Weblog: The football punter

Everton can go top of the table with a victory

TV: Sky Sports Premier League/Main Event, 8pm Friday

Aston Villa are under early pressure after defeats by Tottenham and Bournemouth and their poor start could be extended by Everton, who can seize their chance to move to the top of the table.

Top-flight football returned to Villa Park last Saturday for the first time since May 2016 but the party atmosphere soon disappeared as visitors Bournemouth raced into a 2-0 lead inside 12 minutes.

Villa were architects of their own downfall with goalkeeper Tom Heaton and midfielder Douglas Luiz making errors for the first and second goals.

They showed plenty of attacking intent and ended up winning the shot count 22 to 12, but there was a naivety about their performance which must be eradicated if they are to find their feet at the higher level.

Promotion was achieved despite an ordinary defensive record – Villa conceded 61 goals in 46 games – but Dean Smith remains committed to an expansive style and has spent much of his summer transfer budget on creative and offensive players.

Defensive recruits have also been made with Tyrone Mings, one of their loan stars from last season, arriving from Bournemouth and Bjorn Engels and Ezri Konsa joining from Reims and Brentford.

However, only Mings has top-flight experience, featuring 17 times during an injury-hit four years at Bournemouth, and even he may need time to adapt.

Mings and Engels appear to be the preferred centre-back pairing and their task is being made more difficult by a lack of protection from the midfield three of John McGinn, Jack Grealish and Luiz.

The best tackler among the trio is McGinn but the Scot is a box-to-box player who loves to get forward.

Luiz scored a great goal against Bournemouth but struggled with the basics and Grealish's outstanding offensive qualities are being constrained by him having to take on more defensive responsibilities.

The balance doesn't look right and the answers are far from obvious because benched midfielders Henri Lansbury, Conor Hourihane and Jota are not defensively-minded.

In the Championship, Villa could often outscore the opposition and Smith always had the option of calling on Glenn Whelan to provide a steelier edge.

But Whelan was not retained and it leaves them looking vulnerable in a very unforgiving league.

Everton will know all about Villa's weaknesses and have the players to exploit them.

Marco Silva's side are well set up to counter-attack with Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andre Gomes offering vision and wingers Richarlison and Bernard providing the pace and penetration.

And they are looking solid at the back with Yerry Mina and Michael Keane forging an excellent partnership.

The Toffees are the only team to have kept clean sheets in both of their opening two games and look a completely different side to the one regularly criticised early last season for being too easy to score against.

Their defensive improvement goes back to the final months of last term when they kept clean sheets in eight of 11 league games, including notable results at home to Liverpool (0-0), Chelsea (2-0), Arsenal (1-0) and Manchester United (4-0).

Respect is growing for the Toffees, who are no bigger than 3-1 for a top-six finish, and their promising start to the season is set to continue.


The Football Site

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