Can Aston Villa match high-flying Everton?
Villa have performed poorly at home this season, other than a great battling win against Manchester City they have lost their other three. Liverpool and Spurs simply outplayed us while Newcastle were more clinical.
Everton have started very well under Martinez so it’s going to be another tough game for the home side – but then again every game in the Premier League is tough.
Villa manager Paul Lambert clearly still hasn’t settled on a preferred starting line-up, formation or style yet, which hasn’t helped the team. He’s been hampered by injuries but it sometimes seems even the players don’t know what’s going on. The side against Spurs didn’t really have a formation but he did what he had to do and had Andros Townsend’s weak cross not gone in Lambert’s tactics would have been applauded.
But with Everton up next it will be interesting to see how he approaches the game.
Players for player the visitors have a better side but it’s not a huge gulf so perhaps Villa will finally attack, rather than sitting back and trying in vain to hit teams on the counter-attack at home.
With Benteke back it will give the side a huge lift, but his fellow strike partners haven’t been firing on all cylinders.
Andreas Weimann is struggling for form and leaving him out wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Gabby Agbonlahor started slowly but he seemed to find his spark again against Spurs before being hauled off for some reason.
Leighton Baines is obviously a quality player but he does tend to get forward, so if we can get some pace in behind him and the other full back – and actually keep a couple of players out on the wing, rather than flooding the middle of the park – we could cause some damage.
Benteke could be in for one hell of a battle with Jagielka and Distin because that would be three tough players battling for the same ball. If Benteke is left on his own, however, he’ll struggle to impose himself on the game so that means he either needs someone playing directly off him, or he needs the two wide players to cause enough of a distraction to pull one of the centre-halves out of position.
Everton’s midlfield looks very lively this year and any combination with the likes of Pienaar, McCarthy, Osman, Barkley and Barry is going to cause a lot of problems.
Villa have been relying far too heavily on Fabian Delph this year, who has gone a bit quite in recent weeks – simply because he’s been swamped in the midfield. He’s played with a number of central partners and if Lambert plays three in middle, which he tends to do, the likes of Sylla, El Ahamdi or Westwood need to give him some support.
Who plays with Delph is still anyone’s guess but I hope Lambert surprises everyone and goes for someone new, because the current midfield is starting to look stagnant already. Why not give Marc Albrighton and Gary Gardner a run out? They both have an abundance of talent and although neither has burst on to the scene yet, they’re not going to in the future either if they're sat on the bench or playing for the reserves.
Perhaps the biggest battle to be won is Villa’s defence against Everton’s forward line. The back-line still looks incredibly shaky but at least Nathan Baker is being given a good run in the side. Antonia Luna and Bacuna have also given Villa more width when we play five at the back, but we’re still waiting to see the best of Ron Vlaar.
Matthew Lowton must be scratching his head wondering what he’s done wrong but he doesn’t really fit in to a 5-3-2 formation, so he’ll be hoping Lambert returns to a 4-3-3 so he can claim the right back slot again.
Romelu Lukaku could really cause the defence problems, especially off crosses whipped in by Baines. Kevin Mirallas has continued where he left off last season, plus there’s the little matter of stopping Nikica Jelavic if he plays.
It’s vital Villa don’t let them run riot up front or down the wings, and it’s even more vital we have the confidence to bring the game the Everton.
There are probably several other battles I’ve missed out and Everton fans will know who is likely to start much better than me but we need our players to start winning some of these vital battles.
Shutting up shop against the top teams is understandable, if not incredibly boring, and although Everton are still a quality side, if we don’t start believing in ourselves now and look to take the game to teams at home, this could be another very long season.
Article by James Fisher
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