Southampton v Everton. The Everton Forum preview

I’m a bit conflicted about Thursday and how much I should really care. On the one hand, I’m absolutely livid with the performance we saw on Thursday night, yet, on the other, that was a game which meant basically nothing and was played by a fringe team.

Of course, that’s not to say Thursday evening’s pathetic capitulation at home to Atalanta was anything like acceptable, however I’m hopeful we can just forget about it quite quickly and move forward with a much-changed side this weekend.

Prior to the Atalanta debacle, there were tiny shoots of green coming through the mud that’s clouded our season up to now. We didn’t play well against Crystal Palace but we didn’t lose and we managed to pick up a valuable 3 points against Watford, again not playing at our best.

I’m realistic enough to accept that we’re performing very poorly, so when we play that way and take 4 points from 2 games, we’ve got little choice but to see it as a decent return – regardless of the performances themselves.

And so it’s onto the next one, another away, this time against Southampton on Sunday (1.30pm kick off, Sky Sports).

Can we make it 15 Premier League away games without a win…?

The Saints

I haven’t actually heard much being made of it in the national media but Southampton have been very poor this season.

Sunday’s hosts sit in 14th, just 1 point ahead of us (and lord knows how bad we’ve been) having failed to capitalise on a favourable start to the season fixtures-wise.

Not only have Southampton played 7 home matches v 5 away (because West Ham’s fixtures required amendments due to the World Championship Athletics taking place at the London Stadium), last week’s trip to Liverpool (a 3-0 defeat) was only their second meeting with any of last season’s top 7.

Of course, I know it’s a stretch to put this woeful Everton side among such company as last season’s top 6 – but still, them’s the facts. 

So what’s gone wrong at Southampton? Put simply, they’re almost too boring.

They’re often involved in games with very few goals and unfortunately for them, the few goals that they do concede (14 so far) outweigh the goals they’ve scored themselves (just 9).

Over the summer they replaced one defensive manager (Claude Puel) with another in the Argentine Mauricio Pellegrino and the stodgy stuff that saw Puel through the exit door has remained.

Looking at their 7 home matches in a bit more detail, Southampton have picked up 8 points (2 wins, 2 draws, 3 defeats) with only 6 goals scored.

Their last 4 home games have seen them beaten 1-0 twice (by Burnley and Manchester United) with a 2-2 draw against Newcastle and a 1-0 victory against West Brom back on 21st October.

So when we factor in the away form as well (just the 1 win in mid-September) this isn’t going to be a Southampton side brimming with confidence we face on Sunday.

In terms of the Pellegrino’s typical set-up, I think it’s likely we’ll see him employ Fraser Forster in goal with a back 4, 2 competitive central midfielders, 3 attacking midfielders and a lone front man (4-2-3-1).

The Saints back 4 is generally quite solid so tends to remain consistent. The central defenders will more than likely be the dutch duo of Hoedt and Van Dijk with full backs Bertrand and Cedric on either flank (If I’m honest, I wish we had a back 4 as strong as that!).

Moving into the combative midfield area, our hosts will deploy the hard-working Northern Irishman Steven Davis and Pellegrino will be hopeful his big-money summer signing Mario Lemina will be fit to replace the suspended Oriel Romeu (otherwise I expect James Ward-Prowse will slot in).

The Saints attacking threats in behind Gabbiadini are usually the tricky trio of Redmond, Boufal and Tadic. All 3 of them can struggle for consistency but each possesses the talent to cause any team problems.

Although it seems the norm that Southampton start the one-time Everton target, Manolo Gabbiadini up top at home there are also the options of Shane Long and Charlie Austin available to Pellegrino.

Overall, I think Southampton an alright Premier League outfit who are below where they should be (which is probably 9th or 10th) – possibly due to their struggles to find enthusiasm in their manager or discontent within the camp (keeping unhappy players like Van Dijk).

I think the midfield powerhouse Lemina will make a big difference to Saints if he’s able to return from injury. I watched Southampton a couple of times early in the season and he dominated the middle of the pitch which allowed the craftsmen and adventurous full backs to attack more freely.

In attacking areas, Redmond provides the pace, Tadic the craft and Boufal the unknown. All 3 will look to get in between the lines to affect the game so Everton’s midfield will need to be watchful.

Whatever happens, you feel Everton will need to avoid conceding after 30 seconds like they did last time at St. Mary’s.

The Blues

Everton arrive on the South coast having had another week to forget.

On Tuesday, Oumar Niasse became the first player in Premier League history to be cited with deception of a match official, following his part in the award of Everton’s 5th minute penalty against Crystal Palace.

Now, firstly, was it a penalty? Well, I always choose to analyse big decisions using the old ‘if the shoe was on the other foot’ logic. So by that, would I be happy to see that penalty awarded against Everton? No, it was very soft.

However, does that equal ‘deception of a match official’? No. Quite clearly, as is acknowledged by the FA, there was contact. Niasse runs at Scott Dann, he comes across him and Niasse hits the floor – a penalty is awarded.

Yet apparently, despite the referee still believing otherwise, a ‘panel’ have decided Oumar went above and beyond to deliberately deceive him.

So long story short – Niasse gets done, Everton appeal it, the panel don’t even give that the time of day and the 1 player whose impact has led to some kind of an upturn in our form is banned for 2 crucial matches.

The Football Association are… *insert your own naughty word here*.

I’ve been saying it all week, but I don’t think Everton not having a permanent manager has helped this situation. The FA clearly wanted to make an example of a club to wheel out their ‘shiny new process’ and chose us. Does anybody really think they’d ban a player in a Mourinho, Guardiola, Conte, Klopp or Pochettino team for going down in the box, FOLLOWING CONTACT (as kids are taught) – any one of those managers would be apoplectic. The FA just wouldn’t have the balls.

Last week of November, how many games played in the Premier League so far? How many soft penalties given? And obviously, they choose us to throw the book at…Everton.

Anyway, hours later Everton got fined by UEFA for the lad who looked to throw a dig at the Lyon goalkeeper last month and then the following day, Atalanta happened.

It was David Unsworth’s 6th game in charge and in a competition we’re already eliminated from so he chose to give the fringe players an opportunity to impress – totally the right thing to do.

Yet, it was dreadful, we lost 5-1 and it literally could’ve been 8 or more. The players, offered the chance to stake their claim, hung Unsworth out to dry and to be honest, it was disgraceful.

I personally don’t think Unsworth is the man for the job full-time but he comes across as a good fella who has an affection for the club, so the bare minimum the players should be doing is trying for him.

And talking of disgraceful, here are some stats about the Everton defence –

Everton have conceded 42 goals in all competitions (by 23rd November)
Everton have conceded 2 goals or more in 8 games in a row.
Everton have conceded the first goal in 16 of our last 18 matches.
Everton have conceded 5 goals at home twice this season (by 23rd November)

So looking to Southampton, the question is, can we keep even a shot-shy Saints side out, and how?

Well, firstly, I’m not convinced we can. We kept a clean sheet against Stoke on the opening day and since then (Sunderland and Hajduk Split, aside) we’ve conceded every game, usually more than once.

2 of our 4 first choice defenders (Baines and Jagielka) are well into the later stages of their careers, 1 is a kid finding his way (Kenny) and the other (Keane) is a new signing who, despite costing £30m, seems to struggle with the very basics of defending at the moment.

None the less, I’d imagine it will be these 4 who look to protect Pickford’s goal on Sunday afternoon. Hopefully they just stick to the basics.

In front of them, I feel we’re likely to see a return to the starting line up of Gana following his rest on Thursday night. However, who partners him isn’t so clear.

Beni Baningime was singled out as Everton’s best player on Thursday night, so could be rewarded with another opportunity, or Unsworth could pick the painfully out of form Morgan Schneiderlin or similarly out of form, Tom Davies. Personally, I’d go with Baningime.

Given Davy Klaassen and Wayne Rooney struggled again on Thursday night, I think we’ll see Gyfli Sigurdsson resume in the central attacking midfield role with Aaron Lennon (one of our best players at Palace) on the right and Ademola Lookman potentially given another chance from the left.

Who plays through the middle in the absence of Oumar Niasse will be interesting. I personally think Unsworth will select Dominic Calvert-Lewin but equally, Wayne Rooney (I hope not) and Sandro, fresh from scoring on Thursday are 2 other options.

Although it is a worry that Calvert-Lewin lacks the overall goal threat that we could do with, he provides us with a good out-ball and does the ‘ugly’ jobs of leading the line better than anyone else who’s available.

So here’s my predicted team –

Whatever happens, we’re likely to see a considerable number of changes from the Thursday debacle as it seems clear a number of those players completely blew their chances of starting games under Unsworth that night.

It’s a really big game for us on Sunday and the start of a massive week. Not only do we play a poor Southampton team but we have West Ham and Huddersfield at home in the space of the 6 days that follow.

The week is a real chance for us to pick up 6, 7 or 9 points and if we could do that before we go to Anfield *gulp* you’d like to think we can banish the R word from our vocabularies for another year (or at least a few weeks, anyway).

If we get beat 3 times or pick up 1-3 points, we better all schedule to do our Christmas shopping on Derby day.

Oh, and finally, one other minor detail, it’d be nice if we got a proper manager appointed, right? 1 month is too long for a struggling side to be basically left to it’s own devices.

Referee on Sunday is Kevin Friend. We haven’t had him yet this season, but we won both games we had him last term, including 3-0 v Southampton at home – that’d be nice on Sunday.


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