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Everton vs Aston Villa: Match Preview | Europe still the target as we enter the run-in

Just six more games left!

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

Everton host Aston Villa on Saturday with renewed optimism after last week’s win at Arsenal – and key results elsewhere - revived their hopes for a European place.

The Toffees stayed eighth but are just three points behind fifth-placed West Ham, who lost to Chelsea, and two points behind Liverpool, who drew against Newcastle.

Tottenham’s defeat in the Carabao Cup final also means seventh place will secure a place in next season’s UEFA Conference League.

Arsenal v Everton - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Everton were far from their best at the Emirates last week, but the fortune that evaded them against Crystal Palace and Tottenham fell in their favour on this occasion, with an absolute howler from Bernd Leno securing a first away win at the Gunners since 1996.

The hope is that win will inject some much-needed momentum into a flagging season that was threatening to peter out, with an easing injury list contributing to a much healthier-looking bench compared to the youth side Carlo Ancelotti had to name at Brighton.

A Champions League place remains an outside shout but cannot be completely ruled out thanks to the inconsistency from most of the teams from third to eighth – Everton included.

It has been said many times but the team who can string some consistent results together in the final few weeks of the season will be greatly rewarded.

It is something Everton have failed to do for much of the campaign, bar that wondrous start, mainly due to their woeful home form.

With three more games at Goodison left, one of which is set to have supporters present, now would be the perfect time to start winning at home again.

The opposition

After only avoiding relegation on the last day of last season, this campaign must be considered a success for Aston Villa given they head to Goodison safely tucked away in mid-table.

However, there may be a tinge of frustration that they haven’t capitalised on a great start to challenge for a top six place.

Dean Smith’s side look to be running out of gas at just the wrong time, with the club having won just two of their last 10 matches.

FBL-ENG-PR-ASTON VILLA-WEST BROM Photo by MIKE EGERTON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

They have been without injured captain Jack Grealish for all 10 of those games, highlighting their England midfielder’s huge influence on the side.

It gets mentioned every time these two sides meet but this is the most played fixture in English top-flight history, with both clubs founder members of the Football League in 1888.

Saturday’s game will be the 205th league meeting between the clubs, with the 206th game – at Villa Park – rescheduled for May 13 after it was cancelled in January because of Covid concerns.

Previous meeting

Everton 1-1 Aston Villa July 16 2020

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

You have to go back to last season for the last meeting between the sides and a July match at Goodison during the restart. Ezri Konsa put Villa ahead but a late Theo Walcott equaliser denied them what would have been a crucial win in their ultimately successful battle against relegation.

Recent form

Everton

Arsenal (A) Won 1-0

Tottenham (H) Drew 2-2

Brighton (A) Drew 0-0

Crystal Palace (H) Drew 1-1

Man City (H – FA Cup) Lost 2-0

Aston Villa

West Brom (H) Drew 2-2

Man City (H) Lost 2-1

Liverpool (A) Lost 2-1

Fulham (H) Won 3-1

Tottenham (H) Lost 2-0

Team news

Abdoulaye Doucoure and Jean-Phillipe Gbamin will once again be Everton’s only absentees, though Doucoure could return to the side before the end of the campaign after he resumed training following a broken foot.

Michael Keane missed the Arsenal game with a minor hamstring issue but is fit and available. Josh King missed training earlier this week with a back problem but he too is available.

What they said

Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti: “We are still in the fight and that is really good for us. We have good momentum and all the players available.

“The victory against Arsenal was really important. We didn’t have good results in the previous few games, so to win was important for our mentality and motivation.

When we want to play more attacking football [at home] we need balance, to avoid counter-attacks and opportunities for the opposition team.

“[We need to play with] more ambition, totally agreed, and more focus on the balance of the team.

“We have to be strong and focused and do our best. Every game is vital for everyone.”

FBL-ENG-PR-ASTON VILLA-WEST BROM Photo by SHAUN BOTTERILL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: “It’s going to be a tough game, I think they’ve got a very good squad, a squad that we’re trying to build towards as well.

“But we’ve already proven this season that, on our day, we can beat anybody and we’ll be looking to try and do that.

“There had to be progress shown this season and there has been.

“After a really good first half of the season, our results haven’t been anywhere near as consistent and we want to finish the season well, and we usually do.”

Final word

That Arsenal result was such a timely boost. I’d started to think Everton’s European hopes had gone. However, it all rests on whether they can rediscover their home form, something that has hamstrung their progress throughout the second half of the campaign. Do that, and we may just be dusting off those passports again come August.