco Silva was sacked by Watford in January.

Richarlison, who reunited with Silva in the summer from Watford, scored the other goal for Everton. The Toffees, though, were second-best for large stretches of the match and watched Gylfi Sigurdsson have a 67th minute penalty stopped by Ben Foster before Digne rescued them with his first goal since joining the club.

“He is settling in really fast,” Silva told the club’s official website about Digne, who leads the Premier League with 128 crosses from his left back spot. “In my opinion, when you are a really good football player – and he is – when you are a really focused player – and he is – it is easy to understand (why Digne has swiftly adapted to Premier League football).

“He comes to USM Finch Farm every day to work really hard and he is a very good professional, with high quality. He is playing so well, improving every time, not just in our defensive process … he is a really important player in our offensive process as well from Barcelona this summer.”

With yet another road contest against one of the Big Six, the talk involving Everton inevitably returns once more to the Toffees in search of that culture-changing road victory to kick onto the next level.

The winless drought at Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Emirates, Wembley/White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and the Etihad has reached 32 matches (0-10-22) after their heartbreaking Merseyside Derby loss to Liverpool a fortnight ago. Bryan Oviedo’s 86th-minute winner at Old Trafford on Dec. 4, 2013, remains the last such victorious moment on one of these grounds for the Toffees.

This is already Everton’s fifth match at the six sites this term, and while they have taken only one point from the previous four, it is clear Silva has at least got the Toffees to believe they can get a result in these contests since they have given as good as they’ve gotten in those matches. Additionally, one of those 10 draws came in last season’s corresponding fixture, though it can be argued catching City on the second match day of the season was beneficial to Everton’s cause.

The Toffees are winless in their last eight trips (0-4-4) to the blue side of Manchester since a 2-1 victory Dec. 20, 2010, in which Tim Cahill and Leighton Baines scored in the first 19 minutes. Everton then held out with 10 men for the final half-hour after a red card to Victor Anichebe and conceding an own goal through Phil Jagielka.

A 10-man City held Everton to a 1-1 draw last term as Sterling equalised eight minutes from time. Wayne Rooney had given the Toffees – who also finished with 10 men after Morgan Schneiderlin picked up his second yellow on 88 minutes – a lead late in the first half. Walker had gotten his marching orders before intermission for two yellow cards in a three-minute span.

Sterling’s goals in both matchups last season are his only two in 10 career matchups with Everton.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet 365, City are strong 2/9 favourites to pick up three points in the first match of the weekend and keep the heat on Liverpool. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 13/2, and Everton are 12/1 longshots to deal the Citizens back-to-back losses in league play for the first time since defeats to Chelsea and Leicester City on Dec. 3 and 10, 2016.

Oddsmakers are expecting goals, with 4/11 odds on the teams combining to score more than 2.5 goals compared to 11/5 odds for a defensive struggle to break out at the Etihad. There are 3/4 odds for both teams to score at least one goal, while there is even money on a clean sheet in either direction. City have not been held without a goal in back-to-back league matches since a draw at Norwich City and loss to Manchester United on March 12 and 20, 2016.

With the possibility of Aguero returning to lead the line, the former Argentina international has been installed as the frontrunner to open the scoring at 12/5. Gabriel Jesus is a 3/1 pick, while Sterling (9/2), Riyad Mahrez (5/1) and Sane (6/1) round out the top five. Despite his fine recent form, Richarlison is joint-11th on the list for first-goal honours with teammate Cenk Tosun at 12/1. Sigurdsson, Everton’s designed penalty taker, is listed at 18/1.

Aguero (4/9), Jesus (4/7) and Sterling (20/21) are all expected to score in this match per the odds for an any-time goal, while Mahrez (21/20) and Sane (13/10) are just off that standard. Brahim Diaz, Felix Nmecha and Bernardo Silva are lumped together at 15/8, while Foden and Gundogan are 11/4.

Richarlison and Tosun are again joint-top picks for Everton at 3/1, followed by Dominic Calvert-Lewin (7/2) and Theo Walcott (4/1), with Sigurdsson a step back at 9/2.

PREDICTION

To put City’s Premier League dominance prior to last weekend’s loss to Chelsea, consider the Citizens had trailed for all of 12 minutes through 15 matches, and that was on a goal by Wolverhampton that VAR would have disallowed. Even with the loss to Chelsea, Man City have still trailed more in their six Champions League matches than they have in 16 league contests.

The tweak by Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri to use Eden Hazard as a false No. 9 in his 4-3-3 formation versus City will undoubtedly spring copycat versions up and down England (and Wales for you Cardiff City readers), yet how many have the personnel to pull off such a shift? That brings us to the second half of this “revelation” … are City opponents willing to risk ceding possession so quickly by hoofing the ball up the pitch and letting their speedsters on the wings or in the middle give chase?

Is it a better plan than sitting in two low banks and hoping to catch out City on the counter stringing two or three passes to get through the middle of the pitch? It’s a debate that will be pondered across opposing locker rooms, but again, not many teams have that kind of personnel.

Everton do not have that type of personnel unless Silva is willing to move Richarlison back to the left wing spot where he started the season and play Dominic Calvert-Lewin over Tosun to lead the line in his 4-2-3-1 set-up. The Toffees, though, have also been credible enough against the Big Six this season that Silva will not gimmick his way through these 90 minutes. That is a testament to the culture change he has made, even if some of the recent results have been one point instead of three.

What is good about this Everton side is they are willing to throw a punch against the big boys. It can be argued the only match of the four against the perennials where the Toffees struggled was at Old Trafford, and even that was a 2-1 loss in which it was more spurning quality scoring chances than being run off the pitch by Manchester United.

They scrapped hard with Chelsea to nick a point at Stamford Bridge and were arguably seconds from a point at Anfield before the crossbar conspired against Jordan Pickford. It may very well be the case City — even short-handed City — are an entirely different animal at this point in time and do run Everton out of the Etihad. But it feels more likely Everton will at least make Guardiola’s side earn their three points.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 3, Everton 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

The past and present for both Marco Silva and Richarlison collide as the current Everton manager and star forward face Watford for the first time since Silva’s acrimonious departure during last season and Richarlison’s contentious move to Goodison Park over the summer.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Watford (6-2-7) looked to be on their way to a promising season under Silva last tern, claiming 15 points from their first eight matches while climbing as high as fourth following a 2-1 victory over Arsenal on Oct. 14. At Everton (6-5-4), the Toffees were coming apart at the seams as Ronald Koeman was unable to follow up on a promising seventh-place finish from 2016-17 – Everton endured a disastrous Europa League adventure and their defence was porous.

Nine days after the Hornets reached their highest position in the table, Everton fired Koeman after a 5-2 hiding at home by Arsenal that dropped them to their worst spot – the top of the drop. Everton actively pursued Silva, incurring the ire of Watford owner Gino Pozzo, who rejected the Merseyside club’s overtures on multiple occasions even as they raised their offer to £12 million.

Watford eventually sacked Silva in January after the club had fallen off their torrid start and were in 10th place after a 2-0 defeat to Leicester City, replacing him with current boss Javi Gracia. Pozzo cited Everton’s interest in Silva as a primary reason for the backslide and filed a complaint with the Premier League.

To no one’s surprise, Silva was named Everton manager on May 31 shortly after they parted ways with caretaker boss Sam Allardyce, who did guide them to an eighth-place finish. Over the summer, Everton then reunited Silva with the 21-year-old Richarlison in July for £35 million – a figure inflated by the animosity between the sides and one that could also reach £50 million with add-ons.

“It is not the first time in my life and for sure it will not be the last,” Silva told the Watford Observer about facing his former side. “I look forward to the match, a tough match for sure, and it will be good to see some of the players who worked with me, some good friends as well I have in the club.”

Everton have claimed points in four of their last five matches after playing Newcastle United to a 1-1 draw midweek. Richarlison scored the equaliser on 38 minutes for his seventh goal – two more than he had at Watford all of last term while netting those goals in their first 12 matches – but offence has been a concern for the Toffees, who have just two goals in their last four matches.

The struggles prompted a post-match query to Silva if Everton would pursue a forward in the January transfer window, a question he deftly sidestepped.

“I understand your question, but how many clubs are trying to find one striker to score more than 20 goals, or 25 goals, or 30 goals,” he mused. “I think it’s a question at the moment for all the managers in the Premier League.

“I am happy with the players we have. Of course we are doing our homework. We know what we want to do as well.”

For the second straight season, Watford have faded to a degree after a strong start and have just two wins in their last 11 league matches (2-2-7) after claiming the maximum 12 points from their first four contests. The Hornets have dropped three on the bounce but gave Manchester City all they could handle midweek before losing 2-1 at Vicarage Road.

Abdoulaye Doucoure gave Watford hopes of nicking a point from the reigning champions with a goal on 85 minutes, but the Hornets were unable to find an equaliser despite throwing everyone forward – even keeper Ben Foster. For his part, Foster does not think there is any on-pitch animus towards Silva among his teammates, but did note there is a different atmosphere.

“I am sure it will have an impact from the club’s point of view in general,” Foster said. “But it is not something me personally or any of the players out on the pitch on Monday night will be thinking too much about.

“We will just be focusing on the job as usual, go about the game as we normally do and try to get the three points and hopefully we can put on a good display.”

Like Everton, Watford have endured their troubles generating offence with just two goals in their last five contests. They have not gotten a goal from a striker since Isaac Success completed the scoring in their 3-0 victory over Huddersfield Town on Oct. 20.

Watford had their second appeal of the straight red card given to defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue denied Sunday, meaning he will sit out this match and the Hornets’ next contest at home versus Cardiff City on Saturday. Capoue was sent off following his collision with Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho on Dec. 1, but the team felt the three-match ban was too severe and filed a second appeal citing Rule K of the Rules of the FA.

“The Rule K arbitration proceedings which #watfordfc commenced against The FA have now been concluded & the outcome is the original 3-game ban has been upheld,” the team said in a statement released via Twitter. “We remain extremely disappointed at the process & this decision but now consider the matter closed.”

Nathaniel Chalobah will likely get his second consecutive start alongside Doucoure in the defensive midfield of Gracia’s 4-2-2-2 set-up.

The home team won both matches last term, with Everton engineering a fightback from two down in the final 23 minutes for a 3-2 win in the corresponding fixture as Oumar Niasse and Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored before Leighton Baines converted a penalty on 91 minutes.

Richarlison and Christian Kabasele scored for Watford, who have taken just one point from their five Premier League matches at Goodison Park while shipping 12 goals.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Everton are solid 4/5 favourites to pick up all three points and extend Watford’s recent run of misery in this first Silva derby, while the Hornets are 4/1 underdogs. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 11/4.

Oddsmakers are torn on the proficiency of the sides’ offences, with 10/11 odds in both directions regarding the 2.5 goals threshold. There is a slight lean for both teams to score at 4/5 odds, slightly better than the 19/20 offered for at least one clean sheet.

Richarlison and Tosun lead the line for potential first-goal scorers at 9/2, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin a surprising third choice at 11/2 ahead of Theo Walcott (6/1), Gylfi Sigurdsson (7/1) and a trio of Toffees at 8/1 — Bernard, Ademola Lookman, and Kieran Dowell. Deeney is also in that group at 8/1 for Watford’s top option, with a trio of his mates — Success, Gray and Stefano Okaka all at 9/1.

Tosun and Richarlison are also joint-favourites for an any-time goal at 11/8, with Calvert-Lewin (7/4), Walcott (15/8) and Sigurdsson (9/4) rounding out the top five. Deeney is again the best of the bunch for the Hornets at 13/5, with Success, Gray and Okaka all behind him at 3/1.

PREDICTION

Since the animosity that fuels this intriguing match is consigned largely to the executive boards of these two sides, it is hard to imagine it will be an ill-tempered affair, but one never truly knows. But there is one thing clear about this contest: Everton need a win here ahead of their mini two-match gauntlet at Manchester City and home to Spurs since those contests could go a long way to determining if the Toffees do indeed have European ambitions.

The expectation is Silva will return to the customary 4-2-3-1 in which Richarlison leads the line after slotting him on the wing to give Cenk Tosun some run up front versus Newcastle. Theo Walcott will likely return on the right flank, and the only other question mark is whether Kurt Zouma will get a second consecutive start with Michael Keane expected to be restored to the first XI.

Watford will miss Capoue, but there were positives to be had from their late flourish versus Manchester City. How the Hornets carry that into this match will be key to halting their recent slide. It also means their left side tandem of Jose Holebas and Roberto Pereyra have to provide menace on the offensive side to get Gracia’s team to kick on.

While the Toffees have not been in a purple patch themselves offensively, they have been effective on defence with three clean sheets in their last eight league contests while allowing more than one goal just once in that stretch. This time, that airtight quality gets them three points and a nice fillip ahead of their trip to the Etihad to face Manchester City.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Everton 2, Watford 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)
Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)
Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 14 Previews — Liverpool (10-3-0) vs. Everton (6-4-3)

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The 232nd edition of the Merseyside Derby on Sunday sees Liverpool looking to extend their unbeaten run at Anfield over Everton to 21 matches in all competitions, and Marco Silva making his derby debut with another opportunity to alter the Toffees’ culture against Big Six clubs on the road.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Liverpool (10-3-0) have been nearly invincible at home this term, conceding just one goal in six league matches and dropping points only to frontrunners Manchester City in a scoreless draw. They have not trailed any point in those contests, and 14 of their 36 shots on target have found the back of the net.

Their mastery – and the misery of the Toffees – at Anfield, though, has existed for nearly a generation. Everton supporters have retreated across Stanley Park as blue as the colour of their shirt every season since Kevin Campbell’s fourth-minute strike stood as the match winner on Sept. 27, 1999.

Last season was a double dose as Everton (6-4-3) salvaged a 1-1 draw on a soft Wayne Rooney penalty in league play and then lost 2-1 in an unusually foul-tempered match in the third round of the FA Cup in which Virgil Van Dijk scored a late winner in his Liverpool debut. The drought at Anfield is now 20 matches (0-10-10) and the overall winless run versus Liverpool is 17 contests (0-8-9) as Silva gets his fourth crack at ending the club’s winless run at Big Six venues.

“Fear is something that doesn’t come inside our dressing room,” Silva said at his Friday news conference. “Respect, yes, but we… won’t change our ambition or style of play. It’s important to enjoy the moment and be strong. We want to win and nothing more.

“We will respect our opponents like we did against Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.”

Everton’s scoreless draw at Stamford Bridge on Nov. 11 extended their victory drought at the Big Six grounds – Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United – to 31 matches (0-10-21) since Bryan Oviedo struck in the 86th minute for a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford on Dec. 4, 2013.

Seamus Coleman played right back in Everton’s last win over Liverpool – a 2-0 triumph Oct. 17, 2010, on goals by Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta – and he knows the Toffees are long past due to claim three points from their eternal rivals.

“It (our last win) was a long time ago and we need to look forward and we need to give the new players a bit of a taste of what it’s like to win one of these games, and the fans as well,” Coleman told SkySports. “It’s easy to come in here and say all the right things in an interview, I’m sure we have done over the last five or 10 years and not turned up on the day.

“We need to turn up on Sunday and do our talking on the pitch. This is a massive game for our city and we’ve been on the receiving end too many times, and there’ll be a few tackles going in this weekend but we’re looking forward to playing our game.”

Everton have no injury concerns as they seek back-to-back wins while pushing their unbeaten streak to four matches. The Toffees are also 4-1-1 since Silva shifted Richarlison from the left wing to centre forward in his 4-2-3-1 formation.

Liverpool are in need of righting themselves in the friendly confines of Anfield after yet more struggles on the road in Champions League play. Last season’s runners-up failed to take any points in their three group matches on the continent after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Paris-St. Germain.

Jurgen Klopp’s decision to move Joe Gomez from centre back to right back over Trent Alexander-Arnold for a more solid back four as Van Dijk paired with Dejan Lovren backfired as both of PSG’s goals in the opening 37 minutes originated down his flank. James Milner gave Liverpool a lifeline with a penalty before halftime, but an equaliser was never found as that was their only shot on target.

The defeat took Liverpool’s destiny out of their hands for their group finale at home versus Napoli as they are third on six points. They must beat the Italian side by either a 1-0 scoreline or two goals to advance.

Klopp, though, has quickly moved onto the derby match and seemed agitated when asked if entering the derby coming off a loss was an ideal way to play it.

“Why we would need a defeat in Paris to make sure we would be fully motivated for the Everton game,” said Klopp, who is 4-2-0 versus Everton, at his Friday news conference. “There’s no need for that. It is the game we have – and it is a special game, I have to say.

“Since I am in, it’s always felt it, it always was different in the preparation. The only bad thing is that we have never had really enough time to really prepare for it. You have a great game and then three days later you play the next game.”

Klopp will be forced into one change for this match as midfielder Jordan Henderson will serve his one-match ban for his two bookings in last weekend’s victory at Watford. He did not specify a replacement for his talisman since some players are still recovering from knocks suffered against PSG, but he does not lack for options with a well-rested Fabinho and Naby Keita, who had a late runout mid-week.

Liverpool native Alexander-Arnold is hoping to be restored at right back. The 20-year-old scored his first goal of the season at Watford and would cherish starting against Everton after making three appearances against them as a sub.

“Every Liverpool lad grows up dreaming of playing in a Merseyside derby. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Alexander-Arnold told the Liverpool Echo. “This fixture always feel different to the rest. You can just feel it around the city. There’s a bit more tension and more excitement as you build towards the weekend.

“Everyone wants to do well. You know what it means to the supporters. It’s important for us to execute the game plan.”

Also of note is whether the manager will field his all-out offensive lineup in a 4-2-3-1 set-up like he did against the Hornets in contrast to the 4-3-3 versus PSG. The difference is Xherdan Shaqiri, who enters on the right wing in the former set-up while Mohamed Salah moves to centre-forward in front of Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane is on the left.

Salah scored in each of the last two matches when the 4-2-3-1 was utilised, and all four attacking players factored in four of the five goals scored versus Fulham and Watford.

Liverpool have 92 wins in the all-time series that dates back to 1894, while Everton have claimed 66 victories. The teams have shared the points on 73 occasions, including seven of the last 11 matchups.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Liverpool are convincing 2/5 favourites to claim all three points in this Merseyside derby, while Everton are 8/1 underdogs to pull off a shock scoreline and make a short, yet happy trip back across town. The odds of the teams splitting the points falls in the middle at 4/1.

There are 8/13 odds the contest will feature more than 2.5 goals compared to 13/10 for a scoreline that adds up to less than that threshold. There also are 10/11 odds in both selections for both teams scoring or someone posting a clean sheet.

Unsurprisingly, Liverpool occupy the top five slots for considering a first goal-scorer. Salah leads the line at 13/5, followed by Daniel Sturridge (3/1), Firmino (9/2), Mane (5/1) and Shaqiri (6/1). Richarlison is the top option for Everton at 10/1, while the designated penalty taker for each team — Milner and Sigurdsson — offer 10/1 and 16/1 odds, respectively.

To score over the course of 90 minutes, Salah and Sturridge are better than even money at 4/6 and 8/11. Firmino is slightly off that pace at 6/5 but still ahead of Mane (11/8) and Shaqiri (13/8). Richarlison and Milner are both 3/1 picks for an any-time goal, while Toffees’ striker Cenk Tosun and Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita are 10/3 selections. Sigurdsson is 5/1, slightly behind Walcott and Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold.

PREDICTION

For the record, I am going to be very annoyed when Liverpool come out in a 4-2-3-1 formation for this match like my gut tells me they will as opposed to the 4-3-3 lineup graphic presented here.

Having said that, there is a lot of pressure on Liverpool to win this match. A lot. And it has little to do with the derby and the bragging rights that come with it. While asking Klopp about being “angry” coming into this match off a loss is a valid question, he was equally fair in shooting it down convincingly.

No, this is a rare moment when Klopp is coming off a defeat in which he got his personnel wrong with regards to Gomez, Lovren and Alexander-Arnold, and he needs to make it right. Ironically, the one who appears to have taken the loss the hardest is Van Dijk, but as others have noted, he has been so massive in the Premier League, that a slight dropoff in his level against an elite squad wound up being noticeable. The Dutch international will be fine.

Liverpool need a player who can spray balls through the middle of the field. Georginio Wijnaldum is not that player. Milner is not that player enough. Fabinho is not that player. Keita is not that player.

Of the 15 assists that have been recorded in league play on Liverpool’s 26 goals, the only player who is centrally located in the midfield is Milner. The three forwards themselves have six assists, and Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have combined for five while Shaqiri has two. There needs to be a variety of methods to score goals against bunkering and beyond set pieces and gegenpressing. That is why Shaqiri’s importance has been elevated — he carries the ball forward better than anyone Liverpool have in the midfield.

But the pressure on Liverpool in this match comes from having to at least equal how ever Manchester City thwack Bournemouth on Saturday. And each week Liverpool win but fall one goal short on the scoreline and miss out on that extra goal difference, it is another brick on their collective back. Eventually, the weight becomes too much to bear.

The good news for Liverpool, though, is that Everton do not have a midfield that will knock around their middle three. Oh yes, Gylfi Sigurdsson has a nasty competitive streak to him, but Andre Gomes does not cause a moment to pause. Idrissa Gueye does with 20 fouls and three yellow cards, but with the exception of Coleman — who would probably re-break his leg if it meant a derby win — there is no expectation of the game devolving into cynical tactics.

Everton have their own set of pressures to deal with in this match. To Silva’s credit, the Toffees have not looked out of their depth at Arsenal and at Chelsea this term, but a little iffy at Old Trafford. If anything, Everton gave as good as they got at Stamford Bridge, and that point from the scoreless draw was earned and not given.

Still, there are pressures. Not counting David Unsworth’s two caretaker spells, Silva is now the fourth different manager trying to get Everton’s first win versus Liverpool at any venue since David Moyes in 2010. And then you have to go back to Moyes’ predecessor Walter Smith for the last win at Anfield in 1999.

While Everton supporters are desperate for any victory over Liverpool, the actual pressure to deliver it here only rings internally. That 31-match albatross weighs more than trudging back across Stanley Park with another loss or another draw because then there are only two more chances to break it, and one of them is at the Etihad.

If Everton can stay true to themselves in the first half-hour, not lose their shape and keep their heads, they can get a result. It likely will not be a win, but a draw is definitely within reach. But this has the feel of a match with a painful lesson that the Toffees will draw on come spring when they are contending for a Europa League spot.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 2, Everton 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 14 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (11-2-0) vs. Bournemouth (6-2-5)
Southampton (1-5-7) vs. Manchester United (6-3-4)
Chelsea (8-4-1) vs. Fulham (2-2-9)
Arsenal (7-3-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (10-0-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 12 Preview — Chelsea (8-3-0) vs. Everton (5-3-3)

It is an invisible albatross Everton have worn for nearly five years, yet the “0” that represents the number of Premier League road wins against “Big Six” clubs in that stretch weighs as heavily as the dead bird upon the mariner’s neck in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem.

Marco Silva and the Toffees hope to make Sunday the day the curse is finally lifted as they look to end a 30-match winless spell against the best of the top flight in a matchup with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Everton are 0-9-21 in their visits to Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and eternal rivals Liverpool since Bryan Oviedo struck in the 86th minute for a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford on Dec. 4, 2013. Following that triumph, the Toffees (5-3-3) have looked as idle as a painted ship more times than not, shipping 63 goals in those 30 matches with only 18 in response.

“I have confidence in our work, confidence in the way we are playing, seeing how our team is growing, playing better and getting better results,” Silva said at his Friday news conference. “Of course it will be tough. I accept Chelsea will be favourites. It will be a big challenge for us but what I hope and what I expect is that we are ourselves on the pitch.

“They will create problems for us but I want to see our team be ourselves, play in our way. In some moments they will create, but when we have the ball we have to be ourselves.”

Everton have failed in two bids this term to end the streak, losing 2-0 at the Emirates to Arsenal on Sept. 23, and more recently, 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sept. 28. There was a good south wind heading into that match – Everton had been unbeaten in four – and there is one albeit smaller once more following a 3-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.

Richarlison continued his rich vein of goals since being moved to lead Everton’s line, scoring on either side of halftime. Right back Seamus Coleman showed he is fully recovered from the stress fracture that sidelined him four games earlier this season as well as the broken leg suffered representing Ireland in March 2017 with his first goal in 22 months, one that snapped a 1-1 deadlock in the second half.

“His physical condition is growing and it’s normal that his confidence is growing as well, not just because he scored the goal – even in the first half we had good combinations down the right side with him, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Theo Walcott,” Silva said of Coleman. “And, of course, in the second half when he scored it was an important moment for him and for sure it will give him good feelings and confidence.”

Confidence is something Everton have sorely lacked in their visits to Stamford Bridge, leaving southwest London without a victory in their last 23 tries (0-10-13) since their lone Premier League win – 1-0 on Nov. 26, 1994, thanks to a 39th-minute goal by Paul Rideout. The Toffees were cruelly denied an end to the streak in 2016, taking a lead in stoppage time only to have Blues talisman John Terry head home an equaliser in the 98th minute that should have been chalked off for offsides as the match finished 3-3.

Richarlison, though, is an injury doubt for this match and will be a game-time decision. If the Brasil international cannot go, Silva has either Cenk Tosun or Dominic Calvert-Lewin as options to lead the line.

The gaffer will be forced into one change since centre back Kurt Zouma is ineligible to face his parent club, with Silva to choose among Phil Jagielka, Mason Holgate and Yerry Mina to partner with Michael Keane. Mina, the Colombia international summer signing whose debut was delayed by a foot injury, made a late runout in the win over Brighton for his Premier League debut.

Chelsea (8-3-0) have climbed to second in the table, ahead of Liverpool on goal difference while trailing champions Manchester City by two points. The Blues return to domestic play after wrapping up first place in Group L of the Europa League with a 1-0 victory at BATE Borisov on Thursday.

Olivier Giroud broke his duck in the 52nd minute, heading home a cross from Emerson, and gave Maurizio Sarri the luxury of blooding some of the academy players for the final two matches of group play in the continental competition.

“I was hoping to score soon because I came back late from the World Cup and I was lacking maybe a bit of efficiency and luck, but you always need to keep working hard and keep the faith and that’s what happened,” the France international told the club’s official website. “It was a good cross from Emerson and that’s what we need to do more often.

“The manager kept saying we need to qualify from the group, and the earlier the better, so we’ve done the job even if we could have been more efficient. It’s a clean sheet and we won the game.”

Chelsea are still unbeaten since Sarri took over, recording 14 wins in 17 matches across all competitions. A win or draw here would set a Premier League record for the longest unbeaten start in a Premier League debut, a mark he shares with Frank Clark after he went 8-3-0 with Nottingham Forest in 1994-95 before losing at home to Blackburn Rovers.

Sarri once again overturned his entire back line in the victory at Belarus and gave Eden Hazard a start after the Belgium international had played just 26 minutes in Chelsea’s last two league matches due to a back injury. He also started Ross Barkley, which raises the question of whether Sarri will keep the former Everton player in his first XI for this match.

Barkley, who signed with the Everton at the age of 11, left the club in the January transfer window in a protracted saga – it was a £15 million transfer after the England international spurned a £35 million move on the final day of the August window – and Barkley is expecting to get some stick from Everton’s traveling supporters.

“I don’t think it (the reception) will be the best,” the midfielder admitted to the Evening Standard. “I was approaching 25 and I felt looking back I could have improved a lot more (at Everton). At Chelsea, I knew I’d improve a lot quicker around better players, around world-class players.

“I’m not nervous, I’m excited to play against my former club and teammates – I understand how some of them play, so that could be an advantage for me.”

Sarri is also expected to restore Alvaro Morata to his centre-forward role over Giroud, with the Spain international coming off a brace in last weekend’s victory over Crystal Palace that has given him three goals in his last two league contests.

Last season’s scoreless draw at Goodison Park in the most recent meeting ended a four-match winning streak for Chelsea in all competitions between the sides. The Pensioners are unbeaten in their last five (3-2-0) against the Toffees in league play since a 3-1 setback in 2015.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are solid favourites to at least emerge with a point to give Sarri the record of best Premier League start as the Pensioners are 2/5 to claim a victory and have 18/5 odds on splitting the points. Everton are listed at 6/1 for their first road victory over a Big Six opponent in nearly five years.

There is an expectation of goals in this match, as Chelsea are 19/20 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, substantially shorter than 10/3 for under the 2.5 threshold. The Toffees are 10/1 longshots to win with more than 2.5 goals and 16/1 to win fashioning a score line of 0-1 or 0-2. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw holds a slight sway at 11/2, while a high-scoring stalemate has shorter odds at 12/1 than a low-scoring Everton win.

After seeing him emerge unscathed after an hour in Belarus, Hazard leads the line for first-goal honours at 10/3. Chelsea’s strikers Morata and Giroud, as is usually the case, are lumped together — here at 4/1. Wingers Pedro and Willian are another step back at 6/1, followed by Loftus-Cheek at 7/1. And for those who believe revenge can be best served by making it 1-0 against a former team, Barkley has 7/1 odds as well.

Richarlison’s iffy status means he and Cenk Tosun are joint 9/1 odds as Everton’s top options, with Calvert-Lewin just off the duo at 10/1. Sigurdsson, the Toffees’ penalty taker, is 11/1.

Hazard is even money to beat Pickford over the course of 90 minutes, with Morata and Giroud both at 23/20. There is another pairing of Pedro and Willian, this time at 9/5, and Barkley and Loftus-Cheek are listed at 21/10. Richarlison has some separation from Tosun here, with the Brasilian getting 13/5 compared to the Turk’s 11/4 odds. Calvert-Lewin has 3/1 odds on scoring while Sigurdsson lurks just behind at 16/5.

PREDICTION

Thirty matches is a long time without a landmark victory. These are the types of matches Silva was hired for, to get the leviathan who are Everton awake and contending for Champions League spots on an annual basis. At the same time, wow is their track record in these matches awful.

In the Premier League era, they are 16-43-94 on the road against Big Six teams. They have not won at the Emirates/Highbury, Stamford Bridge and Anfield in this century. They have not won at Tottenham this decade.

Nearly half of those wins — seven — have come against Manchester City, but not the Manchester City you and I know of this decade following the change in ownership to Sheikh Mansour. No, these were the aimless Citizens, ones that even suffered the humiliation of relegation while Everton have avoided such a fate.

This is the history stacked against Everton, one painful defeat on top of another on top of another. To their credit, both losses this year — at Arsenal and at United — the Toffees stood up to their opponents. It can be argued Everton were the better side at the Emirates, laying siege to Petr Cech and the Gunners goal before being undone by two goals three minutes apart, one of which should never have been allowed.

Against United, there was wastefulness in the finished product but plenty of fight as the Toffees could not find an equaliser after Sigurdsson’s penalty. The 2-1 scoreline was fair to the hosts but also a proper scoreline to the guests who showed effort and resolve.

Which brings us to Stamford Bridge, where it is almost the silver anniversary of Rideout’s goal that brought Everton’s lone Premier League success. There is hope upon hope Richarlison will be able to go, but if he does not, one hopes Silva is bold and tabs Calvert-Lewin over Tosun to lead the line. That boldness could extend to Mina for his first Premier League start, but that may also be rash given Chelsea’s attacking nous and Hazard’s unpredictability in attack.

With Barkley getting the start in Belarus, the sidebar of facing the team who raised and nurtured him is relegated to just that — an add-on to the story with his expected arrival around the hour. What he does with those 30 minutes may change that narrative from sidebar to central plot, but there are more important actors in this contest.

One is most certainly Richarlison, who hopefully will not give way to his understudy. Another is Sigurdsson, who has masterfully pulled strings in the midfield to help create chances. But do not discount Chelsea’s striker tandem of Morata and Giroud. The Spaniard is expected to start, with the Sarri logic of leaving him back in London to rest confounding the media to the point he mumbled to himself in agitation during the press conference. And should Morata fail, Giroud will have plenty of life after ending his duck in Belarus. His link-up play with Hazard is the real reason Mina should be on the bench to start this contest, his Premier League blooding can come another day.

This should be an entertaining contest with plenty of cat-and-mouse. Everton may not get that elusive victory, and a point may be within their grasp, but that only happens if Richarlison is on the pitch.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 2, Everton 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 12 EPL PREVIEWS:

Leicester City (5-1-5) vs. Burnley (2-2-7)
Huddersfield Town (1-3-7) vs. West Ham United (3-2-6)
Liverpool (8-3-0) vs. Fulham (1-2-8)
Manchester City (9-2-0) vs. Manchester United (6-2-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 10 Preview — Manchester United (4-2-3) vs. Everton (4-3-2)

Manchester United are clearly a wounded side, yet no one truly knows if they are still a dangerous team.

Coming off a disappointing midweek Champions League defeat, United attempt to shake off their malaise Sunday at Old Trafford against a rejuvenated Everton side who appear to have finally found their stride.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jose Mourinho’s team were languid in the opening 45 minutes for a third successive match, but unlike their thrilling escape acts that resulted in a victory over Newcastle United and a draw at Chelsea around the international break, storied Italian side Juventus would show little mercy as they comprehensively outplayed Manchester United in a 1-0 victory Tuesday night that gave the Old Lady a vise-like grip on first in the group.

While all the attention was drawn around Cristiano Ronaldo in just his second match at Old Trafford since leaving for Real Madrid in 2008, Paulo Dybala plunged the dagger into United in the 17th minute, knocking Ronaldo’s cross into the net after being left unmarked first by Nemanja Matic during his run and then by Victor Lindelof in the penalty area.

United goalkeeper David De Gea then made a string of quality saves throughout the rest of the first half simply to keep his side from being run off their own pitch. United (4-2-3) again raised their play in the second half, but aside from a shot by Paul Pogba that thumped the left post and then Juve keeper Wojceich Szczesny’s head before skipping away from danger, the hosts offered little and the bench offered nothing as Mourinho did not make a substitution.

That was partly due to a spate of injuries that left Marouane Fellaini, Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard all unavailable. The only true attacking option at Mourinho’s disposal was 18-year-old Tahith Chong, who was on the senior squad for the first time in any competition, and “The Special One” thought the better of bringing the starlet on in such a pressure-cooked situation.

“Given the dynamic of the game, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to bring him on,” Mourinho explained to United’s official website. “You can’t expect a kid making his debut in a game like this to give you something like scoring a goal. So that’s why I didn’t make any changes on the pitch.

“I really missed Fellaini because when we are dominant, we are playing in the opponents’ half and the opponent closes the way they did, and they brought (Andrea) Barzagli as a third centre-back, Fellaini is a player that gives us different things. We missed him, but the boys gave everything and when the boys give everything and go until the last second I am always happy with them.”

While Mourinho has yet to say whether any of the injured trio will be available for this contest to support Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, the lack of form from centre-forward Romelu Lukaku is concerning.

The Belgium international has gone eight matches without a goal in all competitions since netting against Watford, and it appears the cumulative fatigue of reaching the World Cup semifinals plus joining United without a rest – Lukaku has appeared in every match, including their Carabao Cup defeat on penalties – is taking its toll on the 25-year-old as United enter this match in 10th place and nine points adrift of eternal rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.

The criticism of Lukaku’s barren spell has become intense enough that Mourinho defended his striker in the post-match news conference, saying, “The player is a fantastic professional that wants to give everything, but I have to agree his moment is not sweet.”

Lukaku, who played at Everton from 2013-14 to 2016-17 before joining Manchester United last season, scored 87 goals in 166 matches across all competitions for the Toffees.

Everton (4-3-2) may have only just recently figured out how to replace Lukaku, with Marco Silva drafting Richarlison to lead the line after starting the season with the Brasil international on the left wing. The tweak in his 4-2-3-1 set-up has allowed Silva to field his four best attacking players in Bernard, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Theo Walcott behind Richarlison, while Andre Gomes has been slotted into a holding midfielder’s role.

Sigurdsson has been the biggest beneficiary with three goals in his last three games, while each of the four most forward players has scored at least once in that span.

That formation has helped Everton win their last two games, and they have won three on the trot overall in league play. Silva’s personnel management proved vital in last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace as substitutes Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun scored in the 87th and 89th minutes, respectively.

“It is getting better now, it was difficult to get in goalscoring positions in the first few games and I was the guy who made more assists for the players, left and right,” Tosun told evertontv after scoring for the second time in three games.

“But in the past few games I had a lot of shots and got in a lot of scoring positions and those things made me happy.

Everton, though, would not have been in a position to win had keeper Jordan Pickford not stopped Luka Milivojevic’s penalty on the hour after Seamus Coleman brought down Wilfried Zaha. The England No. 1 got his trailing leg to deflect Milivojevic’s effort down the middle to preserve the scoreless deadlock.

“Jordan’s quality and profile are solid, he could keep calm in that moment (the penalty) to make the right decision and it was an important moment in the match,” Silva said.

While Colombia international Yerry Mina made the 18-man roster for the first time this season after being slowed by a foot injury following the World Cup, it appears unlikely he will feature in this match given the solid partnership in central defence between ex-United player Micheal Keane and Kurt Zouma.

United did the double against Everton last term, smashing six by Pickford without reply. Lukaku had a goal and an assist in a 4-0 romp against his former team at Old Trafford, and United are unbeaten in their last seven (5-2-0) in all competitions versus the Toffees.

The Merseysiders’ lone win in their last 26 visits (1-6-19) to the “Theatre of Dreams” was a 1-0 victory in 2013 on an 86th-minute goal by Bryan Oviedo, and they have been outscored 53-16 in those matches.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, United are still prohibitive favourites despite winning one match in their last seven at 8/11 odds, while Everton are 15/4 underdogs to claim just their third at Old Trafford in the Premier League era. The odds of the teams sharing the points are 27/10.

United are an 8/5 pick to win this match with more than 2.5 goals scored while the odds of them holding down the Toffees for a 2-0 or 1-0 win are longer at 13/4. Everton have 13/2 odds to win this match with a total over 2.5 goals, with a 9/1 return on a 0-2 or 0-1 scoreline. The odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw check in at 19/5, while a 2-2 draw or higher has an 11/1 return.

Despite his dry spell, oddsmakers still like Lukaku to score the first goal of the match against his former team enough to have him lead the way with 4/1 odds. His wingers Martial and Rashford are joint-second at 11/2, while Sanchez lurks at 6/1. Pogba is at 7/1 and always worth holding in the back of your mind as United’s designated penalty taker, especially since Everton conceded one last weekend. Tosun, Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are all 17/2 to give the Toffees a 0-1 lead.

Lukaku again leads the way for any-time goal-scorers at 11/8, ahead of Rashford (15/8) and Martial (19/10). Sanchez (2/1) and Pogba (23/10) round out the top five, while Tosun again leads Everton’s options, this time offering a return on 11/4 odds. Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin are listed at 14/5, with Sigurdsson lurking behind the pair at 10/3.

PREDICTION

If form were the prevailing guide, it would be very difficult to pick against Everton. If it were history, then United would undoubtedly be the choice. Where, then, is the balance between the two for this match? That is the question to be answered Sunday at Old Trafford.

If United were playing a lesser opponent and Mourinho had more attacking bodies available, this would have been an opportunity to hold Lukaku out of the starting XI, let him catch his breath mentally, and then be used if the match situation warranted. But with Sanchez still sidelined, and Lingard likely not ready to play a full 90 minutes, the Belgium international must lead the line once more and maybe find the break he so desperately needs to get back on track.

Lukaku, though, is one symptom of an overall bigger problem. For much of this season, United’s attack has the look of Mourinho putting square pegs into round holes. Veteran leadership of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia aside, right back has been a black hole.

Mourinho’s stubbornness to make Pogba play the spot he thrived in with France — in a deeper midfield position — may also be holding this offence back. But it also may be out of necessity since Matic endured a torrid time versus Juventus and may lack the pace where teaming him with Juan Mata as holding midfielders and pushing Pogba into the No. 10 role could spark the offense.

Or it could be something as simple as swapping spots for Rashford and Lukaku, and letting the youngster lead the line. The individual quality of United’s players is not lacking, it is whether Mourinho has the willingness to experiment on the fly. His side have this match and a tricky tie at Bournemouth before the Manchester derby at the Etihad on Nov. 12, and United are already in danger of having too much ground to make up to potentially be in a title race.

This match at this moment, however, is a good referendum for Everton. They have looked the part of a European-quality team the last two matches since Silva’s personnel swaps, but there is still a gulf in quality for the Toffees to cross in beating the likes of Leicester City and Crystal Palace, and beating Manchester United.

It’s not that Everton were ill-prepared in their first match against a “Big Six” club last month — the 2-0 scoreline at Arsenal was a combination of Petr Cech stonewalling the Toffees and a three-minute lapse defensively in which the Toffees switched off — but given United’s form with one win in their last seven matches, this has to be a match where Silva’s men have to stare down history and believe they can indeed get not only a result at Old Trafford, but the rare victory that could ignite a charge to the top six while kicking United down a peg or two.

Everton’s wingers — Bernardo and Theo Walcott — could be the swing votes in this match, and if Sigurdsson is given space with the ball, he has too much quality to not find creases in United’s back four. Manchester United need to come out swinging in this match, and they may need the ghosts of Old Trafford a little bit as well.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester United 1, Everton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 10 PREVIEWS:

Brighton and Hove Albion (3-2-4) vs. Wolverhampton (4-3-2)
Southampton (1-3-5) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-7)
Burnley (2-2-5) vs. Chelsea (6-3-0)
Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) vs. Manchester City (7-2-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)

Leicester City look to make it three wins on the spin in league play Saturday when they host an Everton side out to regroup after a disappointing exit from the Carabao Cup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Foxes (4-0-3) enter this contest in eighth place, just ahead of new boys Wolverhampton on goal difference and also reached the fourth round of the Carabao Cup by ousting Wolves on penalties nearly two weeks ago. Claude Puel’s team followed that match with a professional 2-0 road victory over struggling Newcastle United last Saturday.

Jamie Vardy struck a penalty on the half-hour after Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin handled Harry Maguire’s shot inside the 18, and Maguire rose highest to meet a corner by James Maddison in the 73rd minute. Leicester’s defence – powered by the central pairing of Maguire and talisman Wes Morgan – stifled the Magpies and limited them to one shot on target, a speculative 60-yard effort keeper Kasper Schmeichel comfortably caught under the crossbar.

Maguire will likely add to his 14 international caps following his recall to the Three Lions for the upcoming international break. This time the 21-year-old Maddison will join him at St. George, hoping to show manager Gareth Southgate the playmaking skills England are lacking in the midfield at the moment.

“We’re doing really well at the minute, there’s a great spirit around the place and training’s been really good and we’re keeping to high standards so long may that continue,” Maddison told LCFC TV while looking ahead to Everton. “They’ve spent a lot of money in recent years and they’ve got a good squad with a lot of quality and it’ll be a tough test, and it’ll be brilliant for us if we can go into the international break off the back of three wins in a row.

“That’s fantastic at any point of the Premier League if you get three in a row. We’ll work hard on the training pitch and we’ll go into that the best prepared we can.”

Puel will again be without Demarai Gray, who missed the win over Newcastle with an ankle injury suffered in the Carabao Cup. The Frenchman, though, has definitely found a comfort level with a 4-2-3-1 formation as Ricardo Pereira and Daniel Amartey have alternated at right back and right wing throughout the season.

Both Vardy and Maddison have two goals and an assist in Leicester’s last three league games, while Kelechi Iheanacho has a goal and two assists in that run.

Everton (2-3-2) are 11th in the table on nine points but have yet to find that next level to be competitive for those spots beyond the Big Six that could result in European play next term. The Toffees have one win in their last five matches in all competitions (1-2-2) and were dumped out of the Carabao Cup on penalties Tuesday at home against Southampton after a 1-1 draw.

Theo Walcott came off the bench to score the equaliser five minutes from time, but both he and Richarlison were unable to convert from the spot against Southampton keeper Angus Gunn, with the young keeper saving Walcott’s attempt after Everton counterpart Martin Stekelenburg gave the Toffees a lifeline with a save on Matt Targett’s try.

Given Everton were coming off their most complete win of the season last weekend – a 3-0 drubbing of Fulham – while Southampton had the sword taken to them by Liverpool with an identical scoreline – there is an eagerness among the Toffees to put aside the disappointment of this result.

“It’s a massive game against Leicester,” centre back Michael Keane told EvertonTV. “We had a good result at the weekend and we’re fully focused on that game now. We played some very good football in the Fulham game, especially in the second half, and we want to bring that into Saturday’s game.

“Against Southampton, I think some of the lads who haven’t been playing put in some good performances and showed what they can do – but there’s always room for improvement. Theo got that goal and we had a few half-chances towards the end but we couldn’t nick it. Then anything can happen in penalties.”

Lucas Digne is expected to reclaim his spot at left back for this match after being held out versus Southampton, but high-profile summer signing and centre back Yerry Mina is not expected to make his Everton debut until after the international break. The Colombia international had a recent setback recovering from the foot injury that has sidelined him to date, and Everton manager Marco Silva hinted he may schedule some closed door friendlies during the break to get Mina closer to match fitness.

Gylfi Sigurdsson, who had a second-half brace against Fulham after having thumped a penalty off the crossbar, has scored four goals in his last five matches across all competitions.

The home team won both matches last season, with Vardy and Gray scoring 11 minutes apart in the first half-hour at the Midlands. Leicester City are 4-0-3 in their last seven in all competitions versus Everton after winning just one of the first 18 matches (1-13-4) between the sides in the Premier League era.

Vardy has four goals and two assists in six lifetime matchups with the Toffees.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Leicester City are solid 23/20 favourites, with both the Toffees and a draw returning 23/10 odds for their respective selection. The Foxes have 12/5 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals in the match, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw checks in behind that at 10/3. A low-scoring Leicester win is next at 4/1, followed by an Everton win over 2.5 goals (17/4) and under 2.5 goals (6/1). A 2-2 draw or higher is the longshot at 10/1.

Vardy is a clear favourite to make it 1-0, leading the line at 7/2. His attacking partners Maddison and Iheanacho are next at 6/1, and Richarlison is the top pick for Everton at 13/2. Despite his brace last week, Sigurdsson is further back at 17/2.

Vardy has 13/10 odds to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Maddison (2/1) edging out Iheanacho (21/10) for second. Richarlison is again the top pick for Toffees goal-scorers at 9/4, with Sigurdsson closer behind at 14/5.

PREDICTION

Leicester City are playing their best football of the season to date as Maddison has deservedly earned his call-up to England’s senior side for the upcoming international break. Had Vardy not opted to retire from international play, it is quite likely he would have joined Maguire and Maddison with the Three Lions.

Puel has his Foxes purring and a set rotation, curious shuffle of Amartey and Pereira on the right notwithstanding. Their spine is strong from Schmeichel out to Vardy, and while they may hit a ceiling below the top six, there is every reason to believe they can contend for that seventh spot and possibly higher if one of the evergreens slip.

Everton, on the other hand, can go from irresistible to uninspired and anywhere in between in a given match. While rotating a squad for the Carabao Cup can be forgiven, the fact the Toffees lost to a struggling Southampton side that overturned half their roster must be maddening to Silva. Mina cannot arrive to fortify the back four fast enough, and someone must emerge to lead the line (Bernard perhaps?) because both Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun are currently not getting the job done.

One matchup to watch is in the midfield, where Maddison and Sigurdsson will clash. This will be a good test for the youngster ahead of his first call-up, facing a grizzled playmaker with loads of international experience for his country. Whichever one of the two gets more support from his respective supporting cast will likely emerge the winner, and given Leicester’s form, the hosts are in line to make it three on the bounce in league play.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LEICESTER CITY 3, Everton 1

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)
Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)
Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)
Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

No lead may be safe Sunday at the Emirates, where in-form Arsenal look to win a fourth straight match on the bounce against an Everton side who regain the services of pacey attacking winger Richarlison.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal (3-0-2) started their second successive Europa League campaign on a positive note, easing past Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava 4-2 on Thursday. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a brace with goals on either side of halftime, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan assisted on two goals as the Gunners have now racked up 14 goals in their last five matches after starting the season with a 2-0 home loss to reigning champions Manchester City.

“It was an important victory and it was a bit tough in the first half, but thankfully we scored before we went to the dressing room at the end,” Mkhitaryan told Arsenal’s official website after staking his claim for more playing time. “In the second half it was easier because they started to play football, started to have the ball and started to attack, so we had more spaces in behind their defensive lines.

Summer signing and No. 2 keeper Bernd Leno made his Arsenal debut and the £20 million man came within 13 minutes of a clean sheet, but a breakdown by defender Stephan Lichtsteiner led to a goal before Vorskla snatched a second in stoppage time. The Gunners have yet to post a clean sheet, and that detail did not escape Aubameyang.

“I think we played well in the first half and at the beginning of the second as well and we scored four goals, but we need to improve and fight to not concede goals like we did in the last few minutes,” the striker noted.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery turned over eight players from the side that edged Newcastle United 2-1 last weekend, with the lone holdovers Aubameyang and left-side defenders Nacho Monreal and Sokratis. Summer signing and midfielder Lucas Torreira also received his first start as Emery tweaked his formation to a 4-3-3 after using a 4-2-3-1 throughout league play.

Emery lifted the Uruguay international in the 57th minute as a precaution after a knock, but teenager Matteo Guendouzi was in line to be restored to the starting XI for this match regardless of the outcome.

The north London side are expected to also bring back regulars Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin to the back four on the right, and they could be the ones with the primary responsibility of containing Richarlison.

The Brasil international makes his return for Everton (1-3-1) after serving a three-match ban for violent conduct for a headbutt on Bournemouth’s Adam Smith on Aug. 25. Richarlison — who scored three goals in the Toffees’ first two contests — made good use of his unexpected additional free time, making his debut for the Selecao during the international break and scoring his first two goals for them in a friendly versus El Salvador.

But Toffees manager Marco Silva may move the 21-year-old from the left wing to a centre-forward position for this match. That is because summer signing Bernard was the only attacking player to distinguish himself in their 3-1 home loss to previously winless West Ham United last weekend. Everton conceded twice in the first half-hour, and while Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled one back right before halftime, any hopes of a fightback were thwarted when they conceded a third just after the hour.

Richarlison, though, appears ready to move out of his comfort zone to get his compatriot on the pitch to get Everton going again, though it would make striker Cenk Tosun the odd man out in their 4-2-3-1 formation.

“Bernard is an agile player. He is really fast and scores a lot of goals,” Richarlison told evertonfc.com. “With his speed, he gets behind players and is a danger in the box. His ability pushes opponents back and causes them problems.

“He is highly thought of in Brazil. He is known as ‘Joyful Legs,’ so he is the type of player who will bring joy to the Everton fans. He will be popular here and, hopefully, have a great season and be a big influence on Everton.”

Something that would also bring joy to Everton fans would be a tightening of their side’s defence. The Toffees also have yet to record a clean sheet, which is slightly more surprising than Arsenal’s inability to do so since Everton have England No. 1 keeper Jordan Pickford between the sticks.

But in Pickford’s defence – or lack thereof – Everton already have an entirely different back four from the one that started the season. Lucas Digne has been credible at left back since supplanting Leighton Baines, but talisman Phil Jagielka has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Fellow central defender Michael Keane just returned to practice after suffering a small skull fracture, and right back Seamus Coleman is out indefinitely after suffering a foot injury playing for Ireland.

Mason Holgate and Kurt Zouma have paired in central defence the last three matches overall, but there is hope summer signing and Colombia international Yerry Mina could finally be ready for his Toffees debut, possibly at Holgate’s expense. Jonjoe Kenny continues to hold down the right back spot.

While much of the focus is on Richarlison, ex-Arsenal winger Theo Walcott will return to the Emirates for the second time as an opponent. Walcott, who has two goals in Everton’s first five matches, broke in with the London side as a 17-year-old in 2006 and totaled 65 league goals in 170 starts and 270 top-flight matches.

Arsenal did the double in emphatic fashion last term, scoring five goals in each victory. The 5-2 rout at Goodison Park last October marked the end of Ronald Koeman’s tenure at Everton and started the whirlwind courtship of Silva, much to Watford’s protest. The Gunners followed that up with a 5-1 thrashing at the Emirates as Aaron Ramsey bagged a hat trick and Mkhitaryan assisted on three of those markers.

Arsenal have won three on the bounce over Everton overall and carry a 23-match home unbeaten streak (19-4-0) in all competitions. The Toffees have yet to win at the Emirates, losing their last five and going 0-4-9 since its opening in 2006.

Everton’s lone victory at Arsenal in the Premier League era is a 2-1 win Jan. 20, 1996, at Highbury on goals by Graham Stuart and Andrei Kranchelskis.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid favourites at 4/9 odds, while Everton are 11/2 underdogs to end their hoodoo at the Emirates. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 18/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting plenty of scoring in this match as the Gunners are 10/11 favourites to win while there being more than 2.5 goals. While they still pick Arsenal to win a low-scoring contest, it is a decent 4/1 return the final score is either 1-0 or 2-0. A draw with a total of under 2.5 goals is 6/1, and a deadlock over that threshold is 10/1. A Toffees victory of 2-1 or better is listed at 10/1, with little faith being put in their defence being able to ride out a 1-0 or 2-0 victory at 16/1.

Aubameyang unsurprisingly leads the line for first goal-scoring options at 16/5, with Alexander Lacazette second at 7/2. Denny Welbeck, who scored in the Europa League win, rounds out the top three options at 4/1, and the Arsenal playmakers — Mkhitaryan, Ramsey and Ozil — are all in step form from 11/2 to 15/2. Tosun is listed as Everton’s best bet to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 8/1, followed by Oumar Niasse (17/2) and Richarlison (9/1).

Aubamyeang is better than even money to grab a goal during the 90 minutes at 5/6 odds, and Lacazette is level. Richarlison appears to offer a decent 5/2 return on finding the back of the net for the Toffees, and ex-Gunners winger Walcott checks in at 3/1 to put one home against his former mates.

PREDICTION

Eleven months ago, Arsenal decimated the blue part of Merseyside, setting in motion the chain of events that bring us to his match. Everton underwent a drastic overhaul, arguably overspending for their shiny new toys, but one in which they went out to change the culture of the club and remove the “sleeping giant” label.

Silva’s side are still a mess defensively, evidenced by the home loss to West Ham last weekend. Throwing Mina into the fray this weekend has an air of desperation, but at the same time, there is a sense the Colombia international’s presence cannot make the situation any more dire in terms of breakdowns in front of Pickford.

In attack, moving Richarlison out of this comfort spot on the left is also a big risk. He obviously has the size and the pace to be a centre forward, and he can most certainly give a questionable Arsenal defence fits, but at what cost does it come for Everton chemistry in the final third?

The Toffees have yet to be held off the scoresheet, and there is no shame in being held to one goal in two of the three matches without your best attacking option. There’s little doubt Bernard will find his way into the starting XI, sooner rather than later, and there’s also the issue of what to do with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored three goals in all competition during Richarlison’s ban.

Arsenal offered no clues to their consistency with Thursay’s win over Vorslka, though it did show that Emery was right in tabbing Cech over Leno for Premier League duties. There is still a sense keeper is the last position where the Gunners have to rip off the band-aid to commit to this rebuild, but their defence is not good enough where Cech’s shot-stopping skills are to be dismissed.

The Torreira-Xhaka debate will continue to rage until Xhaka gets sent off or picks up his fifth yellow card and sits a match, which is something that could happen by the next international break. It is nice to have depth in which Emery can rotate all three midfielders, but Torreira and Guendouzi are the future in front of the back four.

The middle third is going to be a no-man’s land of sorts — whichever side can pin the other’s holding midfielders back likely will emerge as a victor in this game. And right now, that looks to be the Gunners by virtue of having a (slightly) better defence and finishers in a bit better form than the Toffees at the moment.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 3, Everton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)