Everton-Aston Villa Preview
By RYAN WILLOX
STATS Football Writer
(AP) -- Aston Villa's Premier League encounter with Everton on Saturday is shaping up to be a tale of two strikers.
In Belgium internationals Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke the sides each possess a centre forward as likely as the other to provide the defining moment in the latest edition of the most played fixture in English football.
Toffees boss Roberto Martinez is in no doubt Benteke will be the main threat to his side at Villa Park on Saturday.
"I think he's been an impressive signing," Martinez told the official Everton club website. "I think if you look at his contribution last season he was more than significant in Aston Villa's record in the league.
"You can see what he brings to the crowd and what he brings to everyone at Villa. Clearly Aston Villa with Benteke on the pitch is a bigger threat and we have to be wary of that."
Villa manager Paul Lambert is confident Benteke can start after only appearing as a substitute in the 2-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur last weekend following a spell on the sidelines after he was injured in the 1-0 win over Norwich City.
"Christian had only trained for three or four days in a month," Lambert told the official Norwich club website. "It's just not enough to put him into that scale of a game and we didn't want to re-injure him or anything like that.
"It was the right thing to bring him on and he might have scored on another day but his contribution was okay."
Benteke and Lukaku are joint fourth in the Premier League scoring table with each having netted four times in the campaign so far. It's not just points on the line for the pair, however, with the players in direct competition for the lead striker role in Belgium's 2014 World Cup eleven.
"There is a rivalry but I always like to look at myself first, to try to improve myself and do the best for my team," Lukaku told his club's website. "And if there is competition, it can only improve you as a player. The way he's playing, it has motivated me to do better and show my qualities when I'm playing for Everton.
"I have had to be patient at times. But throughout the last performances with Everton and with the national team, I think it's now a bit equal."
Everton (4-3-1) will be without Darron Gibson, who underwent knee surgery this week, and John Heitinga is rated doubtful.
Villa (3-1-4) will be without Gary Gardner and Marc Albrighton but Ciaran Clark returns to the squad after recovering from an illness.
Seven of the side's last nine meetings have ended in score draws with both sides also claiming a win in that time.
Everton's 3-1 victory at Villa Park last season is their only victory over the Villains in the last 14 league meetings dating back to March 2006. Goals from Steven Pienaar, Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic secured the win. Clark was sent off just before the hour for Villa, but Karim El Ahmadi did score a consolation goal 15 minutes from time.
The sides drew 3-3 at Goodison Park with Everton coming from two down to earn the point. Benteke opened the scoring before Victor Anichebe equalized. Gabby Agbonlahor restored Villa's lead and Benteke struck again to put Villa two up. Fellaini brought Everton back into it in the 70th minute then broke Villa hearts with a strike in the third minute of stoppage time.
Everton will be hoping to end a dismal run of away league form, having won just once in their last 12 away matches, a 3-2 win at West Ham in September.
Updated October 24, 2013