May 2, 2015 - 3:00 p.m. BST, 10:00 a.m. EST
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
When Everton travels to Birmingham to take on Aston Villa on Saturday, it will be a showdown between two teams that struggled for most of the season, but have recently found their way.
The Toffees, as readers surely know, were on the fringes of the relegation conversation until at least March, but have won five of their last six league matches, launching themselves up to 10th in the table. With a win and a Stoke City loss to Swansea City this weekend, Everton could move up to ninth.
Aston Villa's struggles this season made Everton's struggles look tame. On two separate occasions in 2014-15, the Villans went five matches without scoring a single goal, once in September/October and again in January/February. But the Claret and Blue remain in 16th place, two points above the relegation zone, after picking up 10 points in their last seven league matches.
So, though Everton will be facing a side still in the relegation battle, don't expect this match to be a walk in the park.
Roberto Martinez revealed this week that Bryan Oviedo has suffered another injury, this time a fractured metatarsal in his right foot. As Tom Mallows discussed earlier this week, it is another unfortunate turn of events for the Costa Rican, who is now set to miss the rest of the season as well as the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.
Steven Pienaar, Tony Hibbert, and Darron Gibson, all long-term injury sufferers, are set to miss out as well.
For Villa, forward Gabriel Agbonlahor and defenders Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker will be unavailable through injury. Defenders Philippe Senderos and Alan Hutton returned to training this week and may play on Saturday.
What to Watch For
After missing out on the first five games of Villa's season and then going ten matches from December to February without a goal, Christian Benteke is hot. The Belgian striker has eight goals in his last seven league matches.
Also of note is 19-year-old midfielder Jack Grealish, who has started each of Villa's last three league matches, as well as the FA Cup semi-final. Though still inexperienced, Grealish has tremendous quickness and skill on the ball. If he lines up as a no. 10 as he did against Manchester City, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy's top priority will be ensuring that the young Englishman does not have any time and space to operate.
Defensively, Aston Villa has given up nine goals in its last four matches, so the Toffees will likely have opportunities to score. In Ron Vlaar, the Villans have a rock-solid center-back, but the rest of their back line is somewhat suspect, though Alan Hutton's potential return from injury may help solve some of their issues.
After last week's 3-0 victory over Manchester United, it would be surprising to see Martinez change his lineup, so expect to see Tim Howard, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, John Stones, Seamus Coleman, Leon Osman, Gareth Barry, James McCarthy, Aaron Lennon, Ross Barkley, and Romelu Lukaku to start out for the Toffees.
The Final Word
It is no secret that teams at the bottom of the table are tough to play against at this time of year. Aston Villa is safe for now, but a loss to Everton could easily see them sink back into the relegation zone. So, there's no doubt that the Villans have it all to play for.
Of course, the Toffees have little to play for, but that has been the case for weeks now, and the club has played some of its best football since reaching that point.
In the end, Villa will surely go for all three points in a home match against a mid-table team. An aggressive approach from the home side may leave the Villans vulnerable on the counter, where the Toffees have been so dangerous all season. If Romelu Lukaku and co. can capitalize on the chances presented by a desperate Villa side, Everton will score enough goals to win.