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09th Apr 2017

Everton capitalise as Craig Shakespeare looks ahead to Leicester’s big night in Madrid

One eye on the Champions League

Tony Barrett

Leicester City hadn’t expected to be here.

They had hoped to, they had their own experience of defying logic to fall back on and they had the ambition to succeed again at a level that most had believed to be beyond them. This, though, was arguably the most telling sign of how far they have come as a Premier League game was used as preparation for a Champions League quarter final with players being rested due to priorities lying elsewhere.

Having eschewed romance by sacking Claudio Ranieri six weeks earlier, Leicester arrived at Goodison Park intent on acting like a big club once more. As with the dismissal of the popular Italian, the decision making process which led to Craig Shakespeare making five changes to his starting line up was borne of ambition and a desire to get the best results that they possibly can. If there is a time to be ruthless in your approach then just before you face a Diego Simeone team is as good a time as any, particularly as Leicester’s previous display of single-mindedness has afforded them the luxury to act as they please.

The problem for Shakespeare is a depleted Everton are not the team he would have wanted to face if looking for a dress rehearsal for Atletico Madrid, not that there is a side in English football capable of replicating what Simeone and his players do. Within ten minutes, the two sides had traded three goals – two of them to Leicester who responded well to conceding after just 30 seconds – as blows were traded like two sluggers in a fairground brawl. Atletico will be nothing like this, having conceded as many goals in the last month and a half that Everton did in the opening stages of a madcap game.

Whereas Everton were open and easy to play against, Atletico will be organised to the nth degree and will make the game as ugly as it needs to be. Ronald Koeman, with his emphasis on work rate, desire and cohesion, would like Everton to one day be as obstinate as Atletico but they are a long way from such levels of stubbornness as things stand. Leicester, therefore, were left with what was, to all intents and purposes a free hit, with little riding on it domestically and with little to glean from it in terms of planning for Wednesday night and they approached the fixture in that spirit.

“All the games will be tough, but ours will not be a nice match to watch on the television,” Antoine Griezmann said on Friday so Leicester ensured the viewing public were not disappointed in two successive games by going toe to toe with Everton in an opening quarter that was remarkable even by Premier League standards. The tone was set within half a minute when Kevin Mirallas was afforded the kind of space that players don’t usually get at the end of the game, never mind the start, and the Belgian’s run culminated with him being dumped onto his backside by Daniel Amartey before Tom Davies fired the loose ball past Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester’s response was instant and every bit as eye-catching from an attacking perspective as it was abysmal from a defensive point of view. This time the winger with too much time and space on his hands was Demarai Gray and like Mirallas he made the most of it, setting up Islam Slimani for an equalising goal. Marc Albrighton then put Leicester in front with an inswinging free kick that caught Joel Robles out at his back post. At that stage, the chances of Shakespeare going into the Atletico game having matched the achievements of Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti by winning his first six Premier League matches seemed high.

That was before Everton began exploiting the Wes Morgan sized hole in the middle of his defence in a way that could lead to Griezmann proving his own prediction wrong should it re-appear in Madrid.  Romelu Lukaku, twice, and Phil Jagielka took advantage of that weakness as Everton rediscovered the attacking edge that had deserted them at both Anfield and Old Trafford but while the hosts impressed the visitors were left with reasons to be fearful. Morgan’s back problem has given Leicester problems at the back and should he fail to recover in time to face Atletico, Leicester’s suffering at Goodison Park could be repeated at Estadio Vicente Calderon.

Should that happen, Shakespeare will have as much cause to be frustrated by the demands of a fixture calendar which resulted in them having to play an away game three days before the biggest European match in Leicester’s history as he will be by Morgan’s expected absence. As Gary Lineker, a former Leicester player, pointed out on Twitter, the Midlands outfit are the only team still in the Champions League which had to play on Sunday rather than Saturday. If there is a negative about Leicester being where they had never expected to be it is that favours are few and far between but then they are used to the odds being against them.

Catch up with this week’s episode of 888Sport Football Friday Live