Everton manager Frank Lampard rewarded the team that had hammered Leeds United so impressively at Goodison Park a week earlier by naming an unchanged side for the trip to St. Mary’s on Saturday. This was a demonstration of faith in players that had performed so admirably, primarily squad members whose places in the starting eleven are not guaranteed. Retaining a winning team can be good for morale, as it rewards performance and also fosters competition within the squad, but it unquestionably failed at the weekend. Lampard is only a few weeks into the job and is still gaining familiarity with his players: who looks brilliant in training, but can’t bring that to a live game, who is inconsistent and unreliable and those who need the support of a home crowd. Defeat at St. James’ Park a week prior to the Southampton match and the setback on Saturday provide valuable learning opportunities for the new manager.
Jonjoe Kenny excelled as a stand-in left back against Leeds, but not this time around. He lost all his aerial duels, was dribbled past twice and was unable to pressure opponents effectively, occasionally finding himself out of position, as he was for Southampton’s opening goal, which an unmarked Stuart Armstrong dispatched easily. He struggled with positioning, often being too deep and offered little going forward; the home team would have been happy to see him second for Everton with 57 touches. With a true left back now available for selection, in Vitalii Mykolenko, the former academy product needs to be utilized strictly as a backup option.
Alex Iwobi, whilst far from the worst performer on Saturday, could not duplicate what was arguably a man-of-the-match effort the previous weekend. Offensively, he managed one key pass, although his passing accuracy of 60% was not impressive. Defensively, whilst not quite as active as against Leeds, he was still leading the team in pressing attempts when surprisingly substituted in the 65th minute. He remains in contention as a useful member of the squad, though how often he merits a start will largely depend on what formation Lampard goes with in the following matches.
A Case against the Defence
Much has been made of Everton’s midfield problems on the south coast on Saturday but - whilst that is undeniably an issue - the team’s defence is the bigger problem. Lampard wants his side to be on the front foot, being progressive with the ball and playing in the opposition third. The Blues certainly attempted to put this plan into action as they dominated the first dozen minutes, before losing their way in stages throughout the first half. Again, they tried to reassert control after the restart, only to become derailed after Armstrong fired home for the Saints in the 52nd minute. The team did continue to try to play through the thirds sporadically for the remainder of the game, though clearly not to Lampard’s satisfaction, going off his post-match criticism.
The midfield showed for the ball, but all too often the defenders proved unable to hit the kind of snappy passes into feet that this style of play demands. Ignoring clearances, more than half of Mason Holgate’s attempted passes were hit long; in the first half he made only a single accurate short-range progressive pass - and that was on the right flank. In the second period the central defender improved his accuracy, although few passes were played into midfield. Michael Keane appeared to be sticking more to the game plan than his defensive partner, hitting almost all of his passes along the turf and over shorter distances. However, a number of his balls, particularly in the second period, were not accurate enough to be easily controlled. His pass into Andre Gomes, which lead to the opening goal, was imprecise, forcing the Portuguese to reach a little, take a touch and then cough up the ball under pressure.
Southampton targeted Everton’s right side throughout the game, particularly so in the first half and as a result Seamus Coleman came under heavy pressure. Defensively, he posted the highest numbers in the team, with a combined ten tackles and interceptions. The Irishman was, however badly beaten in the air for Shane Long’s goal, which effectively put the game beyond Everton. The full back also posted the lowest passing success from the back four. It remains to be seen what new recruit Nathan Patterson can offer, but the feeling is that he should be at least spelling Coleman at this stage of the veteran’s career.
Two of Everton’s central midfielders - Allan and Gomes - had games to forget, one in each half as it happens. The Brazilian seemed to be having an off-night, giving the ball away with sloppy short passes on a few occasions and lunging in with ill-timed challenges, the first of which earned the industrious midfielder a yellow card after only 15 minutes. The way things were going for the usually reliable ex-Napoli man, Lampard’s decision to substitute him off for Gomes at half time seemed a sensible precaution. If Allan was having an erratic game, then what was going on in the Portuguese’s head is anyone’s guess. The central midfielder had barely gotten going when Keane put him under pressure with an ill-advised ball, leading to him being dispossessed and seconds later the ball was in the back of Everton’s net. The error appeared to shake the player’s confidence and though he tried to play through it his short-range passing game was woeful thereafter. His pressing was effective, but the five fouls he gave away in only a single half of action hurt the Blues’ rhythm.
If the midfield lacked control, then in forward areas the Toffees were arguably worse. After making a bright start to the match, Everton’s attackers gradually degraded in performance. The visitor’s attacking play was generally decent up until Southampton’s 18-yard box, where things broke down for a variety of reasons. Few passes were attempted into the opposition area and only six were completed all game, as the Blues failed to penetrate an organized defence. Generally neat build-up play from Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Anthony Gordon over the first 35 minutes dropped off alarmingly towards the end of the half. The erratic play continued after the restart: from the 62nd minutes onwards, the three players connected on a pitiful six of 16 attempted passes, none within 30 yards of the Southampton goal. Gordon, a bright spark in recent weeks, had a game to forget, finishing with a team-low 50% passing accuracy and missing the target on five of his six attempts in the second period, until being withdrawn in the 75th minute.
Terrible hold-up play in attacking areas caused the Blues major problems, leading to Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side creating most of their scoring opportunities during transition. Poor first touches from Calvert-Lewin and Gordon (ten between them), combined with Richarlison, Iwobi and Andros Townsend being muscled off the ball on many occasions, saw the home side breaking into space at a retreating Everton defence. Kyle Walker-Peters alone carried the ball over 300 yards towards the opposition goal (more than half the visitor’s outfield team total) and the Toffee racking up most yards by progressive carry (Gordon) lagged behind no fewer than eight of the home side. Whereas it is true that Southampton’s forwards lost the ball as often as Lampard’s men, their midfield were far superior in screening the defence. Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse blocked five passes between them and combined for 12 tackles and interceptions. They pressed selectively, but were effective when they did so (50% and 61.5% respectively). By contrast, only Donny van de Beek offered anything from a defensive standpoint, the Dutchman managing seven tackles and clearances but none of he, Allan or Gomes pressed with any great success.
Lampard will have to impress upon his forwards the need to make better decisions in possession.