clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Everton at Southampton: The Opposition View

We spoke to Saints blogger Allen Gunn ahead of the Blues’ trip to St. Mary’s on Saturday

Everton v Southampton - Carabao Cup Third Round
Everton beat Southampton at Goodison Park in the league, but the Saints prevailed on penalties in the EFL Cup in October
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Everton will attempt to achieve consecutive league victories for the first time since October when they visit Southampton on Saturday.

The Blues have few fond recent memories of St. Mary’s Stadium, winning just one and losing four of their six visits to the Saints since their promotion back to the Premier League seven years ago.

Since Ralph Hasenhüttl replaced Mark Hughes as manager in early December, Southampton’s form has picked up noticeably, lifting them out of the bottom three and up to 16th place.

While still only a point above the relegation zone, they go into this weekend’s game on the back of an impressive 2-1 win at Leicester City, although they were knocked out of the FA Cup on penalties at home to Derby County on Wednesday.

Prior to Saturday’s game, RBM spoke to Allen Gunn (@a_gunzy), from SB Nation’s Southampton blog, St. Mary’s Musings:

RBM: Firstly, what are the differences between Southampton under Hasenhüttl and Southampton under Hughes? Where is the Austrian succeeding where his predecessor failed?

Allen: Hasenhüttl has been the best recruited manager since Ronald Koeman. The Austrian’s tactics are simple: high press and then staying compact defensively. It frustrated Chelsea, when Southampton played out a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge, and helped defeat Leicester at the King Power Stadium, a place where Southampton hadn’t even scored a goal at since 2011.

Hasenhüttl also understands his players strengths and the re-additions of Oriol Romeu and Jan Bednarek, as well as getting the best of out James Ward-Prowse has made a huge difference. Romeu is still limited in what he provides - he is inept going forward - but is composed defensively where Mario Lemina has often faltered. If the option is to not haemorrhage goals, then Romeu is the right choice for the scenario.

Overall, Hasenhüttl has been a far more proactive manager; Hughes seemed to have Plan A and that was it. Hasenhüttl has had to dig deep into the squad and the likes of youngsters Yan Valery and Michael Obafemi have rewarded that faith.

Southampton has always secured positive results through blue-collar and workmanlike performances and that is what Hasenhüttl has reignited.

Southampton FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Hasenhüttl has made an excellent early impact as Southampton boss

RBM: How do you rate Southampton’s chances of survival with Hasenhüttl now in charge?

Allen: Much better than if Hughes was still in charge, and he’s got a transfer window and just under half the season to truly turn things around.

Before Hasenhüttl’s arrival, Southampton had only won once in 15 games. Following his appointment, he’s picked up 10 points (three wins, one draw, three losses), which is second only to Koeman over the first seven games in charge since the club’s return to the Premier League.

I fully believe there are three teams on paper worse than Southampton and if we can play to our potential then I expect us to beat the drop.

RBM: Despite the recent upturn in form, Southampton have won only two league games at St. Mary’s since Everton were beaten 4-1 there in November 2017. What do you think the reason is behind their poor home record?

Allen: I honestly don’t know. A lot had to do with the manager and the belief they could win, and I think St Mary’s was quite a toxic place to have to play. Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino and Hughes never really put out a product that seemed like it would deliver and the fans never hesitated to criticise.

We’ve struggled with maintaining leads as well, but hopefully that changes because we’ve dropped numerous points both at home and away. Had we stayed composed in those moments, the story could easily be different.

Southampton v Everton - Premier League
Southampton battered Everton at St Mary’s last season, but have failed to replicate such home perfomances since
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

RBM: Saints striker Danny Ings, the club’s top scorer this season with eight goals, could recover from a hamstring injury in time to face Everton. How important has he been to Southampton since signing from Liverpool in the summer?

Allen: Ings has been crucial when fit, though he’s missed a week or two here or there throughout the season. When we don’t have him we’ve been left with out-of-form strikers Charlie Austin and Shane Long.

It’s an area we have zero experienced depth, but 18-year-old Obafemi has shown - when fit - that he is more than capable of providing a much-needed spark for our attack.

I think Ings returning from injury would immediately lift Southampton, whose scoring touch has started to take an upturn after poor records under Puel, Pellegrino and Hughes.

RBM: Southampton have yet to make any signings in the January transfer window. Which areas of the squad are in most desperate need of reinforcements?

Allen: We need cover for Ings. At the moment we’ve been decimated with injuries at the position, with Ings, Austin, Long and Obafemi all missing time. Long is back on the shelf and Obafemi is still getting back to full fitness.

If Ings is going to be the number one striker, we need someone who can match that production to ensure we give ourselves the best chance to beat the drop, as I don’t think Austin is up for the task but would love to be proved wrong. He just seems the least likely to be successful in the new system.

Huddersfield Town v Southampton FC - Premier League
Ings has proved one of Southampton’s better recent investments
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Also, we need to move for a Premier League-ready centre back. It’s a shame that Wesley Hoedt wasn’t able to figure it out as the board sunk a sizeable fee into him, but it appears he will be departing St Mary’s at some point.

Bednarek has cemented his place in the starting 11, while Jannik Vestergaard sometimes feels off the pace, but is better than our other options. An elite-level player to drop into the back line would be a tremendous benefit.

RBM: How damaging to morale could Wednesday’s FA Cup defeat to Derby County be ahead of Saturday’s game?

Allen: I don’t think the loss is damaging to our morale overall. I think a win would’ve set up another potential cup run, but league position is much more crucial long-term.

The area it will have impacted is who will be fit to start, with a number of players having played the 120-minute duration - Romeu, Ward-Prowse and Vestergaard.

Southampton FC v Derby County- FA Cup Third Round Replay
Derby knocked Southampton out of the FA Cup on penalties on Wednesday
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

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

Allen: Hasenhüttl has deployed a three-centre-back system in the Premier League, but its success has boiled down to individual performance. When we concede goals, it is normally through our back line being completely carved to bits.

The Austrian has brought back Bednarek and Romeu into the fold and both have flourished, but I expect Romeu to be rested having playing all 120 minutes on Wednesday.

Still, expect us to roll with three at the back as part of a 5-2-2-1 formation.

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

Allen: Nathan Redmond has been immense this season, even if his return has not reflected that, and he’s scored five goals in his last seven games across all competitions.

If he could get himself out of two minds and do simple things, that tally could rise because he’s scored in a variety of ways and has been an important cog in Hasenhüttl’s system.

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

Allen: I’m going for a 1-1 draw. It seems fair.

Our thanks to Allen for his time.