Everton’s injury ravaged troops take to the field looking to build on a great run of form against a Villa side ravaged by internal fallouts and on going poor management by our old friend Mr Houllier in what is one of the classic games in the English Football calendar….
Villa arrive at Goodison amidst a poor run of form, particularly on their travels with just 2 wins on the road all season representing the second worst defensive record away from home in the league with no clean sheets and with only Fulham and Wolves picking up fewer points on their travels. It’s clearly an unhappy ship at Villa. Whilst O’Neil’s brand of football was blatantly direct and often horrible to watch, it did provide a great defensive platform for Villa to go and get results. Their strategy was to invite teams onto them and then break with pace in wide areas and up front. Since coming in, Houllier has opted for revolution and not evolution.The decision to appoint a washed up old mess like Houllier was incredibly dubious. He has tried to change the playing style to a more possession based game and in doing so to overhaul the squad but he has found to his cost that too much change too quick can have catastrophic results. With some people it really is hard to be objective and Houllier is one of these individuals. A massively overrated manager, he must secretly wonder just how he has got another top job in England. How long he will last though is another thing, with another ex-red, the portly Rafa Benitez, supposedly being lined up to replace him following his double sacking misery last year.
Villa will setup 4-4-1-1 with the known tormentor of Blues right backs in the past Ashley Young playing as a central winger in behind Bent. Villa are strong down the flanks with Downing and the impressive Albrighton often swopping wings. Their chief creator this season has been Downing, who has created 66 chances, creating a chance for an opponent every 41mins, resulting in 6 assists so far this campaign. Ashley Young has a lower chance creation total but the same amount of assists and also holds the dubious honour of having been fouled more than any other player in the league. Their midfield anchors will be Makoun and chief enforcer Nigel Reo Coker, who makes a successful tackle every 31 mins, in contrast to Heitinga who will presumably occupy this role for us who does so every 57 mins. The main goal threat will be Darren Bent, a man who was once offered to Everton whilst at Ipswich Town and who represents everything the Blues need up front. The England forward averages a shot on target every 81 minutes with 11 league goals this campaign and an impressive 84 in the top flight to his name.
Everton tactics and strategy
The Blues are in the midst of a major injury crisis with key personnel such as Saha, Rodwell and Fellaini all out for the remainder of the season and Arteta still some way off a return. Cahill and Coleman have also been nursing injuries but I would expect them to play through the pain barrier in this one. I would see us using the same formation (4-4-2) as against Fulham, with the only personnel changes being Heitinga and Beckford for Rodwell and Saha.
The only fly in the ointment with this plan is that our Dutch utility man Jonny “probably in the top 4 centre backs in the world” Heitinga has again been shooting his mouth of in the press (although as usual he has been misquoted) so whether Moyes will want to play him is unclear. The back up option would be to shift Osman inside and play Billy left mid, although with Osman’s great form this month from that advanced left side I doubt Moyes would want to upset the apple cart.
Our main threat will be carried down the left with our play flowing predominantly to the Baines/Osman axis. I would expect some joy as Villa’s right side has proved to be something of an Achilles heel defensively this season, with the speedy Kyle Walker (another player who nearly signed for the Blues!) and Albrighton both boasting enviable attacking flair, but considerably less in terms of defensive shape and solidity. Baines will be looking for his 12th assist of the season – from defence, only Barca’s Dani Alves has more assists in Europe’s top leagues.
In the reverse fixture back in September the Blues dominated the game, completing more than double the passes of their hosts ( 457v174) but in what was to characterize our play pre Christmas, we simply had no end product. Since the turn of the year though (notably with the departure of Pienaar) our passes made and pass completion levels have both dropped, whilst Villa’s has improved as Houllier has looked to change O’Neill’s direct style of play.
This should be a fairly open game as neither team has collected many clean sheets this campaign, so I would expect goals. With the FA & League cup outcomes now rendering a Europa League placing pretty much out of our hands, the Blues only focus is to finish as high up the league as possible, and I’m going for us to edge it 2-1