By Dave Downie
I’m still undecided on Friday night football. In theory, it should be something that’s celebrated for many fans. End of the working week, watching your team with a couple of well earned days off ahead, but I can’t quite get a feel for it when it’s part of Everton’s schedule.
I’m very much a traditional Saturday 3pm fan and cherish those days as they sadly seem to becoming less of an occurrence in modern football.
But perhaps all that will change when the Blues travel to Aston Villa on Friday, looking to temporarily go top of the Premier League.
Of course, that’s immaterial at this stage of the season, but it would reflect a fine start to the campaign, which is something that felt imperative given an inviting opening set of fixtures.
Getting the basics right is a long-forgotten facet of the game, but it’s exactly what the Blues have based their foundation on dating back to that brilliant run of results at the end of last season.
In Marco Silva, we have a manager steeped in the nuances of modern football, but the key to Everton’s 19 point haul from the last 10 games has undoubtedly been the stubborn resistance of a back line which, just a few months ago, was written off by many.
There was a point when the words “zonal marking” would send shivers down the spine and at one point even appeared to be a contributing factor to what looked like being a short, painful tenure for the Portuguese in the early stages of 2019.
Thankfully, that’s a thing of the past, for now at least. Doubts over Yerry Mina’s aptitude for both Premier League football and fitness have steadily been quashed with a couple of standout performances so far in the absence of Kurt Zouma.
However, it does admittedly feel like the defensive arm of the team is constantly on a knife edge. You’d get long odds on Mina and Michael Keane completing full 38 game seasons and that’s without (hopefully) lengthy progress in the domestic cups. But for now, they’re doing a fine job as a unit with the consistent class of Lucas Digne on one side and a rejuvenated and fresher looking Seamus Coleman on the other.
Tonight we’re travelling to, in my opinion, one of the best away grounds in the land. Villa have been dearly missed in the top flight over the last couple of seasons and it’s great to see them back under a manager whose stock has risen immeasurably since he started at Millwall just 8 years ago.
Due to a hefty summer spend, comparisons have been made between them and the ill-fated Fulham side that splurged on over ten new faces last summer.
But looking at their recruitment, Smith and his team appear to have been much more savvy in supplementing a squad that already contained plenty of talent throughout last season’s promotion campaign.
Big money signings from foreign leagues, as we know all too well, can take time to adapt and I think it’d be unfair to label Villa as a club that’s simply become rash with their chequebook on returning to the Premier League.
Having watched them closely against Spurs on the opening weekend, they could consider themselves unlucky to not take a point away from North London whilst last week’s showing against Bournemouth was exactly the kind of result that’ll serve as a wake-up call in the top division.
Villa Park itself has a touch of Goodison about it, too, and that’s the first of many similarities between two founder members of the football league.
Fans on all sides are in close proximity to the pitch and just like the Old Lady, it’s steeped in history and tradition dating back to the late 19th century. I’m expecting the atmosphere to be electric tonight as they look to get off the mark.
Selection wise, I don’t see Everton altering too much. Schneiderlin may come back in for Gbamin depending on how Silva viewed his encouraging home debut last week.
I have to confess, I’m desperate for Moise Kean to get his first start, but I do see the merits in introducing him later in the game after Dominic Calvert-Lewin has hopefully run their centre halves into the ground.
It all looks set to be an enthralling game in the second city and I’m expecting Everton to hit the Premier League summit for a few glorious hours come 10 o’clock tonight.