A yellow and green Brazilian flag was draped over the top section of the visiting support at Goodison Park on Saturday. An Argentinian one was in close proximity too. These were visual signs off the pitch of the South American influence on this current Aston Villa team, and there were more signals of the impact on the pitch too.
Two Argentines and a pair of Brazilians played a major part in sealing Villa’s first Premier League victory in four games against an Everton side in free-fall. Steven Gerrard is clearly tapping into the Latin American element of his squad, and the arrival of Philippe Coutinho on loan from Barcelona for the rest of the season has only added to that sentiment.
It was Emiliano Buendia who stole the headlines on this occasion. On the back of a promising performance last weekend in Villa’s 2-2 draw with Manchester United, the 25-year-old attacker scored the only goal of this contest with a flicked header at the near post, thus breaking a barren goalscoring run stretching back to August.
Buendia arrived from Norwich City last summer in a deal that could rise to £40million, and there was a feeling early in the campaign that the price tag along with high expectations were weighing heavily on the Argentine’s shoulders. His past two appearances suggest the turning of a corner in his Villa career and confidence is beginning to come to the surface.
“He has been getting stronger and better in terms of his own performances for many weeks,” Gerrard said after Saturday’s game. “Many from the outside may have felt his position would be under threat with the arrival of Phil, but I am proud of both of them. People see Emi as a little technical footballer but he will also fight for you.”
Buendia was the livewire in Villa’s attack against an Everton side who have won just once in their last 14 league outings and had to rely on a late cameo from Anthony Gordon for any sense of optimism. Buendia’s dutiful work on the right of Villa’s front three was apparent up until his substitution in the 90th minute.
The playmaker was responsible for two of Villa’s three attempts on target. He made Jordan Pickford work early on with a low, left-footed drive which needed palming away before his former Norwich teammate Ben Godfrey got in just in the nick of time to clear as Buendia advanced in on goal after a neat one-two with Ollie Watkins. “He epitomises everything we stand for,” was Gerrard’s verdict.
There is also an argument to suggest that the arrival of Coutinho has spurred Buendia to raise his level. The pair dovetailed Watkins nicely against Everton: moving inside centrally, turning Everton’s defence into a squashed unit across the perimeter of the penalty area and thus allowing Villa’s full backs to advance into space on either flank.
“Phil has lifted Emiliano Buendia, for sure,” Gerrard commented last week. “He has lifted Carney Chukwuemeka, Jacob Ramsey and everyone else around the dressing room which is great to see. We want as many good players here as possible, we want players who can play together. Coutinho and Buendia have been shining together in training and they get on well.”
The South American influence stretches beyond the attack too with Douglas Luiz putting in a diligent display at the base of Villa’s midfield and goalkeeper Emi Martinez keeping his fifth clean sheet of the season and providing a calming presence as Everton attempted an aerial bombardment in the latter stages.
However, this victory was not just down to that quadruple of players. Once again Jacob Ramsey impressed on the left side of Villa’s midfield and caused Abdoulaye Doucoure many problems before the Everton midfielder was forced off through injury. Also Matty Cash displayed energy and poise to control the right wing. As did Lucas Digne who, on his return to the club he left just two weeks ago, claimed his first assist of the season.
"It's a big win for us,” Gerrard said. “It was a different style of game for us, especially in the second half. It was a case of us having to roll our sleeves up, stand up and be counted and really put our bodies on the line.
"There's different ways to win football matches and, of course, there's an ideal way of playing this lovely game with style and control but, coming here to Goodison today, we knew collectively we would have had to show a different side to us.”
That’s now five wins from Gerrard’s first 10 league games in charge — Villa are looking up rather than down. If things continue so promisingly then one anticipates those flags in the away end to continue to flutter.