With everything to play for you would think Everton would be the highly motivated side looking for points. Of course, the Blues have been in this position for a few weeks now, and unfortunately they looked just like they have in those previous games - capable of moments of magic but otherwise slow and plodding.
An early shooting chance for Alex Iwobi aside, Everton were happy to let Aston Villa come at them, and the visitors did so with aplomb. The Toffees seemed all awry with the late withdrawal of James Rodriguez with another flare-up of his calf issue during warmups, cycling through different tactics with first Gylfi Sigurdsson behind Dominic Calvert-Lewin and then Carlo Ancelotti pushing Richarlison up to DCL’s right while the Icelander moved to the left to provide more support for Andre Gomes and Lucas Digne who had a torrid first half.
The first goal came from Mason Holgate being altogether too casual under pressure from Ollie Watkins, and the newly-minted England striker did well to steal the ball off Holgate and slot home early. Everton were stunned, but within minutes were level after DCL did well getting to a deep corner from Digne, and his strong header went through Emiliano Martinez’s arms.
DCL almost got a second with a great diving header from a Digne cross but Martinez saved well. The visitors were not going to be suppressed long though, launching attack after attack that saw Watkins and Traore both test Pickford who was stellar. El Ghazi and former Blue Ross Barkley both hit the woodwork as well as Everton were being overrun on their left and through the middle with Allan chasing shadows.
The second half started with more of the same with both sides creating half-chances but nothing clear-cut for either side. As the minutes wore on it seemed both sides were happy to hold as they were and wait for the right opportunity to fall their way.
Ancelotti’s first change was to bring on Fabian Delph with about twenty minutes to play, a like-for-like change for Andre Gomes, with Bernard quickly following for Iwobi. The Blues moved into a 4-2-3-1 formation after that, with Bernard in the middle, Richarlison on the right and Sigurdsson on the left.
Yet as the game was petering away for a draw, a moment of magic from Villa put the visitors ahead. El Ghazi controlled well and beat Coleman who left him with too much room, and the forward curled a sumptuous shot around Pickford’s despairing dive.
The Blues have been toothless for much of the second half of the season, and it was the same here with the Toffees unable to ramp up the pressure when it was desperately needed, with their European dreams slipping away.