Everton are winless in their last eight Premier League meetings with Aston Villa, but there were signs of encouragement in defeat to Fulham last weekend; watch Aston Villa vs Everton live on Sky Sports Premier League on Sunday from 1pm; kick-off 2pm
It was a familiar tale for Everton last weekend with manager Sean Dyche frustrated by his side’s inability to convert their chances in their 1-0 home defeat to Fulham.
Despite an encouraging performance in which they created twice as many opportunities as the visitors, they were undone by a sucker-punch goal as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andreas Pereira combined to provide Bobby Decordova-Reid with a 73rd-minute tap-in.
But it was the chalking off of Michael Keane’s effort, when he turned the ball into an empty net after goalkeeper Bernd Leno had dropped it in a challenge with James Tarkowski, which was crucial to an Everton side who were the Premier League’s second lowest scorers last season.
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Everton amassed an expected goals total of 2.73 last Saturday. It was just the third time on record they have had as many as nine shots on target in a Premier League game without scoring. Substitute Bobby De Cordova-Reid scored with Fulham’s first shot on target of the game.
With just 34 goals last term, it was the Toffees’ joint fewest in a league season in their entire history. Manager Sean Dyche won’t be panicking after the disappointment, however, ahead of the trip to face Aston Villa on Super Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
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Can Everton find their cutting edge?
Despite losing and failing to score, Everton produced some of the Premier League’s better attacking numbers in gameweek one, ranking in the top three clubs for shots on target and xG.
Of clubs to have created 2.73 xG in 56 Premier League games last season, that team scored on 55 of those 56 occasions. Everton’s total against was the highest by a top-flight side failing to score for almost a year, stretching back to September 2022.
Dyche said: “It’s important for us to remind ourselves of the good work we did [against Fulham] and take that into the Villa game with a very positive attitude, which we will be doing.
“You’d certainly imagine there’s a reaction from Villa because no-one wants to get beat, certainly not the first game of the season.
“We have to expect a reaction and safeguard against that. [Former Everton boss] Joe Royle always says to me, ‘get your retaliation in first’, don’t wait for them to step forward first.
“We have to play the game on the front foot, we have to take the game on both home and away.
“That’s our mentality this season, to take every challenge as it comes and take every game on with a real positive attitude and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
Of concern to Unai Emery will be his side’s defensive structure, which was ripped open by Newcastle last weekend following the setback to Tyrone Mings. It highlighted just how important the centre-back is to the side’s defensive unit.
By the final whistle, Aston Villa faced 13 shots on target at St James’ Park – their most in a Premier League game since December 2012.
The question remains over Everton’s inability to convert their chances. It has been a problem as far back as the sale of Romelu Lukaku, who scored 68 goals in 141 appearances for the club.
A major factor in this has been the return of their forwards, especially with Dominic Calvert-Lewin struggling to maintain fitness.
Since Lukaku left at the end of the 2016/17 season, Everton have spent almost £90m on centre forwards, with those players scoring just 13 goals in 156 Premier League appearances, averaging a goal every 12 games.
Neal Maupay – who started up front and missed three first-half chances against Fulham – has not scored in last 28 appearances, the worst run of his English career.
Onana and Iwobi impress in defeat
Everton’s impressive chance creation against Fulham came despite their inferior possession with Dyche’s side having just 40 per cent of the ball.
Marco Silva addressed the ease at which his opponents were catching his team out on the transition at half-time as Decordova-Reid replaced the booked Willian.
The hosts found it harder to penetrate Fulham after the break, emphasising the need for Everton to find their cutting edge at Villa Park on Sunday.
There were positive individual performances that Dyche will hope can be built around, especially in the midfield. Alex Iwobi was industrious and involved in almost all of Everton’s chances, while Amadou Onana was purposeful in possession.
The Belgium international is of interest to Manchester United, and that perhaps peaked his interest last weekend.
Often more of a presence off the ball, Onana led the way for Everton against Fulham in possession; he created more open-play chances (three) and completed more passes between the lines (five) than in any previous game of his Everton career.
With two of his first five opportunities in the match, he created a chance. Dyche will hope it is a sign of things to come in his second season.
In the absence of Dwight McNeil through injury, Iwobi once more showed his versatility as he was moved left of a five-man midfield. Last season was his joint-best for Premier League goal involvements, with his 64 chances created, dribbles (116) and distance covered (405km) more than any other player.
His pressing led to Maupay’s chance above, while it was also his cross which Doucoure nodded into the Frenchman’s path earlier in the half.
Onana, Doucoure and Iwobi all created three chances against Fulham, and Dyche will be wanting more of the same in the Midlands.
Villa facing injury crisis
Where Newcastle excelled during their 5-1 win over Emery’s men last weekend was through use of their runners from deep. Sandro Tonali might have added to his early debut goal in the first half.
Villa’s high line was further exposed in all three of the second-half goals they conceded, as well as poor decision-making.
The hosts are looking to make it eight wins on the spin at Villa Park, but they currently have nine players out or a doubt through injury – more than any other Premier League club.
Six of those players played in at least half of Villa’s games last season – Mings, Emi Buendia, Jacob Ramsey, Leon Bailey (being assessed), Alex Moreno and Leander Dendoncker.
In total, Villa’s injured contingent combined for 200 appearances last season, with Mings and Buendia – both expected to be sidelined for most of the season – only missing three games between them.
It means Emery could call upon summer signing Youri Tielemans from the off on Sunday as the Spaniard seeks greater control of the central zone.
Doucoure driving from the deep
Everton finished last season unbeaten in their final four Premier League away games, their best away run in two years. Despite survival being secured on home soil against Bournemouth, it would not have been possible without the improvement in form on the road.
The Toffees averaged 14 shots per-game away from home in their last seven away days, skewed somewhat by the shock 5-1 victory at Brighton in early May.
That triumph was built around having Dominic Calvert-Lewin as the team’s focal point, and Everton could start their injury-prone forward on Sunday after completing 90 minutes in a behind-closed-doors game against Manchester United in midweek.
Dyche said: “He managed to get the end part of his rehab done this week with 90 minutes so he’s in good shape and certainly comes straight back into the thinking.”
Doucoure scored twice in that particular encounter, in a similar vein to the joy Tonali had running from deep last weekend for Newcastle.
Shorn of Mings’ presence, Villa’s central hub must provide greater protection to their defence. If Everton are to end a run of eight games without a win against Villa, the midfield battle will hold the key to success.
Young embracing challenge of turning things around
New Everton signing Ashley Young insists he still has the appetite for a fight as his 19th Premier League season began with a defeat.
The 38-year-old joined on a free transfer this summer after his contract ended following a second spell at Aston Villa.
Some would view signing for a club which has escaped relegation by the finest of margins in the last couple of years as a gamble but Young is embracing the challenge of helping turn things around at Goodison Park and he was one of the better performers in the 1-0 defeat to Fulham.
“I’ve said age is nothing but a number. Everyone wants to talk about age with me and to be honest it’s getting boring now,” he said.
“I know what I give, the manager knows what I give to this team. I am as fit as anyone.
“If I didn’t have that hunger and desire I wouldn’t be out on the football pitch. I still have a lot to give; I’m a winner and have always been a winner and that is never going to change.
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“I want to do well here. The abilities I have got – leadership on the pitch and off the pitch, that winning mentality that I have – can help a squad.
“My attributes will help the squad. It’s about seeing what qualities I can bring to the squad, I want to do as well as I can and bring everything I can.
“I said at the time I signed here you always know an Everton team can be back in the top 10 at least.
“I definitely think with work on the training ground and getting points on the board that’s where I see the club going.”
Watch Aston Villa vs Everton live on Sky Sports this Super Sunday; kick-off 2pm