Date: Saturday 26th October
Venue: Villa Park
Everton travel to Villa Park on Saturday in search of a second straight Premier League victory as they look to make a push into the top five on the table. Aston Villa will be keen to bounce back from a home defeat to Tottenham last time out and recover the form that saw them take seven points away from their previous three contests in the English top-flight in a fixture that has seen 21 goals scored in its last six fixtures.
Talismanic striker Christian Benteke should be fit to start after seeing his first action in nearly a month last weekend against Spurs, dropping stand-in summer capture Libor Kozak to the bench.
Cirian Clark could potentially be in line for a return to the first eleven following a bout of sickness and should step in for Nathan Baker in central defence if deemed fit by boss Paul Lambert.
Karim El Ahmadi and Fabian Delph are odds-on to retain their spots in the holding midfield pair, with Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann, and Leandro Bacuna likely to make up the supporting trident behind Benteke.
Darron Gibson is the only absentee of note for boss Roberto Martinez after undergoing knee surgery this week to repair damage to his cruciate ligament sustained on international duty with the Republic of Ireland.
On a positive note for the Toffees, Steven Pienaar looks good value to start for the first time since August, having come off the bench opposite Hull last Saturday to hit the winner with his first touch of the afternoon.
The South African’s reintroduction should come at the expense of Leon Osman, whilst Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley will nearly certainly constitute the remainder of the attacking midfield trio responsible for supplying service to lone front man Romelu Lukaku.
Each of the sides have had ups and downs over the past month, Everton alternating between winning and losing in their last four matches between the Premier League and Capital One Cup, and Aston Villa falling twice to Tottenham but defeating Manchester City to go with a draw against Hull City in the same stretch.
The Toffees have triumphed just once on the road in all competitions this campaign, a 3-2 result against West Ham on 21 September, whilst the hosts have struggled mightily in front of the home support in having taken just three of the 12 points on offer thus far at Villa Park.
Players to Watch
Aston Villa – Christian Benteke
The burly Belgian was sorely missed by Aston Villa during his injury lay-off and will undoubtedly be at the centre of attention from the off following his return last week.
Despite spending time on the treatment table he remains the only one of Paul Lambert’s men to have scored more than once in the Premier League with four goals, and his 12 chances created this season are the second most in the squad after only Agbonlahor’s 13.
His aerial prowess will be tested against that of opposing centre backs Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin, who have won 71% and 61% of their headed duels this term to his 58%, and he will no doubt be on a mission to get back on the scoresheet in what should be his first lengthy showing since September.
Everton – Romelu Lukaku
Lukaku failed to hit the back of the net since moving to Everton on deadline day in last weekend’s victory over Hull City, registering a Performance Score of -6 to have the dubious honour of taking home the Squawka Award for ‘Worst man in team’.
The Chelsea-owned striker will be keen to quickly forget his last outing and will have the added incentive of playing opposite fellow Belgium international Benteke.
His conversion rate for the Toffees still stands at an astounding rate of 44% after his first four appearances, and should Barkley, Pienaar, and Mirallas be able to provide the 20-year-old with adequate service, he should stand an excellent chance of making a quick return to scoring form.
The spotlight will surely be on Benteke and Lukaku when kick-off arrives on Saturday afternoon as the two countrymen go head-to-head at Villa Park.
However, the outcome could come down to which side’s holding midfield pair is more successful in disrupting forward moves from their adversaries, with Delph and Ahmadi expected to be on duty as usual for Lambert’s side and former Villa man Gareth Barry and James McCarthy the probable duo for the Toffees.
The mixture of Everton’s poor away form with Aston Villa’s disappointing results at home present an interesting case that suggests the encounter should be somewhat balanced, whilst a high-scoring contest is likely given that the two clubs rank in the bottom half of the league in goals allowed with Benteke and Lukaku sure to be motivated.
Aston Villa 2-2 Everton