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Aston Villa vs Everton - Toffees eye top spot with win at Villa Park

We don’t say that very often!

Everton FC v Watford FC - Premier League Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Everton could go top of the Premier League with a win at newly-promoted Aston Villa on Friday night.

Ok, it is only the third game of the season, but Everton rarely get close to the summit these days so allow me to indulge myself this once.

Four points from two games represents a solid start to the season for The Toffees, particularly as that includes two clean sheets.

They are the only side in the Premier League yet to concede a goal so far, granted it is only from two games but it is no fluke when you consider that Everton haven’t conceded at home since early February and only Manchester City have more shutouts in 2019. It highlights the defensive improvement over the past six months after being accused of being soft at the back in the early era of Marco Silva’s reign.

They weren’t at their fluid best against Watford, but there are a number of issues within the squad that will likely settle down in the coming weeks. Players are at different stages of fitness following their staggered return due to international commitments while the majority of summer signings arrived late and are still integrating themselves into the side.

Disjointed performances therefore are to be expected, meaning battling results like last week are more than satisfactory at this stage of the season.

Everton FC v Watford FC - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

The opposition

The most-played English league fixture is back after a three-year absence as Aston Villa and Everton lock horns for the 203rd time.

Roberto di Matteo and Steve Bruce tried and failed to bring Villa back up after their miserable relegation in 2016 that featured a run of 12 defeats from their final 13 games.

Aston Villa v Southampton - Premier League
Things are a lot happier at Villa Park than they were in 2016
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Promotion looked unlikely when boyhood Villa fan Dean Smith replaced Bruce in October 2018, with the club 15th in the table.

However, the former Brentford boss turned their season around, with a club-record run of 10 successive wins in the spring helping them into the play-offs, where they beat West Brom and then Derby to reach the Premier League.

Aston Villa v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Play-off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Scott Wilson/PA Images via Getty Images

Smith has since spent heavily in the transfer market to try and ensure that their return to the top flight is not a brief one.

More than £120m has been spent on twelve new faces including goalkeeper Tom Heaton from Burnley, Brazilian forward Wesley from Club Brugge, Tyone Mings from Bournemouth and Douglas Luiz from Manchester City.

That has drawn comparisons with Fulham’s £100m+ spending spree last season that only resulted in their relegation. However, Villa will rightly argue that all their signings were completed early rather than on a mad deadline day dash like the Cottagers. Time will tell if that policy will prove successful.

Things started well on the opening weekend when John McGinn gave them the lead at Tottenham but second half goals from Tanguy Ndombele and Harry Kane condemned them to defeat. Smith was then left to rue a slow start against Bournemouth last weekend that saw the Cherries score twice in the opening 12 minutes, with Douglas Luiz’s first goal for the club not enough to avoid a second successive defeat.

Last meeting

Aston Villa 1-3 Everton – March 1 2016 (match report)

It’s more than three years since the last game between the two sides as Everton eased to a comfortable victory against a Villa side destined for relegation.

Ramiro Funes Mori and Aaron Lennon put Everton 2-0 up at the break with Romelu Lukaku extending their lead in the second half. Rudy Gestede pulled a goal back late on but it couldn’t prevent another a ninth defeat in 17 games for Remi Garde’s side, with frustrated supporters launching an angry protest against owner Randy Lerner in the closing stages.

Aston Villa v Everton - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Recent form

Everton

Crystal Palace (a) Drew 0-0

Watford (h) Won 1-0

Aston Villa

Tottenham (a) Lost 3-1

Bournemouth (h) Lost 2-1

What they said

Everton boss Marco Silva: “We have to respect our opponents, they have quality. But, as always, we will go there to play to our best level and try to win.

“They had a tough first match but were close to getting a result. And in the second match they deserved more than the result they had.

“They have good qualities and like to play good football, offensive football.

”The game will be open, in my opinion. They try to attack and it is also our way.”

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: “It’ll be a very tough game, they were a top 10 club last season. Their defensive organisation is good, they’re tough to breach and they are very well coached.

“But they have also not scored a lot of goals – they’ve only got one this season. It’s going to be tough, like they all are.

“The bookies have made them favourites to win at Villa Park. I am sure our players will have something to say about that.”

Aston Villa Training and Press Conference Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

Team news

Everton have been boosted by the news that Lucas Digne is fit despite coming off against Watford last week with a hamstring problem. Leighton Baines is also fit again after missing all of pre-season as well as the first two matches of the campaign.

Morgan Schneiderlin is available after suspension but Fabian Delph is still sidelined with a thigh problem. Alex Iwobi is in contention but is again likely to be named amongst the substitutes.

Jonathan Kodjia and James Chester are Aston Villa’s only absentees with Kortney Hause fit again.

Final word

Everton can turn a good start to the season into a great start with a win in the Midlands. It is certainly the sort of game Silva should be targeting if he wants his side to compete for a top six spot this season. Villa’s performances have been better than their two defeats to suggest and a packed Villa Park under the lights represents a tough prospect. Meaning claiming three points will be far from straight forward.