After only managing to catch the second half of our first game back in the Premier League since 2016 for being in Bulgaria – and funnily enough the half we got battered in our opening weekend loss to Spurs – I had hoped to watch the full ninety against The Cherries. A flight home knackered that one. Step 1: Land in Manchester, Step 2: flight mode immediately OFF, Step 3: Score Centre app, Step 4: Pissed off for the rest of the day. Imagine my sheer effing disappointment when I remembered I had agreed to work the 23rd August on the North side of Leeds; Friday night football at home on the couch then.
No bother though, tickets for Crewe Alexandra and the knowledge that in our two previous league games, the performances were overall more than good enough to warrant more than the nil-pwa we had accumulated so far.
Even watching from the sofa, there was something about the atmosphere. This was special, the most played fixture in English league football and for me, the reality that we were Premier League had finally sunk in.
Work Hard, Party Harder
Everton started the better and immediately looked a threat down either flank, a problem area highlighted by @Villa Analytics. The most prominent threat coming from Lucas Digne, who until late on looked a doubt. The plan looked apparent from the off for Marco Silva’s Toffees, work the flanks and with wingers Bernard and Richarlison playing more as inside forwards, space on the by-line opened for Digne and Seamus Coleman making runs from full-back. Frederic Guilbert and Neil Taylor appeared to be under instruction to stick to their opposing winger which left my heart pumping faster – in nervousness at our exposed flanks – than it should considering the 18-stone mass it has feed eight pints of blood around. 90 beats-per-minute resting heart-rate! Beat that.
If our full-backs gave me the jitters early on, the growing partnership of Bjorn Engels and Tyrone Mings put me at ease and established themselves further as a centre-back force to be reckoned with. Both put their bodies on the line early on, Mings went down, then Mings put Engels down with a goal-saving pelt to the face. Worth it.
In possession, Villa opted for the more direct approach of targeting Wesley who seemed to finally put his physicality into full effect against fellow South American Yerry Mina and as the game progressed, the Brazilian number ‘9’s dominance over an out-of-sorts looking defence grew.
Focusing on Villa’s second Brazilian signing, Everton were smart in their approach to stopping Villa playing out from the back which contributed to the initial plan of being more direct than in our previous two games. Gylfi Sigurdsson was deployed as #10 destroyer and did a good job in keeping Douglas Luiz off the ball.
For all the money spent by Everton on their midfield three, the central areas belonged to Villa as Jack Grealish and John McGinn, combining with the infield playing Jota found it relatively easy to break into the final third past an Everton midfield costing over ten times more. Quick thinking from Grealish bypassed the hesitant Andre Gomes who was quite abysmal. His quick free-kick found Jota eventually and just as we had seen in pre-season, timed a through-ball to perfection into the path of Wesley – beating a poor and unaware Michael Keane – to silence his ridiculous and unjust critics.
The second half was a limited one in terms of chances for the Claret and Blue as Everton – a very strong side – applied increasing pressure via their usual wide outlets. From a Villa perspective, one glaringly obvious problem was the space left behind McGinn and Grealish who seemed to not press but hold their defensive line a good ten yards higher than the holding Luiz. This space could have been exploited a lot more than it had been with Bernard and Richarlison moving infield to receive within the half-spaces vacated by a higher midfield line. To combat this, our midfield three has to sit a little deeper and on a single level or the defence should play higher in the future.
We had been unlucky to find ourselves with zero points after two games, especially after dominating large parts of the 2-1 loss to AFC Bournemouth in terms of chances and possession. This time around, we were made to work for the points show a grit that we hadn’t needed in the latter part of the 2018/19 Championship season as we had dominated most games. The test was a well needed one and one that over the course of the season will see us pick up points when being the aggressor isn’t necessarily an option.
Tom Heaton – 7
A solid display and commanded his area well but with only one shot on target for the opposition, Heaton faced little danger.
Frederic Gulibert – 8
The call to make the change from Elmohamady was one needed in my eyes and as solid as Elmo had been, I think Guilbert offers more on both sides of the ball. The Frenchman looked a little shaky in the opening minutes, but his energy was matched only by McGinn and combined well with right—flank partner Jota.
Bjorn Engels – 9
Bjorn is becoming a serious contender for player of the season and we’re only three games in! The Belgian commanded alongside Mings and dealt with pretty much everything that came at him, even Mings’ boot.
Tyrone Mings – 9
His centre-back partnership with Engels is growing every game. He was outstanding both aerially and, on the deck, putting his body in the way of goal on a few occasions. England call up pending.
Neil Taylor – 6
This may seem harsh and while when facing runners down his own flank he has held his own in most cases, when the ball is on the opposite side of the field, he isn’t the same player. On more than one occasion he was caught wandering, allowing players to get behind and nearly costing us a goal. There’s only so long that can continue and going forward he doesn’t provide much if any threat.
Douglas Luiz – 7
A relatively quiet but understated performance this time around. Luiz was man-marked out of receiving the ball from the back limiting his impact but when on the ball made no mistakes and often chose the right option.
John McGinn – 7
This was one of his quieter games, but ‘Meatball’ was still buzzing around and getting stuck in. Unrivalled work-rate as per usual and provided the assist which capped off the 2-0 victory.
Jack Grealish – 7
People will see this as a quiet game, but Jack held possession quite well and despite a few misplaced passes when on the attack, drifting around players and moving the ball to escape Villa’s third was done well.
Jota – 8
He may not be quick, but Jota provided an outlet to retain possession and find the right out-ball. He linked well with Guilbert on the break and defensively he tracked better than Trezeguet. He always looks dangerous in the final 3rd and proved that with an intelligent assist for the first goal.
Mamhoud Trezeguet – 6
The Egyptian still has a lot left to be desired. He’s not been bad, but he’s also not done anything spectacular. It may take time to adapt to Premier League life and will want space to run at teams which he isn’t getting too much of.
Wesley – 9
He was dominant from start to finish and caused the breadth of Everton’s back four problems physically. Wesley proved he has the speed and guile to make darting runs behind a defence and that performance proved that we could have a real gem on our hands against defences with slighter centre-backs.
By JACK CUDWORTH
- Featured image by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images.