Aston Villa (4), Everton (0) – Villa Roar Back to Last Season’s Form

Sunday, August 20

Any doubt that our Villa team was going to be able to move on from the aftereffects of their poor showing in their season opener at Newcastle dissipated early in their match against Everton.  Any residue fully disappeared in the 10th minute.

From the kickoff, the Villa fans were buoyant, and our Villans appeared comfortable on the ball as they patiently passed back and forth across the back until openings appeared in Everton’s formation.  They did not have to wait long as Watkins found a channel on the right, a pass was on the money, and he was able to square an inviting cross through Everton’s penalty area that Digne ran onto and shot on goal only for a retreating Toffee to deflect away for a corner.

Luiz, as usual, placed the ball to take the corner and Digne stood, close-by, ready to receive and curl in one of his patented inviting crosses.  Everton sent one of their number over to defend but ignored John McGinn standing unmarked at the edge of area.

Luiz slid the ball firmly and accurately to McGinn and the nearest Toffee ran out to challenge our Scottish international, but McGinn turned to avoid, and reset, before placing a delicious chip for Torres to run onto.  Save for an Everton defender rising to deflect the ball away for a corner, Pau Torres would have surely headed either side of Jordan Pickford abandoned in the 6-yard box.  There was less than 3 minutes on the clock.

While our Villans were employing patience and precision, our visitors were launching long-range punts with the hope that Calvert-Lewin, just back from injury, would be able to create an opportunity or two.  That was a pleasant distraction for our usually under-occupied goalie as he loved to roam far and wide in his sweeper mode.  Early on, Martinez was able to return one of these hefts into a pass to John McGinn, open at the halfway line.

A blue shirt immediately challenged, but John span with the ball and was clear.  Approaching Everton’s penalty area, Watkins was positioned to his left.  With defenders back-pedalling and preparing for a powerful shot, McGinn slid the ball to Ollie who cut inside, causing defenders to reset for an Ollie shot.  Instead, our leading scorer teed the ball for his new partner-in-crime, Moussa Diaby, ready to fire from the edge of the area.

Such is Diaby’s reputation that the Villa faithful were expecting either a goal or an amazing save by goalie, Jordan Pickford.  Instead, the French acquisition’s timing was off and the Holte end got to share a leather balloon for a while.

The build-up was exactly what Alec Ferguson was talking about after the Newcastle game.  Villa players knowing exactly what they were going to do and performing it with speed and skill.  Those watching knew that this Villa team was not going to be denied on this day.

What happened next was, given the previous injuries Villans had suffered, the pivotal event of the day.  It came about from one of the first crosses by Everton that looked as if it might be dangerous.  From the right it was at a height, and curving away from our goalie, that Calvert-Lewin used to be famous for scoring from. The only problem for Everton was that Emi is not any goalie.  He is talented but, also, big, strong, and fearless.

Emi was off his line and had his large mitts on the ball a moment before the injury-prone striker arrived at full pelt.  The two collided, the ball spilled, and the combatants fell in a messy heap.  Matty Cash cleared the danger, and the referee blew his whistle. 

Initially, it looked as if Martinez might be dazed as he shook his head.  Every Villa fan held his/her breath.  Slowly, our hero and Villa’s medical staff entered into a conversation with their body languages being reassuring.

As for Calvert-Lewin, he remained down, and his medical staff were evidently concerned.  They lifted him up and pressed a cold compress over his eye, then aided him to the touchline.  Instead of having a repeat of the Mings episode at Newcastle, we had the opposite.  Martinez was 100%, whereas our opponents lost their only bona fide scoring threat. While Calvert-Lewin played on for another 15 minutes, or so, neither he, nor any spectators will remember what he did during that time.

Our Villans, perhaps relieved that we had dodged another man down and a critical man at that, responded after the extended break with even more verve than they had shown prior.  Diaby and Bailey over-elaborated from a dangerous position and Luiz tugged at, former Villan, Ashley Young’s shirt when he missed a tackle and received a yellow card for his troubles.  An elbow to Luiz’s noggin by Doucouré settled our Brazilian down and ended an Everton attack, and our Villa were in control again.

This time Luiz participated in a slick nine-pass sequence that sliced Everton through the middle. Diaby froze Young on his heels as he burst into the area before feeding Bailey who left his former teammate standing, carrying to the byline before executing a perfect cutback to John McGinn who knew exactly where the pass was going and slashed the ball passed Pickford from point blank range.  Aston Villa 1 Everton 0 in the eighteenth minute.

Soon after, McGinn was breaking through again with only a desperate tackle by Patterson preventing another shot.  The corner, again by Luiz and short to Digne, was only partially cleared and Matty Cash was able to find an open Leon Bailey whose header bounced tantalizingly towards Pickford’s left post.  Ollie Watkins was the first to react and got his foot to the ball only to be barrelled over by a flying Pickford who got none of the ball.  The referee, after a moment’s hesitation, pointed to the spot.

Only minutes after Villa had taken the lead, Douglas Luiz stepped forward to take the penalty.  Despite Pickford’s attempts to waste time and distract, our much-matured Brazilian confidently zipped the ball just inside the right post.  Even with Pickford guessing the right way, there was no way that the bullet could be reached.  Aston Villa 2 Everton 0 in the 24th minute.

To their credit, Everton played as if they were still in the game.  What they had to contend with was a disciplined defensive performance by our Villa.  Our back four were playing faultlessly and Emi, when required, rose imperiously to claw high crosses out of the sky.  In possession, passes were so precise that they gave little opportunity to compete for, and 50/50 balls invariably went to a claret and blue.

Typical was a sequence in the 33rd minute.  An overcooked pass by Everton fullback, Patterson, was missed by Onana at the halfway line and, Villa’s elegant French midfielder Kamara zoomed in, gathered, and fed Ollie Watkins, already heading towards the Everton goal.  Solid defending resulted in Everton’s Michael Keane coming up with possession in his penalty area. 

Kamara had followed up with the play and, with Watkins on his knees, took on the responsibility to press the defender.  Keane chose to clear down his right wing to the tall and muscular Doucouré who was covered by the much smaller Lucas Digne.  Our Frenchman rose above Doucouré to head the ball back to Kamara who immediately fed John McGinn.  Doucouré and Onana converged on McGinn who executed a pirouette leaving himself free to feed Digne who had already recognized the opportunity to race clear down the left touchline. 

McGinn’s pass was as good as the pirouette and Digne was able to one-touch a sumptuous cross that cleared the three defenders guarding the 6-yard line and curved towards an open Diaby.  With remarkably little obvious effort, our expensive acquisition showed his worth arrowing a volley that avoided an on-rushing defender and was headed towards Pickford’s top left corner.  The England goalie threw himself athletically and managed to get his fingertips to the shot that then caromed off the inside of the post before rebounding across the face of the goal, eventually leaving the field of play on the opposite side.  It was a remarkable save and an unlucky Diaby to not add to his tally.  This passage of play was an example of what this squad is capable of.

Five minutes later Watkins almost added his name to the scoresheet as another tempting ball at the far post needed only a touch, but he was a moment too late and only got a bruised shin (thanks to crashing into the goalpost) for his troubles.  The balance of the half saw our Villans stay in total control.

Soon after the second half began, Everton suffered another injury when Iwobi went down with a stretched hamstring and had to leave the game.  It was one of those games for manager Sean Dyche.  As they were adjusting to having to substitute Maupay for the injured Iwobi, they lost concentration and Digne took a quick throw into Everton’s penalty area on the left.  With Bailey and McGinn chasing the same ball, Michael Keane attempted a desperate clearance only to set-up Bailey for a free shot on goal.  Poor Pickford was pinned to his line and the shot was between his legs before he could move.  Emi Martinez must have felt a little empathy for his fellow keeper.  Regardless, it was Aston Villa 3, Everton 0 with 52 minutes on the clock.

With Everton apparently beaten, Emery took the opportunity to give his substitutes a run.  With Youri Tielemans for Bailey (who had scored and assisted), Coutinho for Luiz, Carlos for Diaby, and Duran for Watkins, he evidently was thinking about the first Europa League game days away.

What should have been just cameo appearances, turned into more of a mixed bag for Unai.  The bad news was that Coutinho appeared to strain his hamstring and will likely be unavailable for some time.  On the plus side, Duran scored his first Premier League goal.

Almost immediately after the Colombian joined the game, Young made a sloppy throw-in back to Keane and Duran beat him to it, brushed him aside, and confidently slid the ball past the advancing Pickford.  Aston Villa 4, Everton 0 in the 75th minute.

All in all, an impressive bounce back from a depressing opener.  There were lots of positive take-aways.  For one, the team from the kickoff played with impressive confidence and elan.  Our defense never looked ill-at-ease with the Konsa-Torres pairing seeming to enhance each player.  Both passed with more authority.  Digne might have had his best game for the team.  Our midfield of Luiz, Kamara, and McGinn were excellent as a troika and individually, while Watkins, Diaby, and Bailey were always threatening and seemed full of goal potential.  As for Emi, he’s an invaluable asset for any team.

What a perfect set-up for our first Europa game (against Hibernia) in years.  We shall see.

Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Torres, Digne, Kamara, Luiz (Coutinho, 64′, Archer, 85’), Bailey (Tielemans, 63’), Diaby (Carlos, 64’), McGinn, Watkins (Duran, 74’)

Unused Subs: Robin Olsen, Bertrand Traoré, Calum Chambers, Filip Marschall

Everton: Pope, Patterson, Keane, Tarkowski, Young, Garner, Gueye (Lewis Norman Dobbin, 46’), Onana, Doucouré (Onyango, 90+8’) Calvert-Lewin (Arnaut Danjuma, 38’), Iwobi (Maupay, 50’)

Unused Subs: João Virgínia, Vitalii Mykolenko, Ben Godfrey, Thomas Cannon 

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