The 2021-22 Premier League campaign is about to kick off for Everton this Saturday against Southampton at Goodison Park; after a very difficult go of it at home all of last season, the Toffees will be looking to get off to a good start this season in general, as well as specifically on Merseyside especially with fans filling the stands again.
With new boss Rafa Benitez now in charge, and the newly signed trio of Andros Townsend, Demarai Gray and Asmir Begovic to continue to integrate into the unit the new manager inherited from Carlo Ancelotti, there is much to do, and a good amount of hope for this season too.
Southampton meanwhile, under the continued tutelage of their Austrian boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, will be looking to begin this season as they played last season for long stretches of the campaign. Like the Toffees themselves last year, the Saints good form would not last for the whole season of course, yet their precipitous fall in the standings was surely troubling for supporters and the clubs administration alike; against Everton to open the season, this Danny Inge-less Southampton side will look to get off on the right foot regarding the marathon that is the domestic schedule in England.
Prior to Saturday’s game, we spoke to Jake Hughes, from SB Nation’s Southampton blog, St. Mary’s Musings:
RBM: Firstly, it’s great to be getting ready for the new season, isn’t it? How would you characterize Southampton as a unit coming into this first match of the new Premier League campaign?
To be totally honest, it’s really hard to gauge where Southampton are at ahead of this new season.
We have lost our main goalscorer in Danny Ings, a club mainstay in Ryan Bertrand, and, at the time of writing, we’re set to lose Jannik Vestergaard who had a strong season in 2020-21.
Of course, we have replaced those players with cheaper options who are untested at Premier League level. We really have to wait and see how these changes affect the team - we really need these new signings to adjust to Ralph Hasenhuttl’s style of play quickly.
RBM: Do you believe that Ralph Hasenhuttl will be under greater pressure to get Southampton more consistently competitive results this season; can you envision a scenario in which he does not finish the season as the club’s boss?
Yes and no. Southampton fans will want our club to improve on last season’s Premier League finish in 15th, but then we have lost those aforementioned key players. I think it’s fairly reasonable to expect a drop in performance as a result of losing Ings especially, but we can’t drop too much because then we’d be in real trouble of relegation.
Hasenhuttl appears to have a strong working relationship with Southampton’s club execs so that will help alleviate some pressure somewhat. Like any other fanbase in England, there is a sizeable amount of fickle Saints fans who could turn if things aren’t going how we’d like.
Saying that, most Southampton fans remain behind Hasenhuttl despite seeing us suffer two 9-0 defeats in two seasons. That takes some doing.
Personally, I try to stay realistic with these things. I think Saints will end the season with Hasenhuttl in charge and that comes with Saints successfully battling their way to staying in the Premier League for another year.
RBM: What do you believe should be the realistic priorities for Southampton this season, across all competitions?
It has to be Premier League survival. With COVID-19 impacting Saints’ finances, staying up in the English top tier has to be paramount.
A good cup run would be nice - last season we reached the FA Cup semi-final and lost to eventual winners Leicester City - but it’s not a realistic proposition at the moment, nor a priority in my pragmatic mind.
Saying that, I would snap your hand off for a comfortably mid-table Premier League finish and a cup win!
We bought Adam Armstrong from Blackburn Rovers as a direct replacement - he is quick, scored 28 goals in the Championship last season and has a knack for scoring a variety of goals.
Saints also signed Armando Broja on loan from Chelsea and he is a young, target man-type who also seems to have that poachers instinct in front of goal. He gives us a different look up top.
Those signings are both untested at Premier League level, but I sure hope they can make a dent in those goals we will sorely miss with Ings leaving. Even if Ings was still sticking around at St Mary’s, we need the likes of Che Adams, Theo Walcott, Nathan Tella and Nathan Redmond to step up in their goal contributions. Let’s hope they do exactly that.
RBM: With former Toffee Theo Walcott rejoining his boyhood club Southampton permanently he will be free to play against Everton; what do you think he will provide the Saints this season?
As I’m sure Everton fans are fully aware, Theo Walcott is quite hard to predict in both senses of good and bad.
Since his Saints return, he has played out wide and more centrally. He still has the potential to be a dangerous forward for us, but he also has that penchant for missing chances he should really be taking.
At the very least, he provides more attacking options at Southampton which could prove important following Ings’ departure.
RBM: How do you expect Southampton to set up on Saturday?
Hasenhuttl has his 4-2-2-2 system and he tends to stick with it. The only question is, are these new signings ready to fit into said system?
Here’s how I hope Saints set up:
RB to LB: Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Salisu, Perraud
CMs: Ward-Prowse, Romeu
Wingers R to L: Walcott, S Armstrong
FWs: Adams, A Armstrong
RBM: Which of Southampton’s players do you think might cause Everton the most trouble?
It looks like James Ward-Prowse is fit enough to play on Saturday and he is always a set piece threat, but I would love it if Walcott could get a goal at Goodison!
Stuart Armstrong can make things happen with his running, while Che Adams has the ability to be a nuisance up front as well.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s season opener?
I’m hesitant to make a prediction, but Saints don’t have the best record away at Everton. With Manchester United up next for Southampton, I’d happily take a draw on Saturday or, even better, a win of course!
Our thanks to Jake for his time.