Everton boss Willie Kirk is expecting a completely new challenge from Aston Villa when the two teams do battle at Walton Hall Park on Sunday.
The Villans appointed former Birmingham boss Marcus Bignot as interim manager back in January, with head coach Gemma Davies remaining in her position at the club for the remainder of the season.
One win in the six league games since the change of leadership sees Villa sit a point above the Barclays FA Women’s Super League drop zone heading into the weekend’s affair, having not scored a goal in their past four matches.
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But despite that fact Kirk is expecting a tough battle against the relegation battlers, albeit a very different one to when they met back in October when the Toffees triumphed 6-0.
“It’s the same squad of players, but a completely different style in terms of goalkeeper kick length,” Kirk said.
“They were one of the shortest when we played them at the start of the season, and they’re now one of the longest in terms of that first ball.
“The quality of chances they get has decreased, but the quality of chances they’ve allowed other teams has dramatically decreased.
“They’re putting more crosses into the box, so their style of play has completely changed and it’s a different Aston Villa we’re playing now compared to at the start of the season.
“They’ve got a very impressive press from the front – we’ve analysed it a lot in the past two weeks and we feel it’s one of the best in the league in terms of numbers and in terms of aggression.”
Everton come into the weekend off the back of a resounding 5-0 victory over Brighton last time out, with Australian winger Hayley Raso helping herself to a hat-trick on the south coast.
That win over the Seagulls has almost cemented Everton’s fifth-place finish in the league this season – with a seven-point gap between themselves and the two teams either side of them with four matches left to play.
But Kirk is still determined to finish the season with a flourish and keep their momentum going.
“We’re pretty much there, mathematically we’ve got a bit of work to do, but it was a big step towards that last week,” he said.
“We want to keep getting more points, starting on Sunday, and we’ve got to see how close we can get to fourth compared to last year and we’ve got to try and create as big a gap as possible between us and sixth.
“Then we’ll analyse where we are, where we can improve, and how we can close that gap to fourth.”
Kirk has already highlighted that his side need to improve in front of goal, with Raso’s three-goal haul last weekend seeing her go joint top of the Toffees’ goalscoring charts this term with five – level with Izzy Christiansen, Simone Magill and Valerie Gauvin.
And the Scotsman believes there have been plenty of goals left out on the pitch throughout the 2020/21 campaign, and has already set the bar higher for next season.
“Hayley’s goals were all different last week and it really showed all her attributes in terms of she’s exciting, she’s direct and aggressive. I think her goals probably typified those three things,” Kirk said.
“All our wide players have chipped in, but I think they could also point to a number of chances this year where they could have done better, and they could all be sitting on seven or eight goals rather than four or five.
“They’re all working on it every day, and it’s been a big feature to be getting the wide players to be scoring more goals.”
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