By Alistair Mann
BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
Venue: Villa Park Date: Saturday, 25 August KO 15:00 GMT
Aston Villa striker Nathan Delfouneso has overcome a thigh problem, while Chris Herd also returns for Paul Lambert’s first home game in charge.
Striker Gabriel Agbonlahor (knee), defender Richard Dunne (groin) and winger Marc Albrighton (foot) remain sidelined.
Everton will make a late decision on whether to include Kevin Mirallas.
Defender Sylvain Distin (back) and striker Nikica Jelavic (groin) are minor injury concerns for David Moyes.
After four top-10 finishes, Aston Villa’s 16th-placed showing last season may have been out of character but there was a fear among their supporters it would be the beginning of an alarming trend.
A year ago, under then-manager Alex McLeish, they began encouragingly with a seven-match unbeaten run but went on to win just five more games. They eventually limped over the safety line, with a paltry five points from the final 10 matches.
The task of restoring their fortunes has now passed to Paul Lambert, Villa’s third manager since Martin O’Neill tendered his resignation in August 2010.
O’Neill’s unexpected decision came after he’d cemented Villa’s standing as the sixth best club in the Premier League for the third year in succession. Despite Lambert’s phenomenal success with Norwich City, few Villa fans will be expecting top six in the first year of his tenure but they will have been encouraged by their new manager’s pledge for more entertainment.
Last season his newly-promoted Norwich side grabbed 52 goals (only the top six managed more) and though his new Villa reign began with a blank at West Ham, there was another 90 minutes for the prolific Darren Bent to hone his match sharpness after long-term injury.
Since Bent’s last strike for Villa on 1 February, his team-mates have managed just nine goals in 16 matches. Providing the ammunition Bent craves will form a significant part of Lambert’s early season challenge.
That his first home test will be against Everton does seem untimely following the events at Goodison Park on Monday night but with the visitors’ confidence soaring and Lambert’s determination to quickly win over his new followers, everything does seem set for an enthralling contest.
- This is the most-played fixture in the English top flight. Aston Villa have 72 wins to Everton’s 70 from the previous 194 league meetings.
- Villa are on a 12-match unbeaten league run against Everton, although six of the last seven have been drawn.
- Everton’s last victory at Villa Park was 3-1 in February 2005.
- Villa won only four league matches at home last season, the worst record in their 138-year history. They averaged only a point per game at home, leading to their lowest overall points total in the Premier League.
- Their overall tally of seven victories was their lowest in a season since 1890-91, when there were only 12 clubs in the league.
- They were the only team in the league not to score a single goal from a corner last season. They also scored fewer headers (three) than anyone else.
- The Villans have picked up a mere 15 points from 20 Premier League games in 2012. If they fail to win on Saturday it will equal a top-flight club record of 12 matches without a victory – last set in 1986-87.
- Darren Bent will make his 300th career league start.
- Everton won their opening-day match for the first time since 2007, keeping a clean sheet in their opening fixture for the first time in 14 years.
- The Toffees have drawn seven of their last 10 away league matches, including the four most recent.
- They are chasing a 100th away win in Premier League football.
- Nikica Jelavic has scored eight goals in his last nine league appearances.
- Marouane Fellaini is poised to make his 100th Premier League start for Everton, while Leon Osman should play his 250th league game for the club.