Everton, fresh off of a brutal draw at Crystal Palace, are finally back home and must now turn their attention to 7th place Southampton. Not only did Wednesday's match add more fuel to the dislike of manager Roberto Martinez, but the team may now be without several key players due to injury and suspension.
Southampton, unlike Everton, still have something left to play for in the league as they sit three points behind Manchester United and a place in the Europa League. The Saints also look like a much more solid squad than the one the Toffees routed back in August, back when the Arouna Kone on the wing experiment was still working. And while Everton may be missing a number of key players, Southampton look relatively healthy and ready to finish out the season strong.
When the injuries to the squad are coupled with the short rest, Martinez will not be able to put out his strongest line up for this week's test.
Southampton picked up right where they left off last season and have been a solid team that has hovered just above mid-table for most of the year. They have a stout defense, led by Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk and an attacking group led by Graziano Pelle that can put goals on Everton's defense if they are not careful.
Saido Mane is the team's leader in assists at six and will be a creative force that Everton will need to keep in check if they have any hopes of leaving this match with a positive result. The Senegalese midfielder can be deployed all across the park and his mixture of speed, skill and passing ability could test the young center back duo of John Stones and Ramiro Funes Mori.
On the injury front, it appears Shane Long will be fit for this weekend's clash and can add another dimension to Southampton's attack while former QPR striker Charlie Austin may remain sidelined with a knee injury.
Five starting players for Everton have picked up knocks and may be rested as a precaution this week. Ross Barkley, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Aaron Lennon are pretty safe bets to sit out as Martinez will want the players rested ahead of the Merseyside Derby and FA Cup Semi-final. Martinez revealed that he was concerned about the hamstring injury to Lennon due to the nagging nature of that kind of injury.
Tom Cleverley is also listed on Everton's injury report, leaving the cupboards looking bare at the attacking midfield position. With all the injuries to the squad, we will likely see a change to the preferred 4-2-3-1 that Martinez usually employs.
Finally James McCarthy will miss this week's match after picking up a red card shortly after the start of the second half at Selhurst Park. This surely means we will be seeing more of Mo Besic this week.
The Final Word
Everton have been unable to beat inferior teams at this stage of the season, perhaps they will fare better against teams that are their superior.
In all seriousness though, Everton have shown very little positives over the last few weeks and will likely struggle against a stout Southampton defense. Everton have also struggled mightily at home and will face an uphill battle considering all of the injuries to the squad.
Predicted Starting XI: Robles, Oviedo, Funes Mori, Stones, Coleman, Mirallas, Barry, Besic, Deulofeu, Kone, Lukaku