After two defeats in two on their return to the Premier League, Aston Villa need to get some points on the board when they host Everton at Villa Park (3pm ET Friday).
Villa came up through the playoffs to make it back to the top flight following a three-year absence. They have invested heavily in an attempt to build a squad capable of keeping them there. In net spend terms, no club spent more than their outlay of over £130 million this summer.
With so many new players to integrate, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Villa got off to a relatively slow start. Especially so given that even in the Championship, they had a less well-defined style of play than the two automatically promoted sides, Norwich and Sheffield United. Half of the outfield players in their starting XI at home Bournemouth last weekend were new arrivals.
Aston Villa’s opening day loss at Tottenham Hotspur was to be expected, but they would have had the Bournemouth game marked down as an ideal opportunity to get their campaign going. Instead, they found themselves a goal down within two minutes and two down before the quarter-hour mark. A lovely second-half strike from Douglas Luiz (otherwise a bit jittery) briefly provided hope of a comeback that never arrived. Villa fell to a 1-2 defeat.
It was the sort of loss that could easily be chalked up to clumsy mistakes (Tom Heaton conceding the early penalty) and a bit of bad fortune (the deflected second). There were certainly some positive signs for Villa, particularly in midfield, where John McGinn provided industry and Jack Grealish ingenuity. But you can only afford so many of those kinds of matches and results if you want to have a chance of staying in the Premier League.
Everton’s away record last season at least gives Villa reason to believe they could be capable of coming away with a positive result from Friday’s match. While they finished eighth overall and had a top-seven home record, Everton lost just under half of their away matches to finish the campaign with only the league’s 12th-best away record. They only won three times in their 10 road matches against the teams that finished in the bottom half of the table.
That will have to be improved upon this time around if they are to challenge for European qualification. Both the USA bookmakers and statistical modelling have them as the team most likely to break into the top six, but doing so will require much more consistency. Partly because of that away form, they only twice put together runs of two or more consecutive victories last season.
Everton did some interesting business over the summer, particularly in bringing in 19-year-old forward Moise Kean from Juventus and midfielder Alex Iwobi from Arsenal. The latter has a range of skills that could be very useful for them, and in the current market, the initial £28 million they paid to sign him looks a pretty good price. He could well make his debut in this game.
Marco Silva’s side already have four points on the board following a 0-0 draw away to Crystal Palace on the opening day and then a 1-0 win at home to Watford last weekend, achieved through an early goal from Bernard and a strong rear-guard action thereafter. They are the only team yet to concede. Including the back end of last season, they have now kept clean sheets in 10 of their last 13 matches.
That is a record around which greater consistency could easily be built. Despite continuing doubts over some aspects of their approach, including the balance of their midfield, Everton look good enough to keep their positive start to the season going at Villa Park on Friday. For their hosts, a third defeat in three seems the most likely outcome.