After making a positive response to owner Farhad Moshiri’s demands for improved play, Everton look to make it three wins on the spin for the first time this season as they go for the double over Southampton on Saturday at St Mary’s.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Moshiri aggressively courted Marco Silva while the Portuguese manager was at Watford and eventually secured his services – along with former Watford striker Richarlison – during the summer. But after a middling opening half of the season in which Everton (8-6-8) had the same amount of points (27) as they did last term while burning through three managers, Moshiri made his voice heard in no uncertain terms last week.
The majority owner of the Toffees is still fully backing Silva but also noted to shareholders at the club’s general meeting, according to The Times, that when “I look at the table … it is not good enough.”
Those words carry weight considering Moshiri has already plowed approximately £250 million pounds into the club and likely will be the driving force behind a new proposed new stadium on the banks of the River Mersey.
To Silva and his side’s credit, there has been a response. The Toffees followed up their FA Cup victory with a 2-0 win at home over Bournemouth last weekend, but it was one without much panache or flow. Defender Kurt Zouma snapped a scoreless deadlock as he met Lucas Digne’s cross from six yards just after the hour.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin added the insurance marker in the dying moments of the match, but with Everton also racking up five yellow cards with a sixth arguably missing that would have resulted in Andre Gomes’ dismissal, it is clear Everton are still sorting themselves offensively at the bottom of the top half of the table.
“It is a process when a new manager comes in and I think he’s doing a really good job at the moment,” midfielder and Iceland international Gylfi Sigurdsson told SkySports in defence of his boss. “Not just as a club, but as players and for the fans we would want to be higher up in the league.
“When we were sixth in the league, I don’t think any of the players were happy because it’s about where you finish the season, and we kind of feel the same way at the moment and we’re not happy. Our aim is to finish the season in a strong spot.”
Everton likely will not spend on a true striker in the January window since that is almost always a seller’s market, but the Toffees might have to fend off Paris-St. Germain from poaching defensive midfielder Idrissa Gueye.
The Ligue 1 leaders have not made direct contact with Everton about his availability – Gueye still has two-plus seasons left on his current deal – but some PSG players have not been shy about lauding the Senegal international’s play to French media.
Southampton (4-7-11) are in the thick of the relegation scrap but making progress under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Saints are technically unbeaten in four matches across all competitions (1-3-0) but were dumped out of the FA Cup on penalties Wednesday by Championship side Derby County after the teams played to a 2-2 draw over 120 minutes.
Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond scored two minutes apart to give Southampton a seemingly safe 2-0 lead with 20 minutes remaining, but the Saints squandered a two-goal lead to Derby County for the second time before Redmond’s miss on their second penalty attempt wound up being decisive.
“It’s a nightmare, I think, because we had again a big chance to be in the next round and gave it away. If you have two times a chance to win and don’t do it, then you don’t deserve to be in the next round, so congratulations to Derby County. We have to concentrate on the Premier League now,” Hasenhüttl told the club’s official website.
“After the 2-0, we were maybe thinking about what happened in Derby and then at 2-1 you could feel that the guys were a little bit nervous and they got the second goal. It was too easy. In extra-time there were three great chances for us, also for Derby too, but both teams were struggling and in the shootouts it’s always about luck. But they deserved it more because they fought back twice.”
Hasenhuttl continues to go back and forth between three and four-man backs, with central defender Maya Yoshida on international duty for Japan at the Asian Cup. The FA Cup replay did have one benefit for Southampton, as wide back Yan Valery will be available after sitting out Wednesday for his two yellow cards in last weekend’s 2-1 win at Leicester City.
Even with the missed penalty, Redmond continues to be in fine form and bagged his fifth goal in Southampton’s last seven overall matches. Hasenhuttl will also have midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who completed a three-match ban last weekend and was held out of the FA Cup match.
Theo Walcott and Richarlison scored to power Everton to a 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture, though the Saints did get a measure of revenge by ousting the Toffees on penalties in the third round of the Carabao Cup.
Everton, who have just three wins in 19 Premier League matches at St Mary’s (3-6-10), last did the double over Southampton in 2001-02.
Per Bet365, Everton are slight favourites at 17/10 compared to Southampton’s 7/4, with a draw the longshot at 12/5. Oddsmakers are uncertain how this game will shake out, offering 10/11 odds on both sides of the 2.5-goal threshold. The odds of both teams scoring, however, are a clear favourite at 4/6 compared to 11/10 odds for at least one clean sheet.
Despite a four-match goal drought, Richarlison leads the line for first goal-scoring options at 11/2, followed by teammate Cenk Tosun and Southampton forward Charlie Austin and young Saints striker Marcus Barnes — all of whom are 6/1. Sam Gallagher is a 13/2 option to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, while Everton’s Calvert-Lewin and Southampton’s Shane Long are both 7/1. Gylfi Sigurdsson is another step back at 15/2, followed by the in-form Redmond (8/1).
For any-time goal-scoring, Richarlison leads the line at 7/4, with Tosun, Austin and Barnes all joint-second at 15/8. Calvert-Lewin and Long are 9/4 picks, with Sigurdsson a 12/5 option followed by Redmond and Stuart Armstrong at 13/5.
This is a test for Everton’s top-seven ambitions: The Toffees are clearly capable of winning this type of match, but their season-long lack of consistency has diminished external expectations to take them seriously enough to win this game.
Silva continues to try and find the right attacking options around Sigurdsson, again moving Richarlison to lead the line from his other spot on the flank. Ademola Lookman perhaps did enough to get a second consecutive league start on the right wing over Theo Walcott as he assisted on Calvert-Lewin’s goal after scoring in the FA Cup, though there is also a point where one wonders if Silva will put Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison together again as starters for the second time in three league matches.
Lineup juggling aside, these are the matches Moshiri wants to see Everton win to believe in his investment in this club, and frankly, it is a justifiable request. The Merseyside club has long been considered one of the “sleeping giants” of the Premier League. Or if you prefer a backhanded compliment, Everton are a more stable version of Aston Villa given their struggles to return to the top flight since being relegated to the Championship after the 2015-16 season.
The Gueye situation will be one to monitor during the January transfer window. Silva is keen to keep the Senegal international, and the last thing he and Everton need at this point is a distraction that takes away from consolidating their top-half status while kicking on to a higher level.
Thoguh disappointed about crashing out of the FA Cup in such a fragile manner, Hasenhuttl may find that elimination a blessing in disguise in his bid to keep Southampton above the drop. The German gaffer has done well mixing and matching his squad around blooding younger players, and has picked up another offensive option in Redmond to go along with Ings, Long, and Austin.
His decision to turn back to Alex McCarthy in Southampton’s last league match was an interesting one considering Gunn’s standout performance in his Premier League debut versus Chelsea. Hasenhuttl is likely not trying to foster a debate for the No. 1 shirt, but without the FA Cup for Gunn to gain further match time, the situation offers plenty of intrigue as the Saints grind out points to stay out of the bottom three.
The want is to see Everton play on the front foot in this game and burnish their top-seven credentials, but that is going to be easier said than done. This has the feel of a disjointed match in which a scruffy goal could wind up being the difference.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Southampton 1, Everton 2.