Everton will be after back-to-back league wins for the first time since December when they host beleaguered Southampton on Monday.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side’s 2-0 victory at Liverpool last weekend extended their unbeaten away run in the league to eight games, but they have not earned three points at Goodison Park since December 19.
Southampton’s early-season momentum, which saw them top the table briefly in November, has evaporated, and they head to Goodison with just one point from their last eight league games.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men have suffered another 9-0 defeat in that run, this time at Manchester United, but did comfortably beat Everton 2-0 in October’s reverse fixture.
Prior to Monday’s game, we spoke to Allen Gunn, from SB Nation’s Southampton blog, St. Mary’s Musings:
RBM: Firstly, after a strong start to the season, Southampton have collected a mere point from their last eight league games. What’s happened to them?
Allen: Injuries and poor recruitment in the January window to give Ralph Hasenhuttl any sort of help in those places. We were doing fine up until the festive fixtures and once those built up and we added in the FA Cup, it all blew up.
We just don’t have the senior squad depth for it all and that’s reflected in the results. Tactically, I also think Hasenhuttl has got a few wrong when chasing the game, but God forbid you say anything against him among the Southampton fan base.
And realistically, the first few months of the season we were playing well above our potential - a product of Hasenhuttl’s influence but also a hindrance, as we just weren’t going to keep that level up for 38 games.
RBM: What’s the single biggest thing that Southampton are just not doing as well currently as they were in the first few months of the campaign?
Allen: Again, playing above our potential, which is great and what is actually needed for us to be successful.
Danny Ings was firing on all cylinders at the start of the year and since he’s come back from having COVID-19, he’s not only looked off the pace, but he’s not had the same luck go his way. At the start of the year, you almost expected us to score from open play, but now we just never look like scoring from anything but a set-piece.
RBM: Given he’s suffered two 9-0 defeats in his Southampton tenure, and given how wretched their current run is, are you surprised that Ralph Hasenhuttl doesn’t seem to be under more pressure?
Allen: I’m not. I don’t think there’s a better option currently - and we’re probably still paying off Mark Hughes and Manuel Pellegrino for having fired them, so he’s not going anyway.
Among the fans, you get pockets of people being critical, and then people saying that it’s the board’s fault or the players’ fault, but not his. I think he’s equally at fault for what is happening and he’s really struggling to figure it out.
RBM: Southampton have at least have an FA Cup quarter-final at Bournemouth next month to look forward to. Given they are now 14th in the league, would you make the FA cup the top priority now?
Allen: The FA Cup is certainly a priority, but staying in the division is also a priority considering the freefall we’re in, and with the fixtures coming up before then - Everton, Sheffield United, Manchester City and Brighton.
If you ask any Saints fan, all they ask for in a successful season is to be competitive in the league for mid-table and a cup run.
RBM: Southampton’s only incoming in the January transfer window was Takumi Minamino on loan from Liverpool. Given how depleted they’ve been lately, were you disappointed they didn’t do more business?
Allen: I was disappointed we didn’t address our right-back position. Kyle Walker-Peters has been in and out of the line-up with injuries and he’s currently out, with no cover. We’ve been using Jan Bednarek there, but he’s not got the pace to keep up with most wingers in the Premier League. It also takes away from our centre-back partnership of Bednarek and Jannik Vestergaard, which was largely vital to our early success to start the year.
Minamino has been okay - sure, he’s scored some goals, but he’s been largely ineffective elsewhere. I think if he can remedy our issue of goals from open play, he’ll be handy, but Hasenhuttl expects players to be sound defensively and he just gets lost in the play.
RBM: Theo Walcott won’t play for Southampton on Monday given he is on loan from Everton. How has he done since returning to St Mary’s?
Allen: He’s been great but he’s also one of the many among the injury list. I think Walcott was also key to our early success to start the year, either as a winger or strike partner with Ings or Che Adams.
His greatest mark against him was not scoring goals, but he’d almost rekindled his eye for goal with us and/or was crucial for producing them.
RBM: How do you expect Southampton to set up on Monday?
Allen: Honestly, I wrestle with three at the back or our standard 4-4-2. I hope we forget trying to do anything fancy and utilise two at the front. Hasenhuttl is dead set on making Nathan Redmond and Ings a partnership, but it’s not produced anything yet.
I think Adams has got the rest he needs and should start alongside Ings. We need to rebuild some consistency in our line-up and they showed signs of a good partnership. With all our injuries, it’ll be interesting to see who he puts with James Ward-Prowse in the midfield.
RBM: Which of Everton’s players do you think could cause Southampton the most problems?
Allen: It’s easy to say Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but I think Richarlison is going to be the one to have a huge impact, considering we don’t have a right-back to cover him.
I expect it’ll be by committee - trying to get the winger to drop deeper to help Bednarek, but the pace and skill Richarlison has is going to be hard for a slower centre-back out of position to handle. He might be the most key part to getting a result for you.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Monday’s game?
Allen: I’ll predict a loss in hopes of being shocked, but Everton are playing really well at the moment. I’ll say 2-1 to Everton.
Our thanks to Allen for his time.