The Toffees were spirited in defeat against Chelsea last weekend, with a Jorginho’s penalty deciding a scrappy contest that no side really deserved to win or lose.
There was plenty to be encouraged about, mainly a much more organised performance at the back, but the lack of cutting edge with Dominic Calvert-Lewin out injured proved costly.
I’m not going to get too down about it though. This is the first preview I have written since the great escape last May so I’m just enjoying not having the dread of relegation weighing heavily on our shoulders (for now at least).
The 2021-22 campaign was one of the most draining seasons I can remember and one I do not want repeated in the future. They avoided near catastrophe and that’s all the matters.
There is also plenty to be optimistic about too. This week saw two new players arrive at the club, with Conor Coady joining on loan from Wolves and Amadou Onana arriving from Lille.
Whisper it quietly, but there seems to be a semblance of a plan in Everton’s transfer business this summer, with Frank Lampard working closely with Kevin Thelwell and Farhad Moshiri taking a back seat.
Another midfielder is required, though the move for Idrissa Gueye appears to have stalled, while the front line needs urgent reinforcement with at least two players needed.
If Everton can pull that off then it should be considered a good window and grounds for cautious optimism.
We have been stung before though so my feet are firmly strapped to the ground.
The hype surrounding this game has inevitably focused on the two managers Lampard goes up against his old England chum Steven Gerrard.
The Lampard/Gerrard conundrum dominated England chat in the mid-noughties as it was questioned whether they could play in the same team together, despite being two of the best players of their generation.
It was perhaps inevitable they would end up as managers, though the response to their careers so far have drawn different response in the media.
Lampard, and this is not me wearing blue-tined spectacles, seems to get a hard time from the press, particularly the more vocal, inflammatory sections.
Gerrard meanwhile has rarely been criticised despite a so-so record at Villa Park. After leading them to a 14th place finish last season their opening day defeat at AFC Bournemouth means his record of 10 wins from 28 games is now the same as Gary Neville’s ill-fated spell in charge of Valencia, and no better than the record Dean Smith had when he was sacked and replaced by Gerrard.
That’s a fairly churlish comparison of course and there’s layers of context missing, but the reality is both managers are early in their careers and have room for improvement.
The Premier League is a ruthless competition though and defeat for either team on Saturday will result in the manager becoming the first ‘under pressure boss’ of the season.
Gerrard has been busy in the transfer market as he reshapes his side for the new season. Diego Carlos cost nearly £30m from Sevilla, while former Red Philippe Coutinho completed a permanent move from Barcelona after a loan spell last campaign. The most shrewd signing could be midfielder Boubacar Camara, who joined on a free transfer from Marseille.
There will also be a familiar face in Lucas Digne, whose January sale helped fund the moves for Nathan Patterson and Vitaly Mykolenko.
Frank Lampard says new signings Amadou Onana and Conor Coady are available to make their debuts after joining the club this week.
My hunch is that Coady will come straight into the defence while Onana will be on the bench, but who knows.
Ben Godfrey is out for three months after surgery on his broken leg suffered against Chelsea last week. Yerry Mina is also sidelined (quelle surprise) after suffering damaged ankle ligaments.
Andros Townsend is a still a while off a return as he recovers from a serious knee injury.
Everton 0-1 Aston Villa – 22 January 2022
Not even the relief of Rafa Benitez’s sacking and euphoria of Duncan Ferguson’s second spell as caretaker coach could prevent Everton from slipping to defeat against Villa in January. Emiliano Buendia’s header just before half time decided a scrappy contest and made it a double for Villa after their 3-0 win earlier in the campaign.
What they said
Everton boss Frank Lampard: “We didn’t discuss it [management] as players but more frequently when were were both working in the media. Stevie was working at Liverpool then and I was trying to get my badges.
“We are both very driven and had a plan and an idea of what we wanted to do. I was pleased to see Steven do it as we need more good, young, English coaches. When you have careers likes ours you probably get analysed more, but we have to put that to one side.
“I know Stevie is a hard worker so I’m delighted he has done so well with Rangers and is now at a club with the quality of Aston Villa.”
Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard: “I know Frank extremely well and I shared a dressing room with him for many years. He’s a fierce competitor. He’s a winner. He’s very composed, very calm.
“I could see from very early-on, once I started sharing a dressing room with him, that he’d probably stay in the game in some capacity.
“It’s no surprise to see him in a similar position to myself which is to try and lead a big establishment and progress it and move it forward.
“In terms of competing against each other, whether it be on the pitch or now as a manager, you’ve got two people who are desperate to be on the winning side. That will never change.”
Everton have an awful record against Villa since their return to the Premier League, losing four and drawing two of six meetings.
The majority of those games have been close affairs though and I expect the same on Saturday. I expect Everton to be much more solid defensively but they desperately lack a cutting edge up front at the moment. This one will likely be decided by the odd goal.