After a tough-luck opening loss to Fulham in the Premier League’s opening week, Everton are looking to kickstart the season against a difficult Aston Villa side that is looking to bounce back after a Newcastle dismantling.
Everton looked strong and able last week, but an inability in front of net cost the side at least one point - if not three. Yet with good weeks of practice from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Arnaut Danjuma and others, some joy could be experienced even against a side so stingy and talented.
It’s Sean Dyche vs Unai Emery too, and two of the most underrated bosses in the Premier League will look to get their teams off to the start each side has waited all summer for.
RBM: First off, what is the mood around Villa Park and amongst supporters right now after a difficult start to the new campaign against Newcastle?
We are bummed out. A loss was always a high possibility at Newcastle… but 5-1 and seeing Tyrone Mings crying on the field, knowing he is set for a long injury fight, was really kinda sad. Mings is a huge leader and a massive player for Villa, despite all the talent elsewhere I picked for my Player of the Season predictions (reason #2352335 no one should trust my predictions).
Certainly, there are some overreactions from some, but I haven’t heard a single voice I trust panicking. Villa beat Newcastle at home 3-0 near the end of last season in one of the most dominating displays I’ve seen in decades. Newcastle got their revenge over the weekend. Let Unai Emery evaluate the game and try to pick up the players from losing two starters for the season (or at least the bulk of it) in just a few days.
RBM: What has Villa done across the summer to better themselves? Do you expect any more with the injuries to Emi Buendia and Tyrone Mings? Give us the rundown, please.
Pau Torres is in as a very Spanish-style CB/LB type. He played under Emery before and is a very different style of defender than anyone else on the team with his dribbling and passing ability.
Moussa Diaby will play as a second striker or wide player and brings a vertical threat to Villa. I think Diaby and Watkins will play very well together. He is a day 1 improvement and I predict (see above for how my predictions should be taken) will be the leading scorer.
Your readers will know Youri Tielemans well from his Leicester days. He comes in on a free after a very disappointing relegation year. He will be an option in midfield, and I’m not certain how he will fit in quite yet.
All three incomings improved the squad depth, and Villa looked in good shape knowing that Jacob Ramsey (injured with England U23s) and Alex Moreno (injured end of last season) are due back in September. Buendia and Mings missing the bulk of the season changes things. I would expect Villa to make two more moves at least one of them being a loan. That said… the club shouldn’t panic buy.
RBM: Surely there are increased expectations this year after the wonderful season Unai Emery engineered once he was hired last year? What are they?
Certainly, Unai earned higher expectations. The fans are looking for the team to fight for and earn a top 8 finish. Last season was odd, with some teams having just awful years (looking at you Chelsea). Not sure that will be the case. The roster is talented enough to make a run, and the manager is good enough as well. He has done the Thursday/Sunday European demand and will hopefully succeed at it. The injuries hurt right now, but the bar is still set pretty high, and rightfully so.
RBM: What has Emery done to so thoroughly transform the side? What does he still need to work on?
The high defensive line works great… until it doesn’t. Emery needs to use August to have all the new players settle in. The original plan of letting Torres adjust and play more of a left side of a back three in defense is likely done without Mings. No Buendia, and Bailey having a rough first game may mean Tielemans needs to play right away. The connection between defense and midfield was poor against Newcastle (and Newcastle deserves some credit for that), but it has to get better quickly.
RBM: Who are some of the players on the squad that are under the radar that should be appreciated better?
Jacob Ramsey is my first answer, but he is out injured so I’ll Jaden Philogene. He is a wide attacker/winger type that I think many Villa fans had given up on. He had a decent loan spell at Cardiff City and took preseason by storm with this physical growth. He looks like he will play a role for the team. Look for him in the final 10 mins or so. I don’t expect him to make a huge impact in this game, but as the season goes on he could be a name to know.
RBM: How do you expect Villa to set up on Saturday, and which of those names do you think could cause Everton the most trouble?
Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Torres, Digne, Kamara, Luiz, McGinn, Tielemans, Diaby, Watkins.
But I won’t be shocked if I’m wrong on a couple of those. All depends on how everyone reacts to the defeat at Newcastle. Diego Carlos, who missed almost all of last season with an achilles tear, could enter in the middle of a back three, or Bailey could keep his place on the right wing.
Moussa Diaby has started well. He is a quality all-around attacker. And if Everon shifts the defense to the left to help against him, Ollie Watkins will happily drift to the space on the right side of the Everton Defense.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
1-0 to Villa. It won’t be pretty. But hopefully, Diaby finds the net again and Villa sort out the defense…and no more massive injuries (for either team).
Our thanks to Phil for his time.