Roberto Martinez considers Leicester City an inspiration as he prepares his Everton side for the visit of the Premier League leaders on Saturday.
Claudio Ranieri’s team returned to the summit with an impressive 2-1 victory over defending champions Chelsea on Monday.
Jamie Vardy took his Premier League tally this season to 15 with the opening goal, while Riyad Mahrez – who has been involved in 18 top-flight goals this season – also hit the back of the net as Leicester extended their unbeaten run to nine matches by winning what proved to be Jose Mourinho’s last game as Chelsea boss.
Everton manager Martinez thinks seeing a team with a smaller budget exceed expectations on a consistent basis proves to others there is always a chance of pulling off a surprise.
“Leicester deserve to be top of the league and are a team who have been really, really dynamic,” said the Spaniard.
“When you develop that momentum it can be very, very powerful. They are capable of achieving anything this season.
“They are refreshing for modern football because we all know that finances dictate a lot and normally in any competition at the end of the season the expected sides more or less are always there.
“When you see teams like Leicester and the nature of this year’s competition, I think it’s an inspiration and is something that you want every footballer to believe – that you can achieve something that you’re probably not predicted to achieve.”
Ranieri is keen for his players to put Monday’s win behind them and focus on overcoming Everton.
“We understood to beat the champions was not easy. Now it’s important the players clear their minds,” he said.
“When other teams play against us, maybe we think twice. For us, it’s not important what they think, but how we play.
“It is important to maintain this friendly group. In every match they help each other. I love it.”
Everton are unbeaten in eight matches in all competitions, but have only taken all three points in just two of their last six Premier League games.
Historically, Leicester have struggled against Everton, winning just one of the previous 20 top-flight clashes. However, they are unbeaten in their last 11 Premier League away games, winning seven in the process.
Jeffrey Schlupp (hamstring) is sidelined for up to six weeks while Danny Drinkwater will miss out after limping off against Chelsea.
Martinez confirmed John Stones will be fit to feature despite going off against Norwich City through injury, while Romelu Lukaku will be looking to extend his run of scoring in each of the last six Premier League games.
James McCarthy, Phil Jagielka and Steven Pienaar are all nearing comebacks, though only the former has a chance of featuring on Saturday.
Key Opta stats:
– Of all fixtures that have been played at least five times in the Premier League, Everton versus Leicester City has the highest percentage of draws (72%).
– Steven Naismith has scored in both of his Premier League appearances against Leicester City.
– If Leicester City win this match, they’ll be top of the league on Christmas Day. Five of the last six teams to have been leading the league on December 25 have gone on to win the title, with the exception in this period being Liverpool in 2013-14.
– Since Lukaku’s Premier League debut for Everton in September 2013, only Sergio Aguero (49) has more goals in the competition than the Belgian (37).
– Only Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (18) has netted more goals in Europe’s top five leagues this season than Jamie Vardy (15) coming into this weekend.
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