Club Focus – Everton – Villa visit brings old faces and England teammates back to Goodison

With Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka coming through unscathed from England’s 1-1 draw with Ghana at Wembley on Tuesday night, David Moyes can prepare for Saturday’s visit of Aston Villa safe in the knowledge two of his most important players will be fit and ready for action.

Both players started the fiery encounter and completed 90 minutes, the first pair of Everton players to wear the Three Lions since Andy Johnson and Phil Neville in 2007, and come the weekend they will be in competition against a number of England teammates – Ashley Young, Stuart Downing and Darren Bent. The knock Jagielka picked up as the game drew to a close, taking a heavy tumble in the 80th minute, did not prevent the makeshift right-back from seeing out the game but he only looked marginally more uncomfortable when he was down hurt as he did during his second-half secondment to full-back. Restored to centre-back on Saturday, the position in which he started the England game, Jagielka, with Baines continuing at left-back, will be in direct opposition to the Villa trio just days after teaming with them to hold Ghana.

Villa and Everton were almost parallels when the Midlands side were under the control of Martin O’Neil. They were each giants of a former age striving to recover past glories, or just compete with the domestic game’s modern behemoths, frequent rivals for European places and veterans of some exhilarating games between each other. This season has been a different story, however, with Everton only just threatening to gatecrash European competition next season and Villa rife with struggles on and off the field, and rumours of mutiny within the club, hotly denied by assistant manager Gary McAllister. Ironically, the name at the centre of the whispers of discontent is ex-Everton defender Richard Dunne, evoking memories of the patchy stay the Irishman had at Goodison Park early in his career, when he was a common miscreant under Walter Smith and in trouble on more than one occasion.

Dunne also spent much of his Everton career out of position at full-back, a problem Jagielka can sympathise with somewhat after the 45 minutes he spent there on Tuesday night. Versatile as Jagielka was at Sheffield United, playing in midfield, defence and in goal, he has become one of England’s best centre-backs and one of the first names on Everton’s team sheet every week. More than one Evertonian would have been heart-in-mouth when the 28-year-old tumbled to the ground late in the game as, given the string of injuries this international break has brought to Everton, the loss of Jagielka would have been devastating. He, Baines and Sylvain Distin have been rare constants in an Everton side which has undergone extensive changes game to game and even if Jagielka has not quite matched his own high standards this season – although he was too hard on himself during an England press conference last week – Jagielka will be vital to Everton’s hopes of beating Villa and keeping their faint European hopes alive.

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