On Tuesday night, Everton will be catching Aston Villa at a good time.
But, to be fair, every club that's played the Villans have caught them at a good time. As things stand right now, the Birmingham club is in dead last in the Premier League, sitting seven points below 19th-place Sunderland. Villa has netted just 20 goals through 26 matches, making them the lowest scoring club in the BPL. With a goal differential of -26 to boot, Villa is as sure a bet for relegation as any club we've seen in recent years. In other words, Aston Villa is a bad soccer team.
And yet, Villa may not have underachieved this year as badly as Everton has. With an incredibly solid mix of steady BPL veterans (Gareth Barry, Phil Jagielka), future studs (John Stones, Gerard Deulofeu) and young current stars (Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley), it feels ridiculous that this current squad can't crack the top 10. And that's before mentioning the club's fifth-highest goal differential of +11. It's been a painful roller coaster of resounding wins immediately followed by heartbreaking dropped points in stoppage time.
That's where they clubs are now, but where were they for the last clash at Villa Park?
The match took place on May 2nd, 2015. Everton was again in 11th, but something felt different. It was late days, and the year felt lost. Following a campaign of promise in 2013-14, last year's laid egg at Villa Park was the culmination of disappointment. At the time, Roberto Martinez looked less smart and Tim Howard looked much older. Barkley looked more raw and Lukaku looked less ready to ascend to star status.
That set the stage for what happened. A Villa team, who was playing its best soccer late as it made a push to the FA Cup Final, smacked the Toffees in a game that generously finished 3-2 in favor of the home side. You'll recall, Christian Benteke put Villa up 2-0 at halftime. After Lukaku got one back on a PK, Villa's Tom Cleverley answered to restore the two-goal lead, and Everton weren't able to break through again until a Phil Jagielka goal in stoppage time.
But in a twist of fortune, every goal scorer from that match now plays in Merseyside.
Lukaku is still scoring for Everton, and Jagielka still wears the armband for the Toffees. Cleverley? Well, he's also wearing the right shade of blue following a free transfer. And though Benteke is not an Everton player, the Belgian No. 9 is still a Merseyside man following an August move to Liverpool after leading the Villans with 13 league goals.
I guess what I'm saying is that for all the similarities Tuesday will bring from last year's early May loss, it's the wrinkles of change that will stand out, and those wrinkles could not be more in favor of Everton. While Villa has lost its star Belgian striker in Benteke and its heart and soul in Fabian Delph, Everton's Belgian striker has taken that next step as Lukaku is second in the league with 16 goals, and the heart and soul can be found all over the pitch, from Barkley to Barry to Deulofeu.
All that is very clear when Everton is playing well.
And that's why we're here, 500+ words in, is because Everton may not play well on Tuesday. That's just the reality of it through 26 games.
But if this group wants to reach a Europa League spot, which is currently just five points away, the urgency has to start this Tuesday night. There's a dozen games left it what will be a make or break stretch run for several key figures at the club.
The home loss from two weeks ago can be easily forgotten following a relaxed FA Cup win over Bournemouth. And now, just like that week off in the league, it's a trip to Villa Park. At a good time again, especially as Villa play Stoke City on Saturday too.
'7500 To Holte' is one of the better football blogs in the SB Nation network - go along and take a look at what they're saying about Villa and lots of other excellent content that belies the club's lowly standing in the table.