Premier League Venue: Goodison Park Date: 22/01/22 KO time: 12:30pm Where to watch: BT Sport
Following Everton's disasterous defeat to Dean Smith's Norwich side on the weekend, Aston Villa fans would have been rubbing their hands with anticipation looking ahead to this fixture. However the expectations now feel a little more unpredictable following Everton's sacking of Rafa Benitez and the announcement that club icon Duncan Ferguson will be in the dugout come Saturday lunchtime. Many will remember the last time Duncan Ferguson stepped into the caretaker role at Everton, leading his side to a 3-1 victory over Chelsea and talking the Toffees out of the relegation zone following their sacking of Marco Silva in December 2019. With that in mind, it's far from unreasonable for Villa supporters to feel a little uneasy around the idea of history repeating itself once again.
Having said that, Everton have looked dire in recent months and even a big manager bounce might not be enough to stop the rot. Much like Villa's trip to Old Trafford, Steven Gerrard will be relishing the idea of eating up the Everton jeers and has even made mention in his most recent press conference to how that usually takes the pressure away from the players on the pitch. Only adding fuel to the fire is former Liverpool hero Coutinho and former Everton player (as little as two weeks ago) Lucas Digne both likely to make appearances. Needless to say, this one looks like it could be a tasty affair.
Aston Villa Team News
The biggest question going into this game surrounds Ezri Konsa after the centre back needed to be replaced at half time last Saturday following a hip injury. Gerrard has stated that Konsa is still a doubt and will be a last minute assessment. If Konsa isn't available then Kortney Hause would be a certainty to come in alongside Tyrone Mings much like he did against Manchester United. Usually there'd be concern around Hause playing on the right side of a centre back pairing but he did a solid job last week so Gerrard might not be too concerned if that change needs to be made. You would think Hause would also be raring to go after signing a new deal this week so hopefully there's little to worry about here.
Speaking of new contracts, Emi Martinez is almost guaranteed to start between the sticks despite the arrival of Robin Olsen on loan from Roma. His great display following that blunder against United has already shown that he's too much of a professional to let something like that affect his future performances, but signing this big new deal until 2027 will now be at the forefront of his mind and he should be firing on all cylinders. Elsewhere Matty Cash and Lucas Digne are most likely to start in the full back positions once again with Evertonian's knowing exactly what to expect from our new left back. John McGinn will return to the midfield following his suspension but who he replaces is the big question. The most likely sacrifice is probably Morgan Sanson but I also wouldn't rule out a midfield three of Sanson, Luiz and McGinn with Ramsey being pushed a little further forward.
The neverending debate of how to play Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings together rears it's ugly head once again here, though this time we could actually see Gerrard nail his colours to the mast and finally drop one of the two forwards, especially if he does decide to play Ramsey further forward or even include a rare start for Carney Chukwuemeka. Of course we can't forget about our little Brazilian magician but I'd expect Philippe Coutinho to start this one on the bench as he still looks to find his match fitness. Besides, we've already seen the immense damage he can cause off the bench with twenty minutes to go.. The lineup will likely be completed with Emi Buendia playing on the right side of the attack once again as I can't see him being dropped anytime soon with the form he's in.
Everton Team News
During his press conference today, Duncan Ferguson has said Everton have "more or less a clean bill of health" with only Tom Davies and former Villa man Fabian Delph on the injury shelf. Speaking of former Villa players, Anwar El Ghazi will not be available for the Toffees given he's only there on loan and can not play against his parent club.
Predicting Everton's starting eleven and style of play under a new caretaker manager is very difficult, and is an issue Gerrard and the coaching team would have been wrestling with in training all week I'm sure. Lucas Digne's replacement Mykolenko will likely get a start alongside Keane, Mina and Coleman at the back with Allan and Doucoure sitting in midfield. Forward options of Gray, Townsend, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin could all easily find themselves in the starting lineup, especially if they decide to go with a 4-4-2.
The Perfect Storm
Make no mistake about it, Everton fans will be looking at this game as a perfect opportunity to turn their season around. Goodison Park will be bouncing Saturday lunchtime. Anticipation of seeing their side play a game of football without Rafa Benitez in charge mixed with the opportunity to get one over on not just Gerrard but also Coutinho and Digne is an appetising prospect for the blue half of Merseyside, and could act as a launching pad for the rest of their season. With that in mind, the first goal in this game is vital for either side. If Everton score first the entire stadium will he rocking and the atmosphere would likely make it very hard for Villa to get back into it. However if Villa score first then expect the air to be let out of Goodison like a burst balloon and the negativity will surely begin to creep back and seep into those players in blue.
No matter what happens tomorrow, it's poised to be an exciting one, and if previous meetings between these two old giants of English football is anything to go by, then we may be in for a good day out.