Everton will look to extend their unbeaten start to the Premier League season to six games when they take on Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium on Sunday.
The Blues dropped points for the first time this term in last weekend’s 2-2 home draw with Liverpool, but remained top of the nascent league table, nonetheless.
Southampton have had a mixed start to the campaign, losing their first two, winning the next two, and then coming from 2-0 down to draw 3-3 at Chelsea last time out.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men finished 11th last term after an excellent second half of the campaign, having been 19th and three points adrift of safety when Everton beat them 2-1 in this fixture last November.
Prior to Sunday’s game, we spoke to Allen Gunn, from SB Nation’s Southampton blog, St. Mary’s Musings:
RBM: Firstly, with seven points from five games, how would you rate Southampton’s start to the season?
Allen: I’m honestly not surprised we’ve only taken seven points from five games - Saints are notoriously slow starters despite having high ambitions to do x, y and z, but regardless of who we play to begin a new campaign, it never really goes to plan.
I think the defeat at Crystal Palace and [in the EFL Cup to] Brentford were setbacks, but we seem to have found some decent play as of late.
RBM: What should be a realistic aim for Southampton this season?
Allen: I think a great aim would be to finish around the middle of the table. If we push into the top half then I think we’ve overachieved in our initial goals, but we go as Danny Ings goes.
RBM: Having turned Southampton’s fortunes around quite dramatically last season, do you think manager Ralph Hasenhuttl gets enough credit?
Allen: I think he gets enough credit from Saints fans - maybe not pundits, who embarrassingly still talk about a certain result nearly a year on in a great display of lazy journalism. But he’s the best managerial prospect we’ve had since Ronald Koeman.
Sure, he’ll get a few things wrong, like being stubborn and not reacting in our 5-2 drubbing against Tottenham, but he’s got a style that suits a lot of what the club represents and that’s classic hard work.
RBM: High-scoring games seems to be a trend across the Premier League so far this term. That said, how big a concern is Southampton’s nine conceded goals in five games?
Allen: Not too big of a concern, especially when we shipped five of those to Tottenham and three to Chelsea. Outside of that, we’ve been competitive in each game and kept two clean sheets.
The biggest concern is not adapting to teams if they’re using our high-press against us. Our centre-backs aren’t quick as we saw against Spurs and Chelsea; that can be a recipe for disaster. Still, it’s funny to see Liverpool get pumped for seven goals by Aston Villa.
RBM: At the other end, Danny Ings netted 25 goals in all competitions last season, and already has four this term. What’s the best way to nullify him?
Allen: The best way to nullify Ings is to keep him as far away from goal as possible. If you can maintain a large amount of the possession then he’ll start to drop back deeper into the defence - something he actually enjoys doing - to get the ball, and there’s obviously a lot more work to be done to get back into those dangerous areas.
The difficult thing for defences is he really only needs one chance, as he’s so clinical.
RBM: Southampton fared much better on the road (31 points, third-best in the league) than at home (21 points, second-worst in the league) last season. Have you seen much evidence so far to suggest this will change this year?
Allen: I don’t think so. I’m not exactly sure why we play better away from home, but maybe it is a comfort thing. I can no longer say it is because of toxic fans as, well, there are none in the stands.
I think we just like the prospect of going out to take points away from home - it seems to create a bit more motivation.
RBM: How do you expect Southampton to set up on Sunday?
Allen: Standard 4-4-2 with an Ings-Che Adams partnership up top. Expect to be under pressure from the start, a signature of the Hasenhuttl formula.
It’ll be interesting to see how our back line copes with the likes of a free-running Dominic Calvert-Lewin, because we were stung by the duo of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, as well as Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. It’s definitely a different Everton team.
RBM: Which of Southampton’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Allen: I feel like it’s a cop out to say Ings, so I’ll say Adams. He plays a pretty big role in making Ings dangerous, so if he can stay sturdy on the ball then we’ll create chances.
He’s underrated - by myself included - because if you look at him as a scoring striker, he’ll leave you wanting.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
Allen: 2-1 Everton. There’s a reason why Everton have grabbed 13 points from five games.
Our thanks to Allen for his time.