Leicester travel to the Amex Stadium at the weekend looking to pick up where they left off before the international break and hold onto second spot in the Premier League.
Brighton will also be hoping to continue their steady climb up the Premier League table and secure their fourth consecutive home win.
Brighton team news
Seagulls boss Graham Potter has a defensive dilemma on his hands heading into the weekend, with centre-back Adam Webster out injured and Lewis Dunk serving a one-match ban for picking up five yellow cards.
This might provide a rare opportunity to German-Nigerian defender Leon Balogun, who made just eight league appearances for Brighton last season and has only featured once this term, in the Carabao Cup.
A late fitness test will determine whether rising star Aaron Connolly has shaken off a groin injury in time to feature against the Foxes. Veteran attacker Glenn Murray will be waiting in the wings if the young Irishman doesn’t make it, hoping to end his scoring drought and bag his first league goal of the campaign.
The good news for Potter is that Belgian wideman Leandro Toussard has recovered from an ankle injury and is likely to come back into the matchday squad.
Leicester team news
Key man James Maddison picked up a knock whilst away on international duty with England, but according to Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, he is expected to recover in time for the Foxes’ trip to the Amex.
Jonny Evans was hospitalised with a bad illness whilst away with Northern Ireland, but Rodgers confirmed that he is also expected to recover and play in this key match in the Premier League.
Brighton manager Graham Potter: “[Rodgers’] teams play with intelligence and organisation and he’s a top coach and manager.
“Leicester have been in good form recently and Jamie Vardy has been very clinical.
“But he’d be the first to say that it’s as much about the team behind him too that are creating chances for him.”
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers: “We’ve got a tough schedule over the next couple of months and we’ll need the whole squad.
“We need to keep our focus. Football is difficult to forecast. I can only prepare our team, I can only focus on the next game.
“I learned when I was younger when I tried to think about how many points we will get over the next five games, it’s better to just focus on the next game.”
Brighton & Hove Albion (11th): LWLWWL
Leicester City (2nd): LWWWWW
Brighton and Leicester have faced each other 33 times in their history. Leicester winning 14 of them, Brighton coming away the victors 13 times and neither side able to get the better of one another on six occasions.
The Seagulls have failed to overcome Leicester in their last four meetings, though. Goals from Demarai Gray and Jamie Vardy condemned Brighton to a 2-1 defeat the last time these two teams met in February earlier this year at the King Power Stadium.
The last time Brighton managed to defeat Leicester was back in 2014; goals from Stephen Ward and Jesse Lingard plus a Leonardo Ulloa brace condemned the Foxes to a 4-1 defeat when both sides were plying their trade in the Championship.
Amex Stadium image credit by JJ Hall via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
For any football fan, the words “it’s only a game” are among the most frustrating and belittling you can hear when your side has just lost.
My girlfriend, Jayne, is typically culpable for this. I fell victim to her comment as Sam Clucas put Swansea 3-1 up against Arsenal and I was put in a foul mood for the rest of our night out.
We were on a trip back to her hometown of Liverpool for her grandfather’s funeral. Bernie Watkinson was a father of five, a loving husband and a lifelong Evertonian.
I had never met Bernie, but I had heard stories of his devotion to the Toffees stretching throughout his life, right up until his final days.
The day before he died, he was talking to his grandson, Michael, about Everton’s chances at Wembley as they played Tottenham Hotspur. Big Sam’s men were without a win in five.
“I’m glad he wasn’t here to see it,” Michael said at the wake, as Spurs swept Everton aside with a crushing 4-0 win.
The quiet coach we sat in on the train up to Liverpool Lime Street seemed particularly apt considering what awaited us over the next few days.
The air conditioning was bitterly cold, much like the Irish Sea winds that batter the city, and the lack of voices foreshadowed the eerie silence that hung inside Bernie’s wife’s living room before the funeral cars arrived on Monday morning.
However, what set the precedent for the coming days wasn’t the cold or the quiet, it was watching what I could of the FA Cup tie between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion on my phone.
Liverpool’s chaotic 3-2 defeat, which saw two uses of the new VAR system, and also the Reds’ first home defeat in 19 games, seemed almost like a gift to a grieving Evertonian family.
‘The conversations that took place were a true testament to football’s ability to give everyone an escape on a sad Sunday afternoon’
I met Jayne’s grandmother, and all of her aunts, uncles and cousins for the first time on Sunday afternoon, in the same room that we would all reconvene in again the day after for the funeral. Hardly the best circumstances to meet an entire extended family.
You could sense the expectation for tomorrow; as though the emotion of what was to follow was already in the room just waiting to come out.
Despite the lingering sadness, the television shone a bright green as Manchester City played Cardiff, also in the Cup. City’s sharp baby blue cut through a room made grey by the cloudy weather, and what amazed me the most was that it wasn’t just ‘on’.
Everyone was watching it, and all had an opinion on it, whether it was the ridiculousness of the Noisy Neighbours’ Middle Eastern funding, or the selective use of VAR.
Most prominent in conversation was Liverpool’s defeat the day before, with one member of the family getting an absolute battering from everyone else, being the sole Liverpool supporter.
The conversations that took place were a true testament to football’s ability to give everyone an escape on a sad Sunday afternoon.
It was incredible to see how football became a safe haven for 15 or so distraught family members, and it was a big two fingers to the people who say it doesn’t matter.
The following morning, the tears that held back on Sunday began to fall and football’s safe haven shifted in to being an avenue of remembrance.
The flowers, carried through the rain to the cars, were blue and white and would later lie around the Dixie Dean statue outside Goodison Park. Small touches throughout the day reflected Everton’s stature in Bernie’s life.
Anywhere but Anfield
Bernie’s wife, Bettie, was adamant that the trip to the crematorium mustn’t pass Anfield, though she organised that the cars would drive around Goodison Park before moving on.
To close the service, the celebrant finished with the words “Nil Satis Nisi Optimum”, the club motto. Balloons were released to the theme of the TV series Z-Cars, the same music that the players walk out to before each home game.
Despite the Evertonian focus, and Bettie’s desire to stay away from Anfield, avoiding Liverpool FC would always be a hard task. The crematorium’s main gate faced onto Stanley Park. Jutting out over the horizon stood Anfield’s Main Stand and Anfield Road Stand, imposing itself over the surrounding area.
Liverpool’s illustrious and, in 1989, tragic history as a football club means that they are the most renowned club in the north west. Everton remain firmly in the shadow of their neighbours.
Anfield being in the backdrop to his funeral service seemed to represent the club being in the backdrop to Bernie’s life as an Everton supporter; never in full focus, but too hard to ignore.
After the wake, where alcohol became the family’s ‘safe haven’, I thought that my time soaking up the Evertonian lifestyle had come to an end. However, Jayne’s father Chris mentioned that he could get tickets for Everton’s game against Leicester City on Wednesday night.
One last win for Bernie
I had to go, not only as a football supporter, but as a way to pay my own respects to Bernie. Despite never meeting him, he shared my passion for the sport.
Before going through the turnstiles that I had passed just two days before on the way to the crematorium, we went to the Dixie Dean statue. Bernie’s flowers were sat to Dixie Dean’s left, resting alongside the flowers of other late Evertonians. Chris took a picture for the rest of the family to see, and then we made the walk around the ground to the Bullens Road Stand.
Our tickets were in the Lower Bullens, tucked away at the back, shielded from the dreadful wind and rain that lashed down on those in the Paddock Stand in front of us.
‘Football’s ability to make people forget, remember and feel elation or dejection in a heartbeat, proves that it is more than “just a game” ‘
The seats were fitted after the 1990 Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster demanded all-seater stadia. They were close together and wooden. Supporting beams holding up the Upper Bullens Stand stood in front of us, blocking small strips of the pitch. Fortunately, the blocked parts of the pitch weren’t in front of the goals.
Everton’s form, without a win since beating Swansea 3-1 in mid-December, meant that Sam Allardyce’s promising start seemed to be fading and the pressure was starting to mount on the former England manager.
Despite a nervous start, Big Sam’s side took the lead though January signing Theo Walcott, who would score again 15 minutes later, providing a man-of-the-match performance in his second game for his new club.
The return of Seamus Coleman for the first time in 10 months would have felt like a new signing for Allardyce, with Everton having struggled for much of the season without their two most experienced full-backs, Coleman and Leighton Baines.
The victory helped to end my four days on Merseyside on a lighter note. A victory with Bernie’s flowers still outside the ground is the send-off any football fan would want after they’ve gone.
On top of that, with Walcott being an ex-Gunner, it felt like I did my bit to help his club kick on from what had been a disappointing Christmas period.
After spending time in a city that has given so much more than just money to the game of football, and with a family that had been immersed in it for so long, it was gratifying to see just how revered it still is in people’s lives.
Football’s ability to make people forget, remember and feel elation or dejection in a heartbeat, proves that it is more than “just a game”.
There is a distinct feeling not only that any new deal will be a contract too far for Arsene Wenger, but also – sadly – that he is beginning to resemble a dying relative.
Wenger has become a shell of his former self. He is undoubtedly Arsenal’s most impactful and most celebrated manager. But his legitimacy has been irrevocably damaged by years of failing to identify and address weaknesses and being unable to adapt to the changes in contemporary football.
You begin to feel his weight on the club as he sits in the dugout with his head in his hands. He has become a financial and footballing burden on Arsenal, with fans realising that there is now no other way to for him to leave than for him to be forced out.
Pity has become the overriding emotion at The Emirates, with fans in increasing numbers now desperate for the Arsenal boss to go so as he is able to salvage what is left of his legacy.
Like the fans at matches, Wenger appears miserable and unable to inspire or be inspired by his team. We all know he is hurting; his expressions on the touchline and post-match interviews tell us this.
But what is perhaps even more worrying is the mockery being made of the demands placed upon modern football managers by the Arsenal board.
Yes, the ‘hire em and fire em’ culture that has enveloped the game in recent years is quite extraordinary. Most football fans believe that their clubs do not show enough loyalty to managers, opting for short bursts of success over long-term project building.
“Sometimes swift, decisive change can instigate an upturn in form and the change of climate at a club that is desperately needed”
But from Wenger’s case, we can learn a lot about the pitfalls of pursuing the exact opposite policy: of idolising a manager, ceasing to apply pressure on him, and allowing him to decide when and how he leaves.
Just a few weeks ago, we were given a particularly cruel demonstration of football’s impatience at Leicester. Claudio Ranieri, a history-maker and record-breaker, was forced out by the players he had lost and by an unforgiving chairman.
But, callous though it was, the sacking proved beneficial to results on the pitch. The transformation of Leicester’s players has been really quite remarkable, especially given the significance that their former manager had in building the players and turning them into household names. Many were previously average and unknown.
What we are beginning to deduce is that, sometimes swift, decisive change can instigate an upturn in form and the change of climate at a club that is desperately needed.
Wenger, quite unlike Leicester’s chairman, is markedly more conservative, opting to keep around him favoured, loyal coaching staff and making subtle adjustments to the squad, both in terms of tactical organisation and transfers.
“The impatient, fast-paced, money-driven culture that has wrapped itself around modern football could actually be the new ‘stability’”
For years, pundits praised the determination with which Arsenal stuck to its principles. They maintained that the club was an example to others who perhaps were a little too trigger-happy when it came to firing managers.
This adoration has wavered somewhat, especially this season. Now they talk about Wenger in a much more resigned way, after finally subscribing to my long-held view that stability can no longer be expressed in the way that Arsenal think it can be, and that Wenger ought to step aside in order for the club to adapt and move forward.
It is poignant, for instance, that Wenger’s greatest years came when he himself was the source of change in the Premier League, and not in the years that he remained rigidly focused on his values, allowing himself to be bypassed and out-competed.
The impatient, fast-paced, money-driven culture that has wrapped itself around modern football could actually be the new ‘stability’.
Of course, not every club that ditches its manager after a few years of service or halfway through a season will reap the rewards of their decision.
But signs are showing (the sackings of Mourinho at Chelsea and Klopp at Dortmund) that a policy of severing ties with even big-name managers and sending a message that short term under-achievement is not good enough could well prove fruitful.
Wenger’s free rein and effective self-employment at Arsenal is not defying the system as well as his club thinks it might be. Yes, Wenger has doubled share prices at The Emirates, but ultimately the football is what does the talking.
Actually, the message Arsenal’s embarrassingly desperate loyalty towards him shows is one of mockery. I believe that Wenger’s coasting along makes a mockery of the intense demands placed upon football manages in the modern environment.
Football management has changed, and with that, so too has the pressure on managers, who must live up to the fact that their use-by dates are now shorter and the patience of boards similarly so.
The lack of pressure being applied to Wenger is telling on the players, who appear starkly unmotivated and lacking in heart and leadership. The alleged stability that Wenger has provided, during a period that has seen Arsenal leave Highbury, angry protests from fans and a noticeable dilution of expectation and ambition, has been primarily characterised by a fundamental decline, both in terms of trophies and league positioning.
But, as Wenger reminded us in an interview with beIN sports this week, “It isn’t all about trophies.” Well, clearly. But at least Arsenal has its stability…
2016 has been yet another fantastic year of sport, one well worth celebrating, be it the remarkable story of the underdog or persistent dominance at the top level.
Below are Elephant Sport’s top five teams of the year, which range from the record breaking Team GB Women’s Hockey squad, how a rugby-loving nation went football mad and the fairytale story of Leicester City.
5) Mercedes F1; the continuing domination
The Mercedes F1 team sealed their third successive double of Constructors’ and Drivers’ World Championships in 2016.
The team clinched both accolades in 2014 and 2015, and now 2016 when the constructor’s crown was sealed in Japan and Nico Rosberg clinched the driver’s title, in the last race of the season at Abu-Dhabi.
Not only are Mercedes on a fantastic run spanning three years, in 2016 they managed to break several records on the way.
The German works team won a record 19 of the 21 races in the season, helping them to notch up another record; an impressive tally of 765 points in a single campaign.
They also bagged the most poles in a season; 20, one away from a whole season of Mercedes poles.
Their 10 consecutive race wins could have been another history-maker; if Lewis Hamilton’s engine wouldn’t have failed in Malaysia (effectively costing him the drivers trophy), Mercedes would have 16 consecutive race wins.
“Making history along the way and re-writing the record books, what we’ve achieved together is mind-blowing”
After helping to secure the constructors championship with a win in Japan, Rosberg said: “I’ve been here since day one of this project in 2010 and it’s really phenomenal the journey we’ve taken together towards being the best team in Formula 1.
“Making history along the way and re-writing the record books, what we’ve achieved together is mind-blowing and I’m really proud to have played my small part in that”
The standards Mercedes have set in 2016 will take some beating.
4) England’s rugby union winning streak
A year on from the disappointment of a dismal home World Cup, England rugby union’s squad completed a perfect 2016, equalling their record of 14 successive wins, set in 2003.
Eddie Jones’s side equalled that mark by achieving their highest ever score over rivals Australia at Twickenham; a 37-21 win on December 3.
England can surpass their current record in February 2017, when they face France at Twickenham in the RBS Six Nations opening fixture.
Since Jones’s arrival in November 2015, England have made tremendous progress, with a Six Nations Grand Slam, a whitewash of Australia in the summer Test series down under, and a first win in a decade against South Africa.
According to the wily Australian, “10-15 English players” could feature in the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.
“We are not looking at records, just the next game. But we can draw a line under this year with a good victory against a quality side [Australia],” England captain Dylan Hartley told BBC 5 Live.
“I’m very proud of the guys over the last few weeks, and it’s nice to go back to our clubs knowing we have done English rugby and the shirt proud.
“We leave it in a good place until the Six Nations,” added Hartley.
3) Wales impress at Euro 2016
A rugby-loving nation went football mad over the summer, when the Welsh national side qualified for their first major tournament since 1958 and outstandingly reached their first ever major semi-final.
More than half the population watched the Euro 2016 semi-final defeat to Portugal, beating the record set for a sporting event, which was in fact only previously set by the Welsh in their Euro 2016 quarter final victory over Belgium.
It was only five years ago that Wales were ranked 117 in the world, and in 2016 they finish an impressive 12th according to Fifa’s rankings; one place above England.
Thanks to their successful surge, Wales were seeded for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, which could set them in a great position to qualifying for only their third major finals next year.
Star man Gareth Bale has also been nominated for the 2016 Footballer of the Year award. The Real Madrid striker scored three goals at Euro 2016, making him Wales’ all-time top goal scorer in major tournaments.
“When you start playing around with the top 10, that’s a good feeling”
Wales manager Chris Coleman told the Evening Standard that after 2016’s success the nation must “not get carried away”.
“We have had some dark times when we have dropped outside the top 100. So when you start playing around with the top 10, that’s a good feeling.
“But there’s a different kind of pressure on us, we can’t be ‘plucky old Wales’. People will expect us to deliver.”
2) Team GB Women’s hockey gold
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Team GB’s women’s hockey squad became history-makers by winning the nation’s first-ever female field hockey gold.
Danny Kerry’s squad were huge underdogs when they faced the Netherlands in the final.
The Dutch comfortably won gold in both the 2008 Olympics (Beijing) and 2012 (London). They were also ranked number one in the world.
The final finished 3-3 in normal time, with Britain’s keeper Maddie Hinch making a string of remarkable saves.
And the Dutch could not beat Hinch in the resulting shootout, which Britain won 2-0. Helen Richardson-Walsh and Hollie Webb scored the decisive penalties to seal a famous victory.
Captain Kate Richardson-Walsh and wife Helen Richardson-Walsh became the first married couple to win gold for Britain since Cyril and Dorothy Wright in the sailing in 1920.
“That will change the face of British hockey”
After the game former Team GB men’s hockey bronze medallist Simon Moore told the BBC: “I am genuinely struggling to put this result into words.
“GB were under pressure for huge chunks but we thought if it went to penalties we could win. Fair play to Maddie Hinch, just incredible.
“That will change the face of British hockey.”
And according to the University of the Arts hockey president Dhalyn Warren, the sport has already seen a huge “rise in participation”.
1) Leicester City; Premier League Champions
In at number one; the greatest underdog story of all time; in May 2016 Leicester City were remarkably and deservedly crowned champions of England, and not one of us predicted it.
Having pulled in manager Claudio Ranieri, sacked from the Greece national side in November 2014, the whole of England expected to see Leicester relegated back to the Championship from which they were promoted in 2014; especially after flirting with relegation in 2015.
The Foxes are now in the elite club of only six sides to have won the Premier League since its inception in 1992.
A number of newspapers described their title win as the greatest sporting upset of all time. Not forgetting the huge record pay outs by the bookmakers on early-season odds of 5,000-1.
Star striker Jamie Vardy also broke a record; scoring 11 goals in 11 consecutive league games. Vardy was also the ninth player to score 20 top flight goals in a season.
Ranieri’s side had the fewest away defeats in any top flight season; defeated only twice on their travels. The club produced a further record for the most consecutive wins in the top flight (five).
The club have also continued their underdog story; successfully progressing into the Champions League knock-out stages.
Former Foxes midfielder Robbie Savage told the BBC: “I’m speechless, it is unbelievable. I’ve seen England win the Ashes and get OBEs and MBEs.
“This Leicester team’s achievement is greater than any of that. They should be recognised in the honours list”
Overall the fairytale of Leicester City makes this side, the team of the year for 2016.
As any Spurs supporter will tell you, it’s a rollercoaster ride supporting our club.
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of watching superb comeback wins at the Emirates one week and the agony of dreary home defeats to Newcastle the next.
In my lifetime, Tottenham have always been seen as the team that just falls short, flattering to deceive and mixing some very good moments with some very bad ones.
However my first-hand experience supporting the team over the last two years has been filled with the latter. In fact, my last experience watching Tottenham win a game live was back in December 2013.
It was a very cold, wet and windy Wednesday night at Fulham. The game started with Spurs dominating possession but struggling to break down the opposition’s deep-lying defence, which was typical under Andre Villas Boas.
Even more typical was when we went behind early on in the second half against the run of play. However, thanks to long-range efforts from Chiriches and former fan-favourite Lewis Holtby, I left Craven Cottage filled with joy – a feeling I haven’t felt since (well, when leaving a football stadium, anyway).
Since that day I have been to watch my side 11 times, spending over £600 in the process, and I am still yet to see them win. In those 11 games I have witnessed nine defeats, ranging from a 1-0 smash-and-grab scoreline against West Brom to a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Liverpool.
“As the game wore on my nerves began to grow and when we conceded a corner late on, I knew what was coming”
The two draws consisted of a dull 0-0 against Palace and a late recovery to 2-2 against West Ham to salvage a point – the only flicker of a highlight I can boast, too.
My most recent visit to White Hart Lane was against the surprise title challengers Leicester City, and it didn’t end well for me or Spurs.
Before that, my only other visit to White Hart Lane this term was our first game there, against Stoke City – yet another go on the N17 rollercoaster that unfortunately ended on a very disappointing drop as the away side came from two goals down to snatch a draw late on.
However disappointing that result was, it did kick-start a very impressive unbeaten run by my side that I enjoyed so much that I stopped myself going to any more games, out of fear that I’d end the run myself – against the wishes of my Arsenal-supporting uncle, who offered to buy me a season ticket upon hearing about my curse.
Once the run came to end, I felt it was safe to return to the Lane and, hoping that wheels would finally come off of their unlikely title challenge, chose the Leicester City game. But after the 2-2 home draw against them in the FA Cup just three days earlier, I was aware of what a tough ask it would be.
“Palace fans will be happy to know that my next live match will be at Selhurst Park. To all Tottenham fans, I can only apologise in advance…”
Like my last taste of victory from the stands, it was a very cold, wet and windy Wednesday night at White Hart Lane, which gave me at least a slight sense of optimism heading into the match.
Which grew even more as the evening wore on, as for the first time in a long time, I was witnessing an impressive performance first-hand. After 70 minutes, we seemed to have done everything but score, testing Foxes keeper Kasper Schmeichel on numerous occasions – but even when Harry Kane got the ball past the great Dane, the bar stood in his way.
As the game wore on my nerves began to grow and when we conceded a corner late on, I knew what was coming and when the ball hit the back of the net (Robert Huth unmarked, header) I was left with the same feeling I’ve had so many times before.
The more games that rack up, the more I wonder how long it will be until I see my side win again when I’m there. Crystal Palace fans will be happy to know that my next live match will be at Selhurst Park. To all Tottenham fans, I can only apologise in advance…