It has been an exciting two weeks since Everton last took the pitch and played an actual match. Three players have departed while two new ones took up residence at Finch Farm, everyone seemed to return from international duty with no major problems, and of course the storm clouds continued to build regarding the running of the club. But the good news is that we finally have some soccer to watch as Everton take on Aston Villa tomorrow in a match up of two fairly similar teams. For those who haven't listened in you can find episode 4 of the Royal Blue Mersey Podcast here where we talk with the 7500 to Holte crew about this weekend's match.
To start with there is some good news on the injury front for Everton. Leighton Baines, who withdrew from the England squad due to a hamstring injury, is reportedly at full fitness and will be available for tomorrows match. In addition Seamus Coleman will also be available after finally resuming training over the break. The final piece of news is the return of Gueye from a broken toes. With all three players available David Moyes almost has an entire squad to pick from.
The lone injury is Victor Anichebe who will be out for 3 months with a pulled groin sustained on international duty for Nigeria. This loss will further deplete our striking corps which now consists of Louis Saha, Vellios, and Denis.
Based on some of Moyes hints to the press, it is likely that both Drenthe and Denis will start the match on the bench, if they even make the 18 man squad. Both players are not at full fitness following long layoffs, and Moyes has stated his desire to bring them up to speed. With Anichebe the only injury, this is a nice luxury for Moyes to have.
The biggest cause for concern this weekend will be Villa's speed up top. Darren Bent seems to be ready to go following an injury over the break, and N'Zogbia will have loads of space on our left side to give the defense fits. Don't be surprised to see Baines stay at home a little more to reduce the amount of ground N'Zogbia has to cover.
Here is our projected starting lineup:
Barkley - Fellaini - Rodwell - Coleman
Baines - Distin - Jags - Neville
Nothing surprising in terms of personnel in the back. The big question for Evertonians is how Jagielka plays today. Jags has looked shaky for all three matches this season, and was directly responsible for conceding 2 goals. Hopefully the break gave him a chance to settle down a little and he will be back to top form.
In the midfield Coleman makes his season debut on the right where he will sprint all day long. Coleman's speed will give some balance to Everton's attack especially with the tendency of Barkley to cut inside during his spell out wide, and the generally inefficent crosses that have been supplied by Neville and Osman so far. One key to look for out of Coleman is how he reacts to his second full season of EPL games. With most defenders having gotten one or two games in against him, Coleman will need to vary his methods a little more to be effective for the Toffees.
Rodwell and Fellaini will join up again in the center of the midfield. Fellaini finally has his chance to shine with the departure of Arteta. Fellaini always seemed to be cancelled out by Mikel, and only truly shined when Arteta was out due to injury. Ideally the Belgian will be able to solidify his performances and anchor the Everton midfield. For Rodwell this is all about continuing to improve and fulfill his potential. If he can do that then the loss of Arteta will not be as painful as some make it out to be.
Finally on the left Ross Barkley is favored over Leon Osman. Barkley's tendency to cut inside with the ball will open up the left flank for Baines to bomb forward, and this could be an important partnership going forward. With Barkley's participation in the U21 squad over the break, the youngster is just brimming with confidence and it only seems to be a matter of time before he gets his first EPL goal.
Up top Moyes will most likely go with Cahill in his withdrawn striker role, and Saha as the lone forward. Cahill has had several golden opportunities go wide this season, and the pressure is on for him to open his account this season. As for Saha, the sooner he scores the better as he is the only EPL proven forward on the team, and Everton can not afford another start to the season like the one he had last year.
As always the key for Everton is going to be avoiding conceding the early goal. With the crowd behind the Toffees this should be a winnable game, which of course means we will lose or draw. Nonetheless I'm predicting a 2-0 win as Barkley and Saha get the goals. Join us here at 10am ET/ 3pm BST for our gamethread as we follow the match, and until next time COYB!