Everton vs Aston Villa
A last minute equaliser saved the blushes for Villa against relegation threatened West Brom, snatching a point from a game they really should have won. If it wasn’t already, any realistic chance of Villa making it into Europe this season is gone. For them, the rest of the season is about finishing strongly enough to attract the right targets for next season – top half would be a start.
Meanwhile, Everton sit in eighth place just two points off sixth, with the Europa League still in sight. Despite similar patchy form, it remains a realistic target for them and they will throw everything they have at getting there.
Everton – L D D D W
Aston Villa – L W L L D
Carlo Ancelotti on Aston Villa
“They are a good team, they started the season really well.
“Everyone knows they have been affected by the absence of their best player. When Aston Villa aren’t able to use Grealish they lose power, but they are still a good team.”
On playing style
“In a few words I think we need to have more balance. When we want to propose more attacking football, we need to have balance to avoid the counter attack.
“More ambition, totally agreed and more focus on the balance of the team.
Dean Smith on remaining fixtures
“The players understand what’s there to play for, our results haven’t been probably what they were in the first half of the season, we understand that. And some of the performances certainly haven’t either.
“But there’s not been a drop-off in effort from the players, I can guarantee that. The game against West Bromwich Albion, I was pleased with the performance. That’s the most touches we’ve had in an opposition box since we get promoted, which just tells you that we were a very offensive-thinking team that day.
“Unfortunately, a couple of personal errors cost us the win.”
On the season overall
“I think there’s a bit of both [delight and frustration]. Delighted with how we’ve played at times this season, the progression we’re making as a football club. But also frustration that when a few of our key players come out, we haven’t managed to sustain the results.
“Defensively I think we’ve been great all season, I just feel we’ve dropped off offensively and that’s something we obviously need to improve upon.”
“I think, for me, [the target is] obviously top-10. It’s something we were aiming to do anyway, we weren’t satisfied with finishing 17th last season. There had to be progress shown this season and there has been.
“After a really good first half of the season, our results haven’t been anywhere near as consistent and we want to finish the season well, and we usually do.”
Everton use a 4-3-3 formation with Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front flanked by James Rodriguez and Richarlison, a midfield of Abdoulaye Doucouré, Allan and André Gomes and a defence of Seamus Coleman, Yerry Mina, Michael Keane and Lucas Digne.
With 41.8% possession and 81.5% pass success across the season, Everton are a team that are as comfortable in possession as they are out of it. They hold their shape well and can cope with their opposition bringing the game to them, but they are effective and direct when they win possession back without resorting to typical counter-attacking tactics.
This is not to say they don’t attempt long balls over the top to bypass the midfield when they need to, but when they do they are pretty good at it. 48.6% of all long balls attempted find their target, which is a respectably high success rate. It certainly means the tactic is not the hit-and-hope anti-football other teams that attempt this are often accused of.
They have scored 44 goals from 43.49 xG. Their direct approach is clinical and effective, and they have little trouble carving out chances. They have the means to make use of them when they do, too.
Defensively they have conceded 40 goals from 43.23 xGA. They concede as many opportunities to their opponents as they create themselves, but this is a symptom of playing in a way that allows the opponent to come forward. To their credit they are able to deal with these chances reasonably well, but they will be hoping they can find a way to take control of games more often going forward.
Everton play a dangerous game that pays off more often than it backfires, but they are at the stage of progression where they need to limit that danger if they have any hope of going further. Villa will need to push them hard if they plan on getting the win here.
One to Watch
At the start of the season, few people argued that singing James Rodriguez for free was the best transfer of the window. When he has been fit, he has met the expectations set of him, bagging six goals and four assists in 20 starts and two sub appearances.
A pass success rate of 83.2% is impressive for a forward, and his 4.3 successful long balls per game is a testament to how good his vision is. James in full flow is a truly dangerous player.
Everton 2-3 Aston Villa – 07-12-2008
It has been a while since Villa recorded a win away at Everton, the last time being when Steve Sidwell scored a first minute goal and Ashley young bagged a brace, cancelling out the brace of Joleon Lescott.
How it could play out
With 81 wins, 59 draws and 82 losses for Villa, the record in the most played fixture in English football is balanced on a knife edge, tipping slightly in Everton’s favour. This trend is mirrored by the similar trajectory both teams have taken this season; they both started the season fast and strong and are now enduring a lacklustre run-in, but Everton have been just ahead of Villa the whole time.
Everton are in the stronger position heading into this game, three places ahead in the table and coming off the back of a win against Arsenal. Villa have fallen by the wayside a little, but they have the comfort of not having anything to lose anymore, as well as having little to gain. There is no risk for Villa, only reward.
Speaking of reward, Keinan Davis finally scored a Premier League goal after trying for so long. And what an important goal it was, too – snatching a point from the jaws of defeat. He has been given precious few chances to prove his worth to the cause but has taken them all in his stride, always improving the overall team performance on his introduction and has been directly involved in rescuing Villa from the threat of hapless defeat at the hands of opponents they beat easily earlier in the season.
With Davis improving and Wesley’s long awaited return to the fold, Dean Smith’s attacking options have broadened at the time they are needed most. Both of these players offer something completely different (although Wesley still needs minutes) to each other and to their peer Ollie Watkins, and gives Villa the chance to keep opponents guessing.
Villa have little left to do this season other than prepare for the next one. Why not try something a little different this time around?
Everton 2-1 Aston Villa
This is usually an entertaining fixture. It could go either way with both teams in patchy form, but Everton go in with the upper hand.