Everton jumped back into league play with a somewhat unimpressive performance at Goodison Park last week, but, as good teams do, managed to pull out 3 points with a gritty performance. After having so many players out on international duty in the early weeks of October, it will surely be a boon to Roberto Martinez to have all his players back in training, and with the squad coming close to full health. Evertonians are sure to be encouraged by Steven Pienaar's triumphant return last week, and his return makes the midfield as close to complete as it may very well be for the rest of the campaign. Everton sit in 7th place in the table, but just two points behind second place Chelsea and four points behind leaders Arsenal.
Aston Villa, on the other hand, sit 13th currently, having taken ten points from a possible 24. Villa's fixtures through the first two and a half months have been quite difficult, playing at Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham, while hosting Chelsea and Manchester City. Villa won the first of these matches, a 3-1 victory at Arsenal before the Gunners signed Mesut Ozil and found their stride. The Birmingham club also came away with three points against Manchester City at the end of September, in a thrilling 3-2 match. So though the team currently sits in the bottom half of the table, Villa have proven their worth at times this season, and with their November fixture list consisting of West Ham, Cardiff, West Brom, and Sunderland, they will likely view Saturday's match as a starting point for climbing up the table. The claret and blue, led by their own formidable Belgian striker, Christian Benteke, ought not to be taken lightly by the Toffees.
Now that Steven Pienaar has returned from his hamstring injury, Darron Gibson, Antolin Alcaraz, and Johnny Heitinga are the only remaining injury worries for Roberto Martinez's side. Gibson is out indefnitely, Alcaraz is expected to be back following the November international break, and Heitinga is 50/50 after picking up a muscle problem and sitting out last week.
Following a half hour cameo last week against Tottenham, Christian Benteke appears ready to return to the starting 11 this week. Greg Gardner will likely miss with a back injury, and Charles N'Zogbia and Jores Okore are both out indefinitely with injury.
Keys to the Match
Defensively, the key for Everton is obvious; they must find a way to stop Christian Benteke. The Belgian striker has 4 of the team's 9 league goals, even though he has only started five games and played six. No other Villa player has more than one goal. Much of this task may fall on Sylvain Distin, who may be the only Toffee that can match Benteke's strength. It will be a tough task for the 35 year old Frenchman, but if he, and the rest of the team, can shut Benteke down, they will have an excellent chance of keeping a clean sheet. It seems fair to expect Everton to possess for much of the game, as we have seen them do often this season against teams in the bottom half of the league. The re-insertion of Steven Pienaar into the lineup gives the Toffees an extra creative flair, which will hopefully help the team continue to turn the domination of possession into goals, as they did against Hull and Newcastle.
Villa will want to look to their victories against Manchester City and Arsenal for road-maps to pulling out a result against Everton. Aston Villa was out-possessed 67-33 against City and 64-36 against Arsenal but managed to score a staggering 6 goals between the two games, while only giving up 3. The claret and blue are clearly comfortable playing on the counter, and if they are given opportunities, they can easily execute and pull out the 3 points as well.
The Final Word
Aston Villa has done a good job of playing hard and staying competitive in matches like this so far this season, and Everton will need to match that intensity. The Toffees will have the majority of the ball, but that has not always been a recipe for success for Everton or against Aston Villa this season. Will they be able to turn possession into chances, and chances into goals, as they did against Hull and Newcastle? Will the defense be able to contain Villa's dangerous young goal scorer in the limited opportunities he and his team can create? Three achievable points hang on the answers to these questions.
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- MATCH REPORT: EVERTON U21s 0-0 MAN UNITED U21s
- Everton vs Hull City - Five Thoughts
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- Everton vs. Hull City: Live GameThread
- Everton vs. Hull City: Premier League Matchday 8