Remember ‘beat Villa we go top’? Well, here’s the derivative and not as exciting sequel – ‘beat Villa we go joint-fifth’.
Yes, 20 months on from disappointing defeat at Villa Park, Everton head to the same stadium once again knowing a victory will ensure they will shoot up the Premier League table.
Let’s hope for a better ending this time.
A win would put Everton sixth and level on points with fifth-placed West Ham, though Liverpool could move back in front of the Toffees if they avoid defeat at Old Trafford later on Thursday.
The game in the Midlands is the first of four games in 11 days for the Blues, with back-to-back home matches against Wolves and Sheffield United to come before a final day trip to champions Manchester City.
Everton will likely be glad of another road trip after yet another successful away day last time out against West Ham.
It wasn’t the most glamorous of performances, but it was enough to get the job done, a mightily impressive 11th win on the road this season and fifth win from six trips down in the capital.
Villa are familiar opponents of course having come away from Goodison Park with all three points less than two weeks ago. Carlo Ancelotti was scathing of the team’s display that day and rightly so, but a win here would go some way to righting those wrongs and setting the platform for an exciting final week of the season.
Given they only stayed up on the final day of last season Aston Villa must be pleased with the progress made this year as they head into the final week of the campaign comfortably in mid-table with the prospect of a top-10 finish a very real one.
However, there may be a tinge of regret given the way their form has deserted them in the second half of the season.
Dean Smith’s side were sixth after the end of December and well in the hunt for a European place, but they have struggled to find any consistency since the turn of the year and have slowly slipped down the table.
They take on Everton on Thursday having won two of their last 10 matches, though one of those was against the Toffees earlier this month.
The absence of Jack Grealish has undoubtedly had an impact. The England international has been sidelined since February but is expected to return to the squad on Thursday, though he is unlikely to start.
One player who will definitely be absent is top scorer Ollie Watkins, who will be forced to sit out this game through suspension after he was sent of against Manchester United on Sunday.
West Ham (A) Won 1-0
Aston Villa (H) Lost 2-1
Arsenal (A) Won 1-0
Tottenham (H) Drew 2-2
Brighton (A) Drew 0-0
Man Utd (H) Lost 2-1
Everton (A) Won 2-1
West Brom (H) Drew 2-2
Man City (H) Lost 2-1
Liverpool (A) Lost 2-1
Everton 1-2 Aston Villa, May 1, 2021
Yep, you don’t have to go back too far to find the last game between the sides, with goals from Ollie Watkins and Anwar El Ghazi securing the points for Villa.
James Rodriguez will once again be missing for Everton because of a calf problem, though Carlo Ancelotti hopes the Colombian will be able to feature against Sheffield United on Sunday.
His compatriot Yerry Mina is also out with a groin strain but is targeting a return against the Blades.
Jean-Philippe Gbamin won’t play again this season, but you already knew that.
What they said
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti: “We have to play differently, it was one of the worst performances of the season [against Villa at home], and we are going to play differently.
“I counted 10 easy mistakes in the first 10 minutes, easy passes wrong, we lost duels, we were not in position. That is not going to happen tomorrow, for sure.
“The team has strong motivation for Europe, most of them didn’t play in European competition and they have a desire to be in the competition next season.
“It is a fantastic motivation for every one of them. The last game [West Ham] was good, it was unpredictable against Aston Villa, it was at home and an important game. We will play differently tomorrow, no doubt.”
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: “They’re a very good team with very good players and a very good coach. We were very good on the night when we played them last.
“We have to make sure that our performance levels are like that again and similar to what we did in the first half against Manchester United.
“Our performance levels on that day [a 2-1 win at Goodison Park], our concentration levels, our discipline was really good, and we have to do that again.”
This isn’t quite win or bust, but failure to pick up at least a point here would likely kill off Everton’s European hopes, or at least leave them needing to get something at the Etihad on the final day. A daunting prospect, even if City play a ‘weakened’ team with the league already in the bag.
At the very least they need to improve on their woeful display against the same opposition a fortnight ago.
Do that and they have a chance.