Head-To-Head: Aston Villa

by Adam Clark

Everton head to Aston Villa on Saturday looking to follow up last weekend's success over Hull with what would be a fifth Premier League victory of the campaign.

Last August, the Toffees returned from Villa Park having recorded a fine 3-1 win - and a first triumph at the stadium since February 2005.

Ahead of the latest meeting, we asked Everton legend Graeme Sharp and Mat Kendrick of the Birmingham Mail to assess the key battles that could determine who comes out on top this time around...


Lukaku v Benteke

Sharpy says: "These two are obviously going to be big, big players on Saturday. Benteke had a fantastic season last year and I think he took the league by surprise. Lukaku did much the same at West Brom and has now started the season well at Everton. Of course, they're international teammates, so they'll both feel like they've got a point to prove on the day. They're both big lads who can get on the end of crosses and cause problems in the box. I'd say Lukaku has probably got more ability with the ball at his feet but Benteke's also a threat and showed against us last season that he's strong, got a good touch and can score goals. There was speculation he wanted to leave in the summer but I think it was great work from Villa to keep hold of him."

Kendrick says: "Benteke's just massive for Villa, such a presence, and without his goals they would have been relegated last season. Last weekend was a case in point, because fans were disappointed he hadn't started the game against Spurs. But the moment he started warming up, the place just erupted and you could see the energy his arrival brought to the team as well. He risked burning bridges by handing in a transfer request in the summer but Villa fans have forgiven him straight away because he's shown his commitment on the pitch. I've actually singled these two out for the Head-to-Head feature in our paper as well. We know Lukaku from his time down here banging in the goals for West Brom and, from what I understand, he's gone and got even better."


Ross Barkley v Andreas Weimann

Sharpy says: "Both are relatively young lads trying to learn their way in the Premier League. Weimann came in last year and he was a surprise to everybody. Not many people had heard of him before but he scored a few goals and his work rate, particularly down the right-hand side, was exceptional. In the game against Hull last week I thought Ross looked a little bit off the pace compared to what we've seen, but you're going to get that with young players and you've got to be patient with him because he's shown already this season what a fantastic player he is. I'd say he's a more direct player than Weimann. Ross likes to get the ball at his feet and run at players, and that's a big plus point for Roberto Martinez."

Kendrick says: "The fans love Andy. He's had a difficult start to this season really and he hasn't been quite as exciting as he was last season. Although he's from Vienna, he's almost an adopted Brummie now because he's been at Villa since he was 15 or 16. To me, he's the kind of player a fan would be - somebody who leaves every ounce of sweat out on the pitch. He's relentless and even when he's not playing well, he's still the hardest working player out there, and the fans appreciate that. It also means he's the kind of player who can set the tempo of the team by chasing a lost cause or upsetting a defender by not giving them a moment's piece."


Gareth Barry v Fabian Delph

Sharpy says: "I think when the signing of Gareth Barry came about there were a few raised eyebrows because of his age but Gareth has been exceptional since he arrived. He keeps things simple, he wins tackles and he's striking up a good partnership now with James McCarthy. He also fits into the way Roberto wants the team to play and it's a big, big bonus for Everton. There's talk his deal could be made permanent at the end of the season and I think everyone would welcome that because he's made that much of an impression already."

Kendrick says: "Fabian has probably been Villa's most consistent player so far this season and he's one of the most honest players you'll come across both on and off the pitch. Sometimes he'll get himself into trouble through flying into tackles and trying to be a bit too keen, but he's tried to rein that in a little bit and he's a good all-rounder really. He's got the best tackling, interception and passing stats for Villa this season but the one thing he would admit himself is that he needs to add more goals and assists to his game. As for Gareth Barry, Villa fans used to give him a fair amount of stick when he first came back with Manchester City but I think since then they've learned to realise what he gave to Villa - and that's 11 years of sterling consistency and service."


Tim Howard v Brad Guzan

Sharpy says: "Brad Guzan will go into this game thinking he's got a point to prove against his fellow American. Tim Howard is in possession of the national shirt at the moment, and quite rightly so. His performances over the last few years have been confident and he rarely makes mistakes. Guzan arrived at Villa, had to be patient and made some errors early on. But he's recovered from that and is a big player for Paul Lambert now. People talk about Benteke's goals but Guzan has kept Villa in games on occasions and was a big factor in them staying up last term. I still know who'd I want in goal though, and he'll be playing for Everton on Saturday."

Kendrick says: "Guzan actually pipped Benteke to win Villa's Player of the Year award last season, so that shows you how good he was. I think Villa actually conceded a record high number of Premier League goals, but it could have been twice that if it wasn't for Guzan. He'd actually been released by the club going into the season but Paul Lambert persuaded him to come back. Shay Given started the campaign, played in the Villa v Everton game and wasn't brilliant, and that really marked the end of his reign. Since then Guzan has made the shirt his own. His shot stopping and reflexes are brilliant, but he also offers command of his box - he's prepared to leave his line and come and collect crosses. Again, this one's a fascinating international battle because Tim Howard's probably not been pushed that hard in the past couple of seasons and now Brad's come on the scene with the World Cup just around the corner."

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