What promised to be a quiet weekend for Evertonians, with most preparing to hunker down in case of the wrong result in the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley, exploded with news on the investment front as Iranian-born billionaire Farhad Moshiri was announced as the owner of a 49.9% stake in Everton FC.
While the full details have yet to be revealed and no one has heard directly from the former Arsenal shareholder himself, the general feeling is one of cautious positivity that Chairman Bill Kenwright has opened a new chapter in the club’s history, one that might finally see Everton given the financial backing that a club of its stature deserves.
As exciting a development as that may prove to be, the return to action on the field with a trip to Villa Park on Tuesday evening brings back into focus just how disappointing 2015-16 has been thus far. Indeed, with Everton idle, Chelsea continued their revival under Guus Hiddink with a 2-1 win over Southampton that moves them into 11th and pushes the Toffees into 12th.
Results elsewhere ensured that Roberto Martinez’s men will kick off against Aston Villa a full nine points adrift of Manchester United in 5th and eight behind West Ham in 6th. That they have a game in hand over all bar one of the clubs above them would be more reassuring if that missing fixture wasn’t the Anfield derby...
Still, when contrasted with their results at home, Everton’s away record has been remarkable this season and there are worse places to go when you need three points than the home of the Premier League’s bottom club. The Blues’ last three away games in all competitions have yielded three consecutive wins, as many clean sheets and have ushered them into the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup.
Indeed, their last game was the unspectacular but professional 2-0 win at Bournemouth in the cup and a repeat of that display or the one that demolished Stoke City two weeks prior would be just the ticket to keep the team’s hopes of qualifying for Europe this season alive.
In addition to a rare 10-day break and the opportunity to take his players on a warm-weather training trip to Dubai, Martinez has a virtually full-strength first-team squad from which to choose. Muhamed Besic, Tyias Browning, Darron Gibson and, presumably, Tony Hibbert are not in contention because of injury but no other injury concerns have cropped up since the win over Bournemouth.
That will likely ensure minimal — if any — changes to the starting XI that began the game against the Cherries. If so, it would mean all three of Tim Howard, John Stones and Leighton Baines on the bench alongside Oumar Niasse who will be hoping to get more minutes under his belt as a substitute if he isn’t included in the starting XI.
While Evertonians are looking forward with some optimism to how things could change for the better at Goodison Park, Aston Villa are in the throes of genuine crisis and are almost certainly heading out of the top flight for the first time in the Premier League era.
Their plight is part of the cyclical nature of football that is still at play to varying degrees in the Premier League depending on the amount of immunity to such things massive wealth can provide but, given Villa’s rich traditions and historical kinship in that regard with the Toffees, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for a great old club clinging by its fingernails to the trapdoor to the Championship below.
With owner Randy Lerner looking for an exit after a decade at the helm and Remi Garde unable to bring about any renaissance in form since being appointed in November — the Midlanders have won just twice under the Frenchman — Villa are anchored to the bottom of the table, their players accused by their manager of not giving everything to the cause.
Garde’s Herculean task of pulling off a rescue act have been complicated by injuries and suspension to some important players recently and he will be without young midfielder Jack Grealish, Carlos Sanchez, Libor Kozak, Adama Traore and Jordan Amavi. Jordan Ayew is available for selection again, however, following suspension for a straight red card at West Ham earlier this month.
Given the mess Villa find themselves in, particularly from a psychological point of view, this game represents an excellent opportunity for Everton to go to Villa Park and compound their misery with another clinical performance. Garde will be hoping to inspire his men to show some fight and pride in their claret-and-blue jerseys but this is a game that the Blues are more than equipped to win if they approach it and execute in the right way.
Referee: Roger East
Predicted line-up: Robles, Coleman, Jagielka, Funes Mori, Oviedo, Barry, McCarthy, Cleverley, Lennon, Barkley, Lukaku.