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Opponent Spotlight: Everton correspondent Joe Thomas gives us the lowdown on Aston Villa’s EFL Cup opponents

We sat down for a chat with Liverpool Echo writer Joe Thomas ahead of Aston Villa’s EFL Cup third round tie against Everton to get the lowdown on Sean Dyche’s side. Who should we keep an eye out for?

Brentford FC v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

It’s no secret that there’s been plenty of issues for Everton both on and off the football pitch - is there any light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the fortunes of the football club?

Joe Thomas: It’s difficult to look to the long-term at Everton, such is the importance of what is set to happen in the coming months. In principle, there is reason for optimism for the future. A brand new statement stadium on the waterfront would be significant financially and symbolically and that could be ready during next season. Next summer will also see most of the remaining players on onerous contracts leave the club, or at least give the club the opportunity to allow them to go, which offers a chance to properly rebuild the squad - particularly if Everton can secure safety early enough to get a headstart on the summer transfer window. That is a big ‘if’ though.

Sean Dyche has a stronger first 13/14 players than last season, but still has a small squad that could struggle if the club’s injury misfortune of recent years continues. There is also the uncertainty of the proposed takeover, with fans conflicted by the competing belief that the status quo is probably unsustainable, but that wannabe owners 777 Partners have a lot of questions surrounding their motives and finances.

Sean Dyche surely would have preferred to have a few more new signings through the doors prior to the closing of the summer transfer window, but given the signings that were made, are Everton a stronger side than before?

JT: The arrival of Beto is a major boost for a side that has struggled to convert chances for so long. Not only does he appear to offer genuine competition for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, he also reduces the pressure on the striker, heightening his chances of finding form and fitness.

The loss of Alex Iwobi frustrated Dyche and does deprive him of a player who has been central to the efforts of the past two seasons. But with Arnaut Danjuma and Jack Harrison, a fully fit squad can offer threat from multiple positions.

The emergence of young Jarrad Branthwaite at centre back has also been useful. Injuries to Jordan Pickford, James Tarkowski or Beto (given Calvert-Lewin’s long term struggles) could cause severe problems, but Dyche does have a first team that can keep Everton up.

Everton FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Beto joined Everton from Serie A side Udinese for a reported £25.75 million.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

A familiar face for Aston Villa in Ashley Young joined Everton in the summer on a free transfer - what are the expectations for the 38-year-old this season?

JT: In a small squad, Young’s versatility is key. So far he has covered on both sides of the defence, helping out while Dyche has dealt with injuries to his full backs. Young has endured a difficult start to his Everton career and sections of the fanbase view the signing of the 38-year-old as an example of the difficult times the club is in. The hope is he provides consistency and maturity on the pitch and sets standards for professionalism off it.

What have the Everton faithful made of Sean Dyche’s reign as Everton boss thus far?

JT: There is an acceptance that he is operating in difficult conditions that are not of his own making, and that he was central to a survival that felt unlikely at times last season. Some of the performances during his reign have been underwhelming and his decision making, particularly an apparent reluctance to make substitutions, has caused frustration. But for the most part, there is an understanding he is the right man for this job and that yet another managerial change is the last thing Everton need.

Brentford FC v Everton FC - Premier League
Sean Dyche’s side currently sit in 15th place in the Premier League table on 4 points.
Photo by Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images

Aston Villa walked away with a 4-0 win when these two sides met in August - what sort of match are you expecting to see at Villa Park on Wednesday?

JT: The Carabao Cup will not be a priority for Dyche. He may suggest otherwise, but the league is the sole focus. The size of the squad does not allow for wholesale changes, not unless he wants to introduce academy players who could really struggle. So I anticipate some changes - Michael Keane and Nathan Patterson at the back, Youssef Chermiti perhaps up top and maybe Joao Virginia in goal. But the desire to be competitive will be tempered by an upcoming double header against Luton and Bournemouth that provides an opportunity to really reduce the pressure in the league.

Trying to predict the score of any football match is tricky, let alone an EFL Cup tie - what is your score prediction for Wednesday’s match?

JT: This result will depend on who wants it more, but Villa should be favourites even with changes. If Villa see this as an opportunity for silverware they should win, if not, penalties will be needed after a 1-1 draw.