Lining up in a 4-4-2, the aim of Everton’s caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson was to go direct and get crosses in for Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison right from the first whistle. But Aston Villa controlled the early stages of the match, dominating possession and Everton had little idea how to get the ball into dangerous areas, resulting in an astonishing zero shots taken in the first half. It was a lot better after half-time, but of the Blues’ 15 efforts at goal, only one hit the target as the team’s effort was undermined by a lack of clinical finishing and composure.
A Strange Omission
The manager showed a propensity to change personnel quickly, even if he stuck doggedly to his 4-4-2, first switching out Andre Gomes for Allan on 51 minutes, followed by the ineffective Andros Townsend for Anthony Gordon after 56 minutes. Gordon, in particular made a difference, running at the Villa defence and looking to get into good crossing positions. He created four chances in little over half an hour, leading the team, put in some quality corner kick deliveries and could count himself unlucky that none resulted in a goal. Considering the youngster has been a rare highlight in recent weeks, it was a strange decision from Ferguson to prefer Townsend.
Anthony Gordon created more chances (4), attempted more crosses (10) and made more passes into the opposition box (9) than any other player on the pitch during Everton vs. Aston Villa.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 22, 2022
He came on in the 56th minute. pic.twitter.com/LzHjW9Vde3
Same Old Problems
The visitors, led by ex-Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard, nullified what passed for the Toffees’ attacking threat over the first 30 minutes or so, before gradually starting to open up the home side. Still, it appeared that the Blues could make it to the interval with scores level and attempt to start afresh, only for that familiar bugbear to appear again, with Emi Buendia flicking in a header from Lucas Digne’s pinpoint corner kick delivery. The Argentine was the shortest player on the pitch, but if you are unmarked and under no pressure that is irrelevant. Villa had only two corners in the match, so it is really disappointing to see the team defend a set-piece so poorly once more.
Emi Buendia had only scored one header in 132 league appearances in English football prior to today— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 22, 2022
Lucas Digne assist on his Goodison return #EVEAVL
Counting the Cost
Speaking of Digne, it was particularly galling to see the ex-Everton player return to punish his former employers so soon after his acrimonious departure. His quality corner kick delivery for the only goal of the game made something of a farce of recently-fired Blues manager Rafa Benitez’ decision to remove him from set-piece duties, apparently a major factor in the dispute which saw the player depart the club. The Frenchman cut a composed figure in possession, leading the visitors with 93 touches and also defended adroitly. Whilst the sale of the left back was arguably a sound decision from a financial perspective, the fact that both fullbacks signed by Everton - largely with the money generated from his purchase by Villa - did not make the match day squad, left a sour taste in the mouth.
Lucas Digne vs. Everton:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 22, 2022
◉ Most touches (93)
◉ Most passes (48)
◉ Most interceptions (3)
And he provided his first PL assist of the season. pic.twitter.com/SRGQpmbFIK
Another Blown Opportunity
Everton are currently in the midst of a section of their fixtures considered to be relatively soft, with some very winnable games. Only four such matches remain before the schedule takes a sharp turn for the worse on February 26th, when runaway league leaders Manchester City visit Goodison Park. From that point until the end of the season, only three of 12 matches could be thought to be against weaker opposition and all of those teams (Brentford, Watford and Crystal Palace) have already registered wins against the Toffees this campaign. The Blues badly need to start winning games against teams they could expect to be competitive with, or superior to. The team has now dropped below the one point per game ratio for the first time this season.