How Everton Will Line Up Against Aston Villa
The Toffees returned to winning ways last week, securing their fourth victory in five Premier League games thanks to a 2-1 win over Hull City.
Villa's previous outing was a frustrating 2-0 home defeat against Tottenham, bringing to an end a run of seven points from a possible nine.
This fixture has seen a procession of draws in recent years, with seven of the last nine games ending all square, although most have been entertaining affairs, crammed full of goals.
Last season's impressive 3-1 win was the Toffees' first league triumph over Villa since 2006.
Aside from Darron Gibson's long-term injury, Roberto Martinez will field his strongest team at Villa, with no other first-choice player sidelined.
As was revealed at Martinez's pre-match press conference, Antolin Alcaraz remains absent—potentially back after the next international break—while John Heitinga is still a doubt.
The Dutchman has been named a substitute for every Premier League game this season, but missed the clash with Hull due to a soft tissue problem. Martinez revealed he's "50/50" to return for this game, per Everton's official website.
With that team news considered, here's a look at Martinez's potential starting XI.
Everton's back five will remain in tact, as they have for every minute of the Premier League season so far, although Christian Benteke will provide them with one of their sternest tests.
Which player not in this XI should start?
Further up the pitch, Gareth Barry already feels like an automatic selection and will anchor midfield. Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas are also guaranteed starters, leaving the only selection debate surrounding Steven Pienaar, James McCarthy and Leon Osman.
If Martinez is satisfied about Pienaar's fitness, the South African will start on the left, leaving a straight shoot-out between Everton's past, in Osman, and the club's future, in McCarthy.
The Irish international is far more effective enforcing Martinez's slick-passing ways from central midfield, which should relegate Osman to the bench.
This is a scenario anticipated by many fans over the summer, with Osman likely to miss a Premier League game—when fully fit—for the first time in several seasons.
Gabby Agbonlahor has been a persistent nuisance to Everton over the years, hitting seven goals against them, including his first ever strike for Villa.
The hosts are excellent exponents of the counter-attack and his pace—in an advanced, wider berth—has the potential to trouble the Toffees after any loss of possession.
What's your prediction?
While Benteke will rightly attract considerable attention, Agbonlahor will look to exploit pockets of space behind the visitors' attacking full-backs.
For Everton, Barry has been a huge hit since moving on loan from Manchester City, winning all four Premier League games he's played.
He dictates the Toffees' tempo, keeping them moving with quick touches and clever passes, while shifting between the defensive and midfield lines.
He's likely to receive a hostile reception at his former club, but if he plays well and negotiates Villa's trio of central pressers, Everton will have a platform to control the game.
Prediction: Aston Villa 2-2 Everton
Statistics via Who Scored?
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