Everton will be hoping to move back into the top half of the Premier League table as they travel to Aston Villa, whose chances of making a serious bid for survival are looking increasingly forlorn.
The performance at Stoke City on Saturday was at least an improvement as far as Aston Villa are concerned following their appalling surrender to Liverpool a fortnight before, but they were still clearly inferior to their opponents and suffered their 17th defeat from 27 Premier League outings this season. After the game, manager Remi Garde went all the way as to admit that his side lack the quality necessary to compete at this level, something that has in truth been evident for a several months.
Here they will be praying that the return of Rudy Gestede to their attack can at least unsettle Everton, as the powerful striker has proved menacing occasionally when called upon since his summer arrival. The key for Garde is ensuring that Villa do show some degree of fight between now and the end even if results go against them. The lack of intensity they have shown of late does suggest that some members of the squad are resigned to the club’s fate, which does not bode well.
If the hosts put in a repeat performance it should enable Everton to win easily, given their attacking quality. But there is pressure on the Toffees, as they just cannot seem to put a run together in the league and lost frustratingly at home to West Bromwich Albion in their most recent top-flight outing. That was despite having almost all of the territory, leading to some 34 attempts on goal, so questions are rightly continuing to be asked about their inexplicable lack of consistency.
Victory at Bournemouth in the FA Cup was much more like it, with Ross Barkley maintaining his own fine form in front of goal and Romelu Lukaku adding another to his sizeable collection this season. They both have good previous records against Aston Villa, so will relish this trip, as well as the chance to get at a defence that seems to be playing with no confidence at present. The quality of Everton should tell here, but on the other hand the Merseysiders are becoming increasingly difficult to predict.
This game is likely to come too soon for Villa duo Jack Grealish and Carlos Sanchez, while they will definitely be without Jordan Amavi, Libor Kozak and Adama Traore.
The visitors are unable to call upon young defender Tyias Browning and midfielder Muhamed Besic, although the latter is nearing a return from his hamstring injury.
Last Meeting: An impressive Villa performance saw them register a 3-2 victory in May 2015 and give them three precious points in the battle for survival. Christian Benteke was the hero as he scored twice in the first half to give them a commanding lead that was halved by Romelu Lukaku’s penalty just before the hour mark. Tom Cleverley finished off a fine move to make it 3-1, and the hosts held on despite a late headed goal from Phil Jagielka.