The 0-0 draw at home to Manchester City two weeks ago was seen as a reason for optimism going into the international break as the run of seven straight Premier League defeats was ended. To say that whatever fans were hoping for from Goodison Park didn’t materialise is an understatement – Villa were well and truly humbled by Everton as the hosts dished out our heaviest defeat of the season.
Here’s a look at the good, bad and ugly of Saturday’s 4-0 loss.
Well, let’s try to salvage something from the wreckage, shall we? We only lost by four, there’s that. Everton, once one of our closest competitors for a top six spot under Martin O’Neill, were so superior it was embarrassing, and Villa, to use that old cliché, were lucky to get nil.
What can be taken as a shred of positivity is that we were always likely to lose that game, and one point from City at home and Everton away is probably equal to or even better than what was expected, even if the lifeless manner in which we rolled over at Goodison was particularly galling.
One thing that certainly needs highlighting is the tremendous enthusiasm of the club’s away support. Listening to the Villa end on Merseyside, you would hardly have known what was going on on the pitch, and the fact that so many are still turning up is really quite incredible. Villa away days have become less and less about the football in recent years (let’s be honest, they’ve had to), and this column has long held the opinion that, in terms of the unwavering support that they get from such a large fanbase no matter what kind of dross is on show on the field, the club and the board really don’t know how lucky they are.
Everton’s opener was coming from almost the first whistle, and Villa’s ‘resistance’ lasted all of 17 minutes. Surprise surprise, it was down Everton’s right flank that they created almost all of their chances, ruthlessly exposing the loss of Jordan Amavi at left-back. Gerard Deulofeu would have been a tricky customer for Amavi to deal with; for Kieran Richardson, the mismatch was almost abusive. When Villa signed Richardson in July 2014 it was presumed that he would be a sparingly-used utility player, promoted to the starting XI only when other options had been exhausted. It is deeply embarrassing to realise that he is now the club’s first-choice left-back.
It would be unfair to blame everything on Richardson, however. Villa’s back four in general were about as watertight as a sieve, summed up wonderfully by Everton’s slapstick third goal in which they had ample opportunity to clear the ball after Brad Guzan had made the initial save.
A big factor in Villa’s failings at the back was the lack of defensive cover. In fairness to Richardson, as much as he is terribly ill-equipped for life as a Premier League left-back, you did have to feel for him on Saturday. Deulofeu was entirely unchecked by Jack Grealish in midfield, meaning that any time he got the ball, no matter whether it was on the edge of the box or on the halfway line, he was immediately one-on-one with Richardson. Alan Hutton, who has been one of Villa’s most consistent performers so far this season, was similarly exposed by Carles Gil on the right.
Then there was the horrible flimsiness of the midfield, the central trio of Idrissa Gana, Jordan Veretout and Ashley Westwood failing to give us any kind of foothold in the match whatsoever.
If there’s one thing that we have learnt from the chaos, it’s that Carlos Sanchez is fast becoming one of the club’s key players – without him in midfield there is absolutely no protection for the defence and matches will continue to descend into little more than those attack vs defence exercises you used to do in Sunday League training. The Colombian, though still occasionally inconsistent and frustrating, now has to be a fixture in the starting XI.
Click the next page for the UGLY…