Everton are coming off of the first Premier League victory for Frank Lampard as manager, and their first league win since Arsenal in early December. Against a Leeds United side that also really needed those three points, it was a positive performance that saw Anthony Gordon really impressive again, with new boy Donny van de Beek shining and Dele Alli’s substitution making a noticeable difference on how the team finished the match. This weekend they will have a chance to repeat that good showing against Southampton.
The Saints have been trending positively in recent weeks, and currently sit eleventh on the Premier League table. Ralph Hasenhuttl seemingly has the ship righted from a rocky beginning of the campaign and Frank Lampard’s Blues will have to go to Saint Mary’s on a mission - and execute properly.
Prior to Saturday’s game, we spoke to Jake Hughes, from SB Nation’s Southampton blog, St. Mary’s Musings:
RBM: Firstly, it has been a bit since last we spoke; what would you say the feeling is around this Southampton team and their supporters at this point in a rather inconsistent and unpredictable season for so many?
Yes, it has been a while! Saints took on Everton in the opening game of the season and it wasn’t the most heartening result nor performance for any optimistic Southampton fans. We continued to have a tough start to the Premier League season, but things have only got better since then. I’d say this is the best feeling we’ve had as Southampton fans for a while, with performances and results matching the encouragement generated from a new ownership group buying out our former chairman, who either couldn’t or didn’t want to invest any money into the club.
RBM: How would you say Ralph Hasenhuttl has done with this team, and are both the team and club seemingly confident or secure with his leadership going forward - not just this season, but beyond?
I’ve long thought Southampton were very fortunate to have Ralph Hasenhuttl at the helm - and that is despite two particularly lopsided 9-0 scorelines going against us over the past couple of seasons. I think he has done well to get the best out of what is not the most technically-gifted squad, and a small one at that. What’s more impressive is how he has really helped certain players develop and improve their game - most notably some of our key players in James Ward-Prowse, Kyle Walker-Peters, Mohammed Salisu, Oriol Romeu and Che Adams.
We’ve still got Hasenhuttl to stay at Southampton for the next couple of years. He has hinted at retiring once that contract expires, but I’d happily keep him around for a long, long time.
RBM: Still in mid-February, what is the adjusted expectation of this Saints lot who sit in eleventh position on the league table at this present time? What should be made of the relatively good run of form that this team has enjoyed recently?
I can’t remember what I had written down as a realistic prediction or desire before the season started, but a top-half Premier League finish would have been the most adventurous I’d go. Continuing on with this kind of form, I can’t see why Saints can’t become a top 10 Premier League side again and that would be a real step in the right direction and there is even a slight chance of European football if we can keep things up.
This good form has come at a time when we had some tough games. Barring a poor, somewhat unlucky, result against Wolves, Saints have looked a tough side to beat ever since a poor run of games in November/early December and we have secured good results against some top sides.
We won away at West Ham, drew with Tottenham at home despite being a man down for most of the game - and then beat them away last week - smashed Brentford... as well as picking up some decent, well-deserved points against Manchester City and Manchester United more recently. Things are looking up despite encountering some tough opposition.
RBM: How has Southampton made up for the loss of Danny Ings which we spoke of earlier this season? Who has ended up replacing his production, and who could stand to do better in that vein moving forward?
One name: Armando Broja. Unfortunately, we can’t totally claim him as our own as he is only on loan from Chelsea, but there is some noise that he wants to stay at Southampton beyond this season and Saints fans really do hope that is the case.
Ings seemed like both a big loss but a good piece of business when he left in the summer. His direct replacement in Adam Armstrong scored a great goal against Everton in his debut, but has struggled somewhat. Broja has really cemented his spot as a starting striker alongside Che Adams, and has brought power, speed and goals to Southampton’s attack.
RBM: What has been the nagging issue that has kept this seemingly well-coached and organized side from challenging more consistently than they have, dating back to the second half of last season?
Our really poor second half of last season can be put down to our squad size and a boat load of injuries. Thankfully, Hasenhuttl wised up to this and Saints recruited smartly over the summer to flesh out his squad, as well as keeping around some of the players who we had previously sent out on loan.
Moi Elyounoussi, one of Southampton’s best players this season, has been out on loan to Celtic for the past couple of campaigns. Instead of selling him or loaning him out again, he’s been given a chance and he has taken it. We now have multiple players for multiple positions and I have my fingers crossed that we can maintain the fitness of our key players throughout the entirety of the season this time around.
RBM: How do you expect Southampton to set up on Saturday, and which of Southampton’s players do you think might cause Everton the most trouble?
Saints like to play a 4-2-2-2 formation and I expect that to remain the case. The players to look out for would be our energetic frontline of Che Adams and Armando Broja, while Stuart Armstrong and Moi Elyounoussi also do a great job supporting out wide.
Then there’s James Ward-Prowse. He’s been fantastic over these past couple of months and if he’s not whipping in a cross/corner/free-kick, he will be running all over the pitch. A real captain for us at Southampton.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s match?
We really don’t have a great record against Everton and even though Saints had a great first half against the Toffees in the season opener, they capitulated badly in the second half.
Everton have some key players back from injury and are enjoying somewhat of a new manager bounce with Frank Lampard taking over from Rafa Benitez, but I’m going to uncharacteristically predict that Southampton get all three points on Saturday. Let’s go with 2-1.
Our thanks to Jake for his time.