Everton return to action after the international break with a long trip down to the south coast to take on Southampton.
International breaks are frustrating at the best of times, but they are even worse after a win. We can only hope the momentum gained from that victory over West Ham can be maintained at St Mary’s.
Then there is the fear of players picking up injuries while away with their countries - and low and behold Nathan Patterson rolls his ankle playing for Scotland against Ukraine.
Patterson was superb in the opening period of the season and looks every inch the long-awaited replacement for Seamus Coleman, so to see him being stretchered off was a crushing blow – especially as Everton already have a lengthy casualty list.
Thankfully Patterson does not require surgery and could be fit within four to five weeks, meaning he could feature before the break for the World Cup.
Speaking of the World Cup, the first mid-season break for a winter tournament is just seven weeks away.
Everton have eight league games in that time, plus an EFL Cup trip to Bournemouth. A packed schedule made a little calmer as the Toffees are not in Europe – something they could take advantage of when they take on the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham.
The Toffees were a little unlucky to only collect seven from their opening seven games, but despite some poor results there is a real sense that things are heading in the right direction and that, crucially, the supporters are fully on board for the ride.
With the squad now much more settled following the closing of the transfer window there’s no reason why they cannot target victories before the World Cup break, which could hopefully ensure a much more comfortable season to the one we endured last year.
Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl sat alongside Lampard in the ‘first-manager-to-be-sacked’ stakes before a ball was kicked after an awful end to last season that saw them lost nine of their final 12 games.
That the Austrian was not the first boss to go is in part down to some fairly hasty departures elsewhere, though there has also been some glimmers of hope for the Saints.
Their strategy of investing in youth is a calculated gamble but has paid off in places, not least with Armel Bella-Kotchap, who has earned a call-up to the Germany squad.
However, such a strategy also brings inconsistency so it is little surprise this season has brought a fine 2-1 win over Chelsea, but also delivered back-to-back 1-0 defeats at Wolves and Aston Villa. Another loss here would make it three straight defeats for the first time in four years and crank up the pressure still further.
They do however have a fine recent record against Everton at home, winning seven of the last nine meetings. Looking back there have been some pretty grim performances by Everton in those games, not least last season’s 2-0 defeat which was one of the worst games under Lampard.
Southampton 2-0 Everton, 19 February 2022
As mentioned, Everton were rancid at St Mary’s in February – though they will perhaps point to an early handball in the area that was not given, even by VAR. However, from then on they were poor, with second half goals form Stuart Armstrong and Shane Long securing the win for Saints.
Everton have been boosted by the news that Jordan Pickford is fit to return after a thigh injury, though Nathan Patterson is sidelined with that knee problem picked up on Scotland duty.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been training but Lampard is being careful with the striker’s fitness and may not risk him on the south coast.
Ben Godfrey, Mason Holgate, Yerry Mina and Andros Townsend are still out.
What they said
Everton boss Frank Lampard: “The improvement is because of the work we do on the training pitch and the consistency of that – and not anyone getting complacent because there’s a good feeling in the squad and we got a good result against West Ham. If we can back up that good result on Saturday, then it will show progress. That has to keep going game after game, week after week.
“This Premier League is so ruthless that if you step off, you will concede. It’s important we keep up that work.
“We need to get as many points as we can in the eight games we’ve got before the break for the World Cup. It is like a mini league.
“We went into an international break having beat West Ham, which gave us a good feeling. Mentally, I feel we’re in a good place.
“It’s exciting for us, to see how many points we can get in these eight games to get ourselves in a good position for when we start again.”
Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl: “Despite to create any odds for betting companies, I say no, I’m not under pressure. Not more than any day when I work with my team.
“I always say the biggest pressure on me is the pressure I put on myself. To do a good job every day, and deliver the best work, is the pressure I put on myself every day; it is enough.
“If you want to do a good job, the most pressure should come from yourself.”
Southampton has been a miserable hinting ground for Everton in recent years but they head south in a much better place than their opponents, despite sitting on the same number of points.
If Everton can start well the crowd may start to get nervy and make life even more difficult. That said, Everton have so often been welcoming opponents for struggling teams in recent years I would not rule out a morale-boosting win for the Saints.