Everton return home to Goodison Park after their FA Cup draw with Crystal Palace. The team were buoyed this week when the ridiculous red card for Dominic Calvert Lewin was rescinded on appeal. Everton were in serious need of a win to stop their three game losing streak in the Premier League.
The two teams had already met twice already this season with Aston Villa triumphing 4-0 at home in the Premier League in August, while Everton had been 2-1 victors in the League Cup in September.
This is the most played fixture in English football, with the two sides meeting for the 212th time.
The biggest news was to return of Abdoulaye Doucoure after missing five games that have seen the team gain only one draw. Incredibly, Dwight McNeil’s injury scare was just that and the midfielder was on the bench. Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s three-match ban was overturned so he started, however, Ashley Young was not ready to be involved and Idrissa Gueye was the lone Blue at the Africa Cup of Nations. Interestingly, the bench had only senior team members included.
Unai Emery made four changes to the side that started their 1-0 FA Cup win at Middlesbrough. Matty Cash dropped to the bench with Diego Carlos taking his place. Douglas Luiz, Moussa Diaby and top-scorer Ollie Watkins returned to the side while fit-again Youri Tielemens was among the substitutes. Former Evertonian Lucas Digne was still out and Bertrand Traore was at AFCON.
The fifteen years of Seamus banner was unfurled in the Gwladys Street End as the match kicked off with the captain taking his place in the right back position. The blustery wind was going to play a part as Everton started the match on the front foot getting the ball forward quickly. Villa were clearly interested in letting Everton have the ball and then counter attacking with pace.
Harrison was getting some joy down the right and a cross made it to Danjuma whose volley was blocked. The resulting scramble saw Onana slide into Emi Martinez who lay motionless but recovered to continue. A free kick was sent into the Villa box and Luiz was pulling on Branthwaite which led to a second free kick. Garner stood over the ball but his kick was blocked. It was then Danjuma who was whipping a ball into the box but no one could get on the end of it.
Ollie Watkins had Villa’s first chance but Pickford was there to make the block. It was then Villa who were starting to gain a foothold in the match as they moved the ball left and right which created difficulties for the Toffees. Onana then tried to thread the needle to Calvert Lewin but it was just too heavy.
Villa had their first corner of the match which was taken short and eventually landed on the foot of Alex Moreno who dispatched it into the far corner. The Everton players protested an offside and VAR was called in to make the call. It took a while and in the end the goal was disallowed for offside much to the relief of Evertonians around the world.
Villa were clearly in the ascendency as they streamed forward in waves. Most of their penetration was coming down Everton’s right side with Coleman struggling to keep up with McGinn and Moreno. Pickford made a great save after Bailey tried to tuck it in the near corner. Everton were scrambling and giving the ball away too easily.
A long ball forward saw Tarkowski get hit above the eye by Ollie Watkins who was given a yellow card for his efforts. Some glue was applied and Tarkowski was back in the match. Everton finally got the ball forward with Danjuma leading the charge. His pass to Calvert Lewin was blocked and the resulting corner was overhit but Calvert Lewin was on the ground and received no joy from VAR.
The big moment of the half saw Danjuma put through a lovely ball to Calvert Lewin who was one on one with Martinez but the World Cup winner stood strong to snuff out the chance. This was then followed by another super save when Garner shot low. Everton were back in the chances as the 8 minutes of extra time ticked away but neither side could get the needed finish. The half ended with nothing to show for either team.
The second half kicked off with Everton playing towards the Gwlady Street End. Beto had spent most of the interval warming up so it was still to be seen if it was a potential like for like switch with Calvert Lewin or a move to two up top. Everton needed to get more of the ball and take their chances.
Mykolenko and Tarkowski were in the wars after coming together. Mykolenko took the brunt of the hit and lay still as blood poured from a serious gash on the back of his head. Dyche started to look as his options with Ben Godfrey warming up. Mykolenko got up and jogged to the sideline looking like he was going to continue.
The half was taking time to get going but Everton were spending more time in the Villa half which was encouraging. A disappointing free kick from Everton was followed by a wayward forward ball from Villa. Villa did get the ball forward as Kamara put the ball into the path of Diaby who passed it out to Watkins who could not get the ball past a slew of Everton defenders.
Villa were moving the ball around nicely and it was only a great tackle from Tarkowski that prevented a Villa goal. Everton broke well down the left with the ball falling to Danjuma but his shot went narrowly wide. It was end to end at this point as both sides looked to make changes. Beto was on for Calvert Lewin and McNeil came on for Danjuma. Villa brought on Tielemans and Duran for Bailey and Diaby.
It took a while for the teams to sort out the changes with neither team looking organised. Beto did nicely to hold up the play. When James Tarkowski was impeded in the box, the handbags were out and eventually referee Coutts spoke to Lenglet and Tarkowski and then handed out yellow cards to both. Matty Cash was then brought on for Diego Carlos. The handbags weren’t over as Youri Tielemans was given a yellow card for two challenges.
The Goodison crowd was liking the fight of the team and showed their support. Villa and Everton traded punches but neither team got any clear chances. Doucoure did make a nice run from his own half and the cut in allowed a shot but it was blocked. Villa were then swarming the box and they had they had three or four swipes at the ball with Cash and McGinn having the best chances. Mykolenko’s sliding block was the best of the bunch.
Villa went close when Cash whipped a ball into the box and Duran got on the end of it only to have the touch slide by the far post. Moments later Doucoure broke forward and had the ball in the back of the net but offside was given. Villa continued to put pressure as seven minutes of additional time was announced.
Villa were pushing for the winner and a cross from Moreno was met by Diaby who could not beat Pickford. Everton immediately broke forward but the pass from Harrison to Beto was blocked. Watkins and Tarkowski were at it again with the Everton player being thrown to the turf. Everton had one last chance but Onana skied the ball into the top tier of the Gwladys Street stand.
Man of the Match - James Tarkowski has started every game for Everton since he was signed. His consistency of play has been a major boost for Everton and today’s effort was no different. 3 tackles, 2 blocks and 6 clearances just show how dominantly he defends. He also won 9 of 10 aerial duels which is incredible. His role in the development of Jarrad Branthwaite cannot be underestimated, who also had a very good game.
With the news of Doucoure’s return, there was a positive vibe around the ground today. His thigh injury had forced him to miss four Premier League games and the FA Cup match which saw the Blues lose all of the league games and scramble for a draw against Palace. Today, Doucoure showed moments of quality but did not have the impact that we normally get. His fine finish that was deemed offside was a positive moment. With some game time I am sure that his influence will grow. Evertonians could only shudder to think what might have happened if he had gone to the AFCON tournament with Mali. His decision to stay in England and “focus on my career and on the club” might be one of the calls of the season for our team if his form continues.
Arnaut Danjuma had another chance to impress with Dwight McNeil on the bench to start. Unfortunately, with such low possession numbers, the chances were few and far between for the winger. On a couple of instances he chose to drive the ball at the goal when there was a pass to be made. He tries to force the chance where McNeil looks more frequently for a cross or pass.
Kudos to our club captain Seamus Coleman.
6 December 2009 ➡️ 14 January 2024— Everton (@Everton) January 14, 2024
From debut to a Club record. Our Seamus. pic.twitter.com/5F9DI0lKj3
Since Sean Dyche arrived, Everton had only conceded three goals from corners before Christmas. Since then, they had conceded three in the past three games before today’s match. If we are to move forward we have to address the root cause of this problem so that set pieces do not become an achilles heel that teams will exploit. Today’s clean sheet was a very positive result and a defensive masterclass that could be attributed to a team effort led by Tarkowski and Branthwaite. Let’s remember that Villa would have gone top of the league with a victory and we are only the third team this year to stop Villa from scoring. A great result. Bring on Palace in the Cup!