The frustration of last weekend’s defeat to Fulham has hardly subsided among Evertonians, who had to endure watching their side miss a host of chances before being hit by the sucker punch.
A combination of poor finishing, questionable officiating and bad luck played their part, but they can only really blame themselves as enough opportunities were created to win the game.
There is still plenty of positives to take, however. Everton at least were creating chances, which was not always the case at times last season. The frustration stems from a fear that history is repeating itself. The Toffees threw away early points last season because they did not strengthen their squad in time and a relatively generous opening set of matches may well be tossed away here.
It meant attention quickly turned back to the transfer market and the continued failure to bring in a striker capable of covering for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who once again missed out against the Cottagers.
Jack Harrison arrived on loan after some Sunday afternoon drama and will be a welcome addition when fit. The Willy Gnonto saga also took a new twist on Friday when the Italy forward handed in a transfer request at Leeds.
But it is Che Adams from Southampton who now looks the frontrunner to come in and be Calvert-Lewin’s understudy. He may not be a prolific scorer or a name to set the pulses racing, but he would suit Sean Dyche’s system perfectly. Certainly more than poor Neal Maupay, who squandered a couple of great opportunities last weekend before receiving some totally unacceptable abuse on line. It has just not worked out for the Frenchman at Goodison and a move before the deadline is likely once other forward recruits have been brought in.
If you want an example of how a timely managerial change can transform a club, look at Aston Villa. They were 17th in the table when Steven Gerrard was sacked in October but finished the campaign in seventh and qualified for Europe after being revived by Unai Emery, who won 16 of his 27 league games in charge.
However, the football gods have not been kind to Villa over the past week. They were thumped 5-1 by a resurgent Newcastle United at St James’ Park, their worst opening day defeat since 1985. But perhaps more importantly they have been hit with a double injury blow, with Tyrone Mings and Emiliano Buendia suffering serious knee injuries that will keep them out for several months.
The Midlands club will be boosted by their fine recent record against the Toffees, remaining unbeaten since promotion back to the top flight in 2019 and winning the last four meetings - Everton have never lost five in a row against the Villans.
There is also the obligatory reminder that this is the most-played top-flight fixture in history, with Sunday set to be the 211th meeting between the sides.
Everton 0-2 Aston Villa. 25 February 2023
Everton suffered their first home defeat under Sean Dyche against Aston Villa back in February. The Toffees created a number of chances but failed to take them, with Ollie Watkins’ penalty firing the visitors in front before Emiliano Buendia finished things off late on.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin could be in contention to start after playing 90 minutes against Manchester United in a behind closed doors game in midweek.
Dyche says Arnaut Danjuma and Vitaly Mykolenko “have a bit to do” in order to reach peak fitness so are unlikely to start.
Dwight McNeil is still sidelined with an ankle problem but has begun some light running work, while new signing Jack Harrison is not available until after the international break as he recovers from a hip problem.
Seamus Coleman is still out with a knee injury while Dele Alli is also sidelined.
What they said
Everton manager Sean Dyche: “Villa showed that they are a very good side last season. You’d expect there’ll be a reaction [to the defeat at Newcastle], so we have to safeguard against that.
“It was Joe Royle who used to say ‘Get your retaliation in first, don’t wait for them to step forward first’. We have to play on the front foot and take the game on. Both home and away. That’s our mentality this season, take every challenge as it comes and take every game on with a real positive attitude.
“There were a number of close [away] games that we played well in. The Forest game jumps off the page from the last season. I thought we dominated large parts and played well. It was as good as an away performance as you will get, other than the result.
“Others we didn’t perform well, but that was one we did. Leicester was another one. Then a really big performance against a top side in Brighton. So you are never a million miles away.”
Aston Villa boss Unai Emery: “It’s a tough match, like every match. They will need to win and they will need to start taking points because they lost the first match.
“They lost the first match playing very well, they lost not deserving to lose. They are a very competitive team, the coach is very competitive.
“Their set pieces, their structure defensively and offensively is strong. They have a very good goalkeeper and they are in the same way we want to start after our first defeat, which is to win the first match.
“We respect them a lot and I expect a very difficult match. I’m going to try and get our best performances, individually and collectively, and try to impose our idea and our style against them.”
This is going to be a tough game against a team Everton have struggled against recently. The defeat to Fulham also piles on the pressure as they will not want to begin the campaign with successive defeats like they did when they lost at Villa last year. A draw would not be the worst result.