The seventh-placed Toffees travel to Aston Villa on Sunday for one of only four 3pm kick-offs, and will be looking to assert themselves even further as European football contenders. Aston Villa, on the other hand, sit in 13th position, with a clear points divide between the top third and the bottom third.
Indeed, only one point separates 8th and 14th in the league creating a closely fought mid-table scrap in which Manchester United are also involved. It may still be early in the season, but it doesn’t change the fact that a win for Aston Villa in these circumstances will have a big impact on their league position come Monday. Their current form is mixed, but slightly leaning towards the negative. They have lost more games than they have won after all (won 3, lost 4) with one draw making up the total of 8 matches played.
There are multiple positives to be highlighted coming into this game though. The biggest is that it will see the return of Benteke from injury: their talisman, top goal scorer and 2012/13 player of the season. He was absent for two full games with a cameo substitute appearance coming against Tottenham last week, and he is in fact returning from injury earlier than expected. Villa can also take confidence from the fact that they had arguably the toughest start in the Premier League. Already, games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham are behind them, and they even managed victories against Arsenal and Manchester City (the latter win without Benteke). Their league position is perhaps not as representative of how good they actually are then, so expect them to climb up the table in the near future.
Everton are one of 5 teams to have only lost 1 game this season, but due to the 3 draws, they are the lowest of those five, and sit 7th in the Premier League to be exact. However, there are only 4 points separating themselves from Arsenal at the top of the league, and they’re currently on a run of 4 wins in their last 5, their only defeat in that run coming away to Manchester City.
Unlike Villa, the majority of their games have come against the so-called “weaker” teams in the league; they have only come up against two sides in the top 8, although they did mange to beat one of them (Chelsea). Regardless, 15 points form 8 games is a better start than Everton fans are used to and as well as success, a new slick form of football has found its way to Goodison. Martinez, know for his reliance on possession and passing football, has got the team linking play together far better than they have been in seasons past, and what is more, they do it for the full 90 minutes. Under Moyes it was common for a defensive approach to be taken towards the end of the game to close out the result – a reason, arguably, for why so many points have been dropped from winning positions in the last few years. It’s hard to say just how good Everton are just yet, but they have the potential to worry some of the Premier League’s big names.
Aston Villa have scored 63 Premier League goals against Everton since the beginning of the league, which is more than any other side by 13. Furthermore, Everton have failed to keep a clean sheet against the Villa in all of their last 18 games.
Aston Villa have a leaky home defence as well though, and boast the longest run of home matches (15) without a clean sheet in the Premier League. Everton will look to take advantage of this weakness, but have only won 1 of their last 12 Premier League away games.
Cristian Benteke – who else could I choose? Back from injury and back into the starting XI for sure, and despite missing almost 3 full games he is still Villa’s top goalscorer having found the net 4 times. Victory against City proved that Villa aren’t completely reliant on him, but there is no doubt that they are a different side when he is in the team. His four goals have come from a total of 11 shots, 7 of which have been on target. That gives him a 78% shooting accuracy, and a chance conversion of 44%. He is also one of Villa’s most creative players. Despite the fact that he has missed a lot of the season, he has created 11 goalscoring chances, which is second only to Agbonlahor (12) who has played many more minutes than him. He is by far the most direct threat to the opposition in Aston Villa’s squad, and will likely have a large say in the outcome of this one.
I’m going to coin this fixture as the ‘Battle of the Belgian Strikers’ and pick Romelu Lukaku as my key man for Everton. Not as easy a pick as Benteke was because the likes of Mirallas and Barkley have also been extremely impressive, but it fits a script and the stats will back Lukaku up. His stock has been rising and rising over the last couple of years, and even more so since his loan from Chelsea this season. He had a late start to the season since he didn’t feature for Chelsea and missed out on his first game for Everton against the same team. With players like Suarez and Van Persie applying their trade in the Premier League, nobody would suggest he is the best striker in England, but he is perhaps the in-form striker in this league. For players that have had more than 270 minutes on the pitch, he has the best minutes per goal stat (81.25) in the league, closely followed by Sergio Aguero and Loic Remy. Incredibly his club goal scoring stats are identical to Benteke’s. Top goal scorer with 4, all from 11 shots with 7 on target – meaning that he also has a shooting accuracy of 78% and a chance conversion of 44%. The only difference is that he has done this in less minutes. So you see what I mean when I say that this fits a script…
As has significantly been established, Benteke shall be returning to action for Villa. N’Zogbia, Clark and Gardener will still be out though, and Okore will continue to serve his many months on the sidelines with a ruptured ACL.
Gibson too is near the beginning of the road to recovery from a Ruptured ACL and may well miss the whole of the season. Alcaraz won’t return to next month with his groin injury and there isn’t a return date set for Vellios.
There will be goals.
….And a 3 – 2 win for Aston Villa.