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Everton vs Southampton: The Opposition View

We spoke to Saints blogger Allen Gunn prior to Tuesday’s third round EFL Cup clash

Everton v Southampton - Premier League
Everton and Southampton have only managed one league win each since August’s Goodison meeting
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Everton entertain Southampton at Goodison Park on Tuesday in the Third Round of the Carabao Cup.

A trip to Leicester City awaits the winner of this tie, which was put back a week after the other third round fixtures due to logistical complications.

The Saints will be keen to avenge their 2-1 Premier League defeat at Goodison in August, but seven games into the new campaign they are languishing in 16th.

Mark Hughes replaced Mauricio Pellegrino as manager in March, initially until the end of the season, and the Welshman helped Southampton avoided relegation last year by one place.

Hughes signed a three-year deal in May, but has won just five of his 18 games at the club he represented as a player for two seasons, and leads his side into this fixture on the back of successive away defeats at Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Ahead of Tuesday’s match, RBM spoke to Allen Gunn (@a_gunzy), writer for SB Nation’s Southampton blog, St. Mary’s Musings, about his thoughts on the Saints’ start and what he expects from the game:

RBM: Firstly, how important is the Carabao Cup to you this season?

Allen: It’s always difficult to gauge how important the club will take the Carabao Cup and FA Cup. As a fan base, since we’re not in contention for anything else, I think a deep cup run goes a long way to boosting morale and gives us something other than battling at the bottom of the table to strive for. Claude Puel took us to the League Cup final in 2016-17, but we had a poor run and lost out early last year.

How Mark Hughes sets up the squad will determine the importance he and the club see the League Cup. We played a full-strength squad at Wolves this past weekend, but I expect he will at least give it a go.

Manchester United v Southampton - EFL Cup Final
Southampton were EFL Cup runners-up in 2017, losing 3-2 to Manchester United in the final
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

RBM: What do you put Southampton’s early-season struggles down to?

Allen: It all boils down to confidence. I think opponents know they don’t really have to perform well to get anything out of us - be it a point or a win. Wolves weren’t the same side that drew with Manchester United, but still managed to beat us by playing about 10 minutes of good football.

Saints currently lack a true leader. Ryan Bertrand is the de facto captain, mainly as an incentive to keep him at the club, but gives up and it shows in his body language.

Oh, and our defence. The centre-back partnership between Wesley Hoedt and Jannik Vestergaard has been fair to midland. They’ve shown some great moments, but far too often they’ll switch off for just a moment and we’ll be picking the ball out of the back of our net.

RBM: Mark Hughes is a divisive character. Is he the man to take you forward?

Allen: I don’t think he is. I didn’t really agree with his appointment as I felt the club was settling when we really need to have someone come in and make an overhaul within the identity we play with and almost force the board’s hand.

Mark Hughes has just come in and made it business as usual, there’s been no change from Mauricio Pellegrino or Claude Puel - though under Puel we were at least defensively reliable.

RBM: Did you agree with the decision to extend Hughes’ contract after saving you from relegation last season?

Allen: It was great that he was able to come in and keep us up in what was a really bad situation under Pellegrino, but like said above I wasn’t big on the appointment long-term. He had success at Stoke before he became stale. I didn’t expect us, however, to go out and pursue a big or recognisable name as that’s not in the club’s ethos.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Southampton FC - Premier League
Hughes’ job security may be in question if Saints’ form doesn’t pick up soon
Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

RBM: Southampton have been renowned for playing exciting, attractive football, but at Goodison in August the Saints were much more physical (five players booked, 20 fouls to Everton’s eight) and less pleasing to watch. Are you satisfied with the club’s current style of play?

Allen: To be honest, I don’t think we have a particularly defined style of play like we did under [Mauricio] Pochettino and [Ronald] Koeman. They were direct managers whilst Pellegrino and Hughes have been largely passive.

We started out the year with three at the back, before ditching that about 15 minutes into the season. Certain players like Nathan Redmond, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Danny Ings have thrived under Hughes, but that doesn’t really count for much when we’re weak defensively and lack any other cutting edge going forward because the best we’re going to do is produce a draw.

RBM: What would constitute a successful season for Southampton?

Allen: Not finishing 18th - 20th, which would basically be because there are three teams worse than us. This year has set up very similar to 2017/18 and that’s not a good sign for Hughes’ security as manager and for the club to retain its Premier League status - we were fortunate last season to stay up, but it’ll be hard to be twice as lucky.

RBM: How do you expect Southampton to set up on Tuesday?

Allen: We’ve trotted out basically the same line-up for the last handful of games, bar injuries or suspension. I would love to see Maya Yoshida draw in for Hoedt or Vestergaard to show that they’re not guaranteed a spot. Yoshida had a great World Cup with Japan, but has hardly seen the pitch since. Likewise with Jan Bednarek; he showed that he was working towards confidence in Russia, though has barely even found the bench.

I would also like to see Manolo Gabbiadini be given a bigger chance other than just the ten to 15 minutes he gets when we’re already out of the game. He showed he’s capable of finding the net, but his inconsistent use has really impacted his performances.

Swansea City v Southampton - Premier League
Gabbiadini scored the winner in Southampton’s relegation decider at Swansea last season
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

RBM: Which of Southampton’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Allen: Ings will hopefully cause a problem for Everton. If he does it means that he’s finding the back of the net and we’re in with a chance for a positive result. I also think Højbjerg will disrupt the Everton attack and considering our defence struggles to protect a clean sheet, we will need our midfield to help out massively. He’s also capable of getting the ball forward, which makes Ings a more dangerous threat.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Tuesday’s game?

Allen: Honestly, I expect Everton to win based on our performances of late. I hope I’m proven wrong.

Our thanks to Max for his time.