It’s about to get very, very dicey. Currently nursing a one-point lead over Everton for fifth-place in the Premier League table, Aston Villa’s winter swoon has become a spring slide that now threatens their place in next season’s Europa League. Whatever their fate, it will probably be decided when the Toffees visit Villa Park on Easter Sunday.
Of all the sides Villa didn’t want to come up against this weekend, Everton would have been at or near the top of the list. Since the end of November, only Portsmouth and Manchester United have beaten them, and they are fresh off a 4-0 thumping of Wigan. Jo has been superb since making a January move from Manchester City. And although the talismanic Mikael Arteta has missed a good chunk of the season through injury, Belgium international Marouane Fellaini has filled in admirably.
In other words, Everton manager David Moyes has been the beneficiary of a cast of players who have banded together in the face of adversity to gut out a handful of impressive results. In doing so, they’ve done exactly what Villa have not. Their best players—at least those who have been available—have been their best players, and they’ve been able to run a tight defensive ship when the goals have all but dried up.
In many ways, the two sides are rather comparable. After all, a lack of squad depth—which both Martin O’Neill and the club’s fans never cease to go on about—is a problem that both teams have had to manage extensively this season. Everton, however, have done considerably better in this area and are poised to reap the rewards.
Unless O’Neill can coax rejuvenated performances from several key individuals, Villa will find themselves out of Europe by Sunday evening. Improved play from these players is vital if Villa are to consolidate their present position.
Gareth Barry: Forget his ongoing stint in the England team. The 28-year-old has been rubbish since Christmas. He’s quite obviously on his way out of the club, but his play has been poor enough for the manager to consider selling him without waiting for the inevitable transfer request.
Gabriel Agbonlahor: Same old story here. After setting English football alight in the first half of the season, the young forward has been useless for much of the second half of the season. His performance at Old Trafford was encouraging, so perhaps he’ll have something to offer against Everton.
Curtis Davies: So highly rated while at West Bromwich Albion, the 24-year-old has taken a step back this season. This has been especially noticeable since captain Martin Laursen went down to injury. The 6-foot-2 defender is slow and easy to turn, as was painfully evident against Liverpool in March.
Ashley Young: If you run too fast and too much, you get tired. Maybe this is what happened to Young, who after a blistering start to the season has hit the skids in 2009. He’s simply played to many games. For a player so reliant on pace, this is very, very detrimental.