With Everton coming off of their first league victory of the season just before the international break, there is some positive energy around the Blues despite another spate of injuries. The greater depth of the team after this past summer transfer window has really helped the squad develop at a faster rate than many might have imagined at the start of the season.
The first test coming off of the break — at Southampton — will be a real test for the Blues despite the two sides having the same point totals. Ralph Hasenhuttl always puts together a good competitive squad against the Toffees, but consistency has been an issue without question. Meanwhile, Everton are looking to convert solid performances into wins.
Prior to Saturday’s game, we spoke to Jake Hughes, from SB Nation’s Southampton blog, St. Mary’s Musings:
RBM: First off, with the difficult start that Southampton has gotten off to this Premier League season, what are the feelings like around St. Mary’s, the training ground, and around the supporters of the club right now?
I can only speak on the fans’ feelings, and those are mixed. We have a really young team with some promising prospects, so some inconsistencies are expected when it comes to our results. We have scored a couple of big wins against Chelsea and Leicester this season, but looked really poor against the likes of average sides in Wolves and Aston Villa. The manner of those defeats, and our manager Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team selection in those game, is a cause for concern for a sizeable portion of our fanbase.
RBM: The Saints were not shy about spending and adding to the team over the summer; how have those signings influenced the team thus far and were there any positions that were missed during the offseason?
Some of those signings have really given Saints a breath of fresh air - namely Armel Bell-Kotchap and Romeo Lavia. They have both been superb so far, though Lavia is now out injured. However, we are really short on forward options and it was a big miss to not finalise a striker signing in the summer transfer window.
RBM: What kind of football do these Saints have to play match in and match out to be at their best? Who is the talisman of this side?
Captain James Ward-Prowse remains the Southampton talisman and that won’t change until he either leaves Saints or we somehow bring in a player who makes an even bigger contribution. Saints at their best play aggressive, attacking football with relentless pressure. That has calmed down a little bit since 2021/22, mostly due to our susceptibility to being on the wrong end of a big defeat when that approach backfires, but that style remains Southampton’s best when everything is firing on full cylinders.
RBM: What are the expectations for club and coach across this very strange, lopsided year? The team always seems to win big matches against difficult squads and then wilt at other points of the campaign; is there a sense that once players grow into their roles that consistency could improve?
It was hard predicting how this Saints team would fare before the season started due to all the new signings and the young makeup of this team. Expectations were therefore fairly reasonable for the team and Hasenhuttl. Though, you are spot on with your assessment: sometimes we feel far more likely to beat a ‘big’ team than one of those we are actively competing against in the league table. That is really frustrating and I honestly can’t see it changing as it appears to be a characteristic of our side, regardless of the players in the starting XI.
RBM: What do the fans think of Ralph Hasenhuttl at this point in his tenure? Does he still have their belief and confidence or has it begun to wane at all?
It really is a mixed bag. I’d say he has far more detractors than fans if you were to judge Twitter, but then it is Twitter. I think with a lot of Southampton fans, myself included, there is a real desire to see Hasenhuttl succeed. He seems like a top bloke and, sometimes, we play fantastic football under him. But when Southampton are bad, they are REALLY bad. That is a problem and the patience of some Saints fans has worn thin at this point.
RBM: How do you expect Southampton to set up on Saturday, and which of Southampton’s players do you think might cause Everton issues?
I expect Saints to continue ditching their five-at-the-back approach and go with an approach that loosely resembles 4-2-3-1. Bazunu; Walker-Peters, Bella-Kotchap, Salisu, Perraud; Ward-Prowse, Diallo; S. Armstrong, Aribo, A. Armstrong; Adams. From that bunch, I’d say watch out for Adams, Ward-Prowse and Bella-Kotchap.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for the match on Saturday?
I’m usually a bit of a pessimist, but I’m going to buck that trend and go with a 2-1 home win.
Our thanks to Jake for his time.