Everton host Aston Villa on Saturday at Goodison Park and will be looking to get back to winning ways after going down 2-1 to Manchester United last time out. That game at Old Trafford feels like months ago and there is nothing worse than going into an international break with a defeat – and Everton being Everton have an annoying habit of doing just that. Our latest loss came against an average United side and things might have been very different if it wasn’t for the excellence of De Gea between the home side’s sticks, but now we must look forward and move on to our next challenge which is a vital three points against Villa this weekend.
Paul Lambert’s side travel to Goodison on the back on three defeats – to Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal respectively – and their last victory came when they last made the trip to Merseyside, winning 1-0 at the temple of doom across the park. On that particular afternoon the Villains put in an impressive performance and a solitary Agbonlahor (try saying or spelling that after a few sherbets) strike was enough to hand the visitors the spoils as a solid defensive display kept the home side at bay. Since then the Midlanders have been tonked by Arsenal and Chelsea by three goals to nil in each and were beaten 2-0 late on at Villa Park in their last Premier League outing against Manchester City.
Villa sit in tenth place in the Premier League whereas Everton find themselves just one place and two points outside the relegation zone following a disappointing start to the new campaign. Our only League victory came over a month ago against West Brom (0-2) and since then our only other win of the season came in the Europa League over Wolfsburg (4-1). A poor defeat to Crystal Palace was followed by a heavy League Cup loss to Swansea, before successive draws against Liverpool and Krasnodar in the Premier and Europa League respectively. The defeat to United nearly a fortnight ago has left us languishing at the wrong end of the table and we now face a run of fixtures that provide us with an excellent opportunity to build some form after an erratic few weeks.
Overall we haven’t got going this season and although we have had to deal with numerous injury blows now is the time for our players to stand up and be counted and begin to make things happen. Last season was great but that is in the past and now Roberto Martinez faces a tough test to get his injury-ravaged squad back to winning ways after a disappointing and disjointing couple of months. Hopefully by the time October is over we will have the likes of Barkley and Coleman back and we will have a win or two under our belts but there is no denying that things will be difficult. As cliché as it sounds there is no easy game in the Premier League and this weekend’s opposition Aston Villa will be no different.
Known for their counter attacking football and pace on the break, Lambert’s side won’t fear coming to Goodison to face a Toffees side who have lacked composure and a cutting edge since the current season began. Agbonlahor is the obvious name to highlight and he is expected to lead the line for the visitors, even though he is recovering from illness. Lambert will also hope to have ex-Everton man Phillippe Senderos back for the game after the Swiss international suffered a strain recently, but other than that Villa don’t have any other fresh injury concerns. The pace of Agbonlahor and others like Weimann and N’Zogbia could be a problem for Everton and both Fabian Delph and one-time Blues target Cleverley will do battle with Barry, Besic and hopefully McCarthy in the midfield. Belgian striker Christian Benteke has recently returned from a long lay-off, we all know his capabilities, and there are some talented players within this Villa side who could cause Everton a headache on Saturday afternoon. We’ve looked half asleep at times this season and against sides like Villa who can be lethal on the break we might get exploited. Villa started this season well; beating Stoke away (0-1) and Hull on home turf (2-1), either side of a 0-0 stalemate with Newcastle, but since their victory over Liverpool in early September things have gone downhill for Lambert’s men. The visitors arrive on Merseyside without scoring in their last three outings and having conceded eight in those aforementioned games, so they will be hopeful of getting themselves back amongst the points with a result against us on Saturday.
Our form has been hit and miss since we kicked off the season against Leicester and optimism and enthusiasm has changed to disappointment and questioning in recent times. Martinez has had to shuffle his pack and he will again against Villa but hopefully one or two faces will begin to return in the coming weeks. Barkley coming back will be the one everyone is looking out for and I’d expect the Villa game to be too early for him, but others like Coleman and McCarthy should be back in the mix this weekend which provides a much-needed boost for the Blues Boss who faces a big week at the Goodison helm. All eyes will be on the Spaniard to see who he picks alongside Jagielka in defence and the situation isn’t ideal with rumours about Distin and Alcaraz only featuring now and again. Obviously with Stones missing we are left short on alternatives but whoever starts on Saturday needs to be up for it in front of an expectant capacity crowd at Goodison – no pressure there then. Although McCarthy and Coleman will most likely come back into the side and Steven Pienaar also expected to be involved, it is that man Mo Besic who I think will be the one to watch in our run of forthcoming fixtures and he could turn out to be a real find if he starts to show his international form for his Club side. Speaking of internationals, Aiden McGeady, Darron Gibson and Steven Naismith all had good weeks for their respective countries and the latter just keeps banging in the goals. With Lukaku cutting a frustrated figure in recent weeks and Eto’o dropping in and out of the side it is vital that Naismith has chipped in with the goals so far this season otherwise our league positioning could have been even worse by this stage. The Scot has four strikes to his name already this campaign which is nearly half of the nine he scored last season and although it has been a disappointing few weeks for us Evertonians we must take heart from having such an in-form, confident player within our ranks and let’s just hope he continues to do the business this weekend at Goodison Park.
Following the Villa game we then travel to Lille in the Europa League before returning to take on Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday. All three games will provide different challenges in different surroundings but now is the time we need to focus and build a bit of momentum as we attempt to drag ourselves back up the table. I’d expect to see a different looking line up in France to the one that starts against Villa and Burnley and as I said before we need to look at this trio of games as a platform to get ourselves going because in total we face six fixtures in 23 days which would test the resolve of any squad, never mind a depleted one.
The first hurdle is Villa this Saturday and I am going to go with a 1-0 victory to the Blues – a win is a win and that’s exactly what we need at the moment.