Leicester City manager Craig Shakespeare has an unexpected and, in some ways, welcome problem ahead of Sunday’s Premier League match away to Everton.
Having taken over in late February with the reigning champions sliding towards relegation, Shakespeare finds himself five league games and five wins later pondering the possibility of resting players at Goodison Park to protect them for a huge occasion next week.
With captain Wes Morgan already set to miss the first leg of Leicester’s inaugural Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday with a back injury, Shakespeare is considering leaving out other key players on Merseyside.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, midfielders Danny Drinkwater and Riyad Mahrez and star striker Jamie Vardy are among the established senior players who might be held back for the tie in Spain, now that Leicester are on the brink of Premier League safety with eight games to spare.
“I will assess the squad over the next 24 hours and chat with the staff but I will pick a team that can win at Everton,” said Shakespeare on Friday.
“It is about trying to get the right balance,” added the Englishman, promoted from within Leicester’s coaching set-up after the Midlands club’s Thai owners took the controversial decision to sack title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri.
“The players understand the challenge ahead and I will make sure I will make my judgement by watching them in training, see how they are and also pick a competitive team in those games.”
Morgan will certainly sit out the Everton game, with Shakespeare effectively ruling the central defender out of the match in Madrid.
“I think it would be a lot to ask him to come back for a game of that magnitude,” said the Leicester boss.
Frenchman Yohan Benalouane is again likely to deputise both at Everton and in Spain, having played the last three games in Morgan’s absence.
The last week has proved that Everton are not good enough to challenge the Premier League’s top four, but there are still reasons for encouragement as they chase a place in next season’s Europa League.
Tuesday saw Everton impress against Manchester United at Old Trafford in a match they would have won had not Ashley Williams conceded the injury-time penalty from which Zlatan Ibrahimovic secured a 1-1 draw.
But the overall performance was just what Everton manager Ronald Koeman was looking for after an anaemic display in losing a Merseyside derby 3-1 at Liverpool last weekend.
However, there were numerous reports of Everton top-scorer Romelu Lukaku being involved in an on-pitch confrontation with team-mate Williams, having been caught on camera putting his finger to his lips disrespectfully when receiving instructions from the Wales defender.
But Dutch great Koeman had no issue with incident, saying: “The two boys spoke already to each other and there’s no problem.
“I like this because you need to do everything to win the game and after you can be friends, but not on the pitch.”
There will be no such issues between the two players on Sunday as Williams is suspended, having been sent off at Old Trafford for conceding that late penalty when he handled Luke Shaw’s goalbound shot.
That leaves Koeman short of defenders, with centre-back Ramiro Funes Mori out for the rest of the season because of a knee injury, and full-back Seamus Coleman recovering from a broken leg.
However, French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin could be fit after missing two matches with a calf problem.
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