This weekend’s fixture has the potential to be a fascinating managerial joust as we travel to Villa to face reactive tactical tweaker Paul Lambert and his high energy Villa pups.
The ex Dortmund midfielder’s side have so far been rather inconsistent and have accrued more points on the road than at Villa Park – something they also achieved last season.
This is perhaps due to their style – they poll the lowest average possession in the top flight, and had just 31% of the ball in the 3-3 draw at Goodison last season. Like during his time at Norwich, Lambert has looked to fill the side with young hungry players so the graft associated with being off the ball for long periods of time won’t be too big an issue for them. They are a big pressing side particularly in midfield with Westwood, El Ahmadi and Delph all prolific tacklers and foulers this season. Space will certainly be at a premium in the middle of the park.
Villa are more suited to playing a counter attacking style and scored as many goals on the break as any top flight side last season. As poor John Heitinga found out at first hand at Goodison last season, in Benteke they have a player capable of untold destruction on his day and their keeper Guzan will unashamedly look to hit him as early as possible. The fact that Guzan has attempted the most long balls (188) in the league and Benteke has won the most aerials per game in the division tells you all you need to know about their direct and often ruthless style.
Likely Line-up Appraisal – 4-3-3
Brad Guzan – Potato Salesman headed Jack Fulton ready-made meal freakishly big kicking goalkeeper who was Villa’s player of the season in the last campaign. His combination with Benteke (7) was the most prolific interplay between any Villa players in the 3-3 draw last season.
Leandro Bacuna – Recruited from the Dutch league, he played last week at right back but is more suited further forward and could play in midfield with a defensive specialist like Lowton behind him to keep Pienaar/Baines in check. He and Luna on the other flank were the most prolific dribblers last week against Spurs and Bacuna also takes a nice free kick.
Ron Vlaar – Dutch right footed centre half who marshals a defence that hasn’t kept a clean sheet at home in fifteen games.Vlaar is ex feyenoord, AZ and also boasts international caps so has plenty of experience to call upon. He will usually start with either Clark or Baker depending on who is making the fewer mistakes.
Nathan Baker – Young error prone defender whose mistakes last season cost Villa a sizeable amount of points. Either he or Ciaran Clark will get the nod alongside Vlaar. Clark had two appalling games against us last season; he received a red card in the opening game and was then rolled easily for the Anichebe goal in the return fixture. Clark has been declared fit after missing last week through injury and could replace Baker in the starting line up. At the risk of stating the obvious, neither will fancy coming up against Lukaku.
Antonio Luna – 22 year old left sided player recruited from Sevilla and who scored impressively on his debut at Arsenal. He is one of six players recruited this summer by Lambert all of whom are 23 or under. Appeared to tire badly in the latter stages last week so stamina could be a problem as the game develops.
Ashley Westwood – Crewe academy graduate who has accrued the joint most booking in the league. As you would expect coming from the Gresty stable, he is good on the ball and registered the most assist last season (6) including one at Goodison. He can also play at right back.
Fabian Delph – Lively left footed midfielder who came close to signing for the toffees prior to switching to the midlands from Leeds. Has quick feet and consequently is the most fouled player in the top flight. His passing combinations with Luna (23) were the most prolific of any villa players in their last game in which he also made the most attacking third passes and created the most chances.
Karim El Ahmadi – Ex Feyenoord, Dutch born Morocco international who will sit in the middle of a three man midfield. Is very combative and has made both the 7th most fouls and tackles in the top flight. Scored in this fixture last season after a Howard gaff.
Andreas Weimann – Right footed forward who is a tad erratic in the final third and should have clinched the game last season at L4 but was wasteful when sent through 1v1. Will play on the right of a forward 3 who all look very competent.
Christian Benteke – The undisputed key man. Has won the most aerials per game (8.7) in the top flight and is ruthless on his right peg. Guzan will toss balls into our fullbacks so Distin and Jagielka will need to cover and the midfield players will have to mark the spaces in and around him for second balls.
Gabriel Agbonlahor – perennial scourge of the toffees ( he has 7 goals in 15 v games against us – his best figures against any club) and will play on the left side of the forward three.
The concern is that Villa’s counter attacking style is perhaps ideal against a side like us who play a possession game with a high line and whom have already made the same number of last man tackles (7) this season as they did in the entire 12/13 season.
Villa’s lightening quick counter attacking style has resulted in comprehensively wins at the Emirates, The Tin Mine and also against City in the last 12 months yet they have been hammered by the likes of Wigan (0-3 at home) so they are a really competent side but struggle with consistency and a ‘Plan B’. Dealing with these counters as Chelsea and Liverpool have done this season will be the key to us getting three points.
In terms of head to head records, Martinez hasn’t lost in his 4 games with Lambert (W1 D3 LO) whilst Lambert who hasn’t won against Everton as a manager (W0 D3 L1). I can see both sides scoring and probably a score draw is the best outcome for your coupon.