Will Everton finish above Aston Villa?

By Online Editorial

They may have finished fifth and sixth respectively for the last two seasons, but Mike Norman reckons Everton and Aston Villa will be separated by a few places at least come the end of this season.

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As any football fan will testify, the last thing you want your club to do is sell one of its star players to an equally matched rival.

By selling Gareth Barry to Manchester City, that’s exactly what Aston Villa have done… and to make matters worse, they have yet to invest any of the cash on a replacement and have also lost quality defender Martin Laursen to an enforced retirement.

Of course, both departures were out of Martin O’Neill’s hands – one was due to injury, the other to a player’s own desire to leave – but no club can afford to lose two influential members of its team’s backbone and still expect to close the gap on the Premier League’s Big Four. And with Villa squandering an excellent chance to finish in the top four last season (just two wins from their final 15 games), it’s difficult to envisage them mounting a similar challenge this season.

These are just a few reasons why I think Everton – even at 1.51 – are an outstanding bet to finish ahead of Aston Villa (available to back at 2.66) in another fascinating Season Match Bet.

O’Neill has one of the smallest squads in the division at his disposal, and although it is made up of a high percentage of Englishmen, it’s a squad that is beginning to look decisively void of any star quality.

Of the English contingent, only Emile Heskey (when fit) is a regular member of Fabio Capello’s England squad with both Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor struggling to make the breakthrough. Curtis Davies, Luke Young, Steve Sidwell, James Milner, Nigel Reo-Coker and Nicky Shorey are other Englishmen vital to O’Neill’s squad, but they are solid players at best and will never be good enough to form part of a top-four side.

David Moyes on the other hand has assembled a talented, multi-national squad at Goodison Park, with the return of star players Yakubu and Mikael Arteta from long-term injury being like two new signings arriving at the club.

Moyes has performed miracles during his time at Everton, working on a shoestring budget meaning he has had to sign quality rather than quantity. Just a few of those quality players still at the club include experienced stalwarts Joseph Yobo and Phil Neville, reliable defenders Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka, creative midfielders Arteta, Tim Cahill, Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini, and striker Yakubu.

But perhaps it’s Moyes’ ability to get every last ounce of effort from his players, his man-management skill, and his determination to succeed that single him out as a manager of enormous talent. Few will argue that he is one of the best managers in the Premier League, and you can rest assured that any player pulling on the blue shirt of Everton will be incredibly motivated.

Last season’s on loan striker Jo has been signed on loan for a full season this time, and he has the potential to form an explosive partnership with Yakubu in attack, whilst England Under-21 international Kyle Naughton is set to arrive from Sheffield United to add more options to an already solid looking defence.

So all in all, this is a Season Match Bet that is as much about the managers as it is about the squads. Moyes is a better manager than O’Neill, Everton have a better squad of players than Aston Villa. Quite simple really – Everton will again finish in or around the top six, Villa will finish mid-table or worse.

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