If Everton is to have any chance of European football this season, every game is a crucial game. There were some nervy moments against Villa, but Everton managed to hang on and get the full three points. Its a good step for the Toffees to see the game out, but one gets the sense that they still aren't quite reaching their potential. They'll need to do that soon with a pair of top six teams and an FA Cup game on the horizon.
The Man With The Golden Head
Well I don't think any of us saw this coming.
When the season began Everton fans fully expected to see a young center back stealing headlines throughout the campaign, but I doubt any of us imagined we'd be talking about Ramiro Funes Mori. The young Argentinian has proved to be worth £9.5 million Everton paid for him.
Funes Mori is only 21 games into his league career, but he's shown the capability of being a top center back. Some would argue he already is in fact. WhoScored has him rated as the 5th best center back in the Premier League. That may be a little rich. He's still good for at least one head scratching clearance a match (see his nearly disastrous clearance which fortunately ricocheted directly to Robles).
But the goals! After Tuesday night's performance Funes Mori has four goals and two assists in all competitions. His three league goals ties him for second in the Premier League amongst center backs, with only Palace's Scott Dann ahead of him. Ramiro's aerial ability is something thats been sorely lacking in the club as of late.
Its still a little early to be sure, but with Funes Mori, Stones, Galloway and Browning, Everton may be set at center halves for the next decade.
Let's Not Forget, Villa is Terrible
A win is always fantastic, and I know there are no easy wins in the Premier League, but honestly Everton didn't play particularly well. Aside from a handful of undeniably brilliant moments, the Toffees looked lethargic and unfocused. They frequently surrendered possession, made bad decisions and generally slopped about. From Joel Robles's sky hook to Coleman in the first half to 30 minutes of lightly jogging Mirallas, Everton seemed content to just do enough.
Fortunately they were playing a side that looks about as sharp as a frisbee covered in pudding. Even so, Everton saw little of the ball the last half hour. Worse they managed to surrender a late aerial goal despite having both Phil Jagielka and John Stones in the area. Its comforting to know Everton can bring their "B" game and still win comfortably, but that simply won't do with both West Ham and Arsenal coming up on the docket.
Some Tactical Thoughts
With Tom Cleverley out, yours truly expected new signing Oumar Niasse to get his first Premier League start. After all, Roberto Martinez made it clear that Niasse is not a bench player. Instead Martinez chose to start Kevin Mirallas. The move largely paid off as Mirallas terrific pullback lead to the team's second goal, but to me Villa was ideal game to get Niasse his first Premier League run out. If he's still getting his legs under him, what better place to get some serious minutes then the league's bottom dwellers?
We saw the first extended time from both John Stones and Leighton Baines in several matches, and by and large it was an indifferent outing at best for both. A little intriguing however, is Stones' signaling three to his defensive backfield mates, with the idea that Everton may shift to a back three. We saw very little of that during the match as Everton was on the back foot most of Stones's time on the pitch, but its an interesting thought moving forward. Funes Mori clearly is improving his game and the captain has been steady as always. Stones has had his struggles this year but is still one of the best young center backs in football. Might we see all three get a run out together for a full match? The boss rarely alters his side's form, but has been known to make an occasional surprise tactical change. It bears watching moving forward.