Everton need to win like something serious, while Southampton will hope to build off of their shock upset of Manchester City midweek in the League Cup; a Blues loss could set Frank Lampard up for a very Rafa Benitez-esque final match in charge, while a win would provide some cushion for a bunch of Toffees who desperately wish to be as far away from relegation territory as humanly possible.
Prior to Saturday’s game, we spoke to Jake Hughes, of the now defunct SB Nation 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?
The atmosphere around St Mary’s, and the fanbase in general, has been downbeat and at times toxic since the time shortly before former manager Ralph Hasenhuttl’s departure from Southampton. Said atmosphere has gotten even worse since, however, with new head coach Nathan Jones rubbing fans up the wrong way with his comments in the press and a style of football that has been naive and rather negative so far.
That was until Saints somehow beat Manchester City in the Carabao Cup this week. Southampton played the Premier League champions off the park. I am still confused by how well Saints played on Wednesday night, as are many other Southampton fans. I just hope we can retain a similar level of performance for our upcoming league games, because every league game under Jones so far has been, frankly, terrible.
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?
It’s true. We have a new ownership group and they did try to plug the many gaps in this Southampton team that had precisely zero investment for the previous five-or-so seasons.
However, many of those signings were young, talented, but inexperienced, players. We have a couple of gems in Romeo Lavia and Samuel Edozie - both signed from City - but it’s wrong to rely on teenagers in a relegation dog fight.
There was definitely a position missed in the summer transfer window. Southampton have needed an out-and-out goalscoring striker ever since Danny Ings was sold to Aston Villa. We were reportedly close to signing World Cup stars Cody Gakpo and Goncalo Ramos in the summer, but those deals fell through and we were left with the goal-shy striker duo of Che Adams and Adam Armstrong. Many Saints fans are hoping we’ll finally sign a striker in what is already a busy January transfer window.
The fact that the January transfer window is a busy one suggests that we got our transfers wrong in the summer.
RBM: What kind of football do these Saints have to play match in and match out to be at their best?
This is a mystery, to be honest. Nathan Jones seems to favour a three-at-the back system which really doesn’t look like it suits our players, while Ralph Hasenhuttl even dropped his high pressing game towards the end of his tenure.
Southampton’s performance against City on Wednesday night was very much akin to seeing Saints at their best under Hasenhuttl, pressing up the pitch, forcing defensive errors, and taking those chances that arise from those opposition errors. In that game, Jones started with a four-man defence and Saints were playing on the front foot. He then reverted back to the defensive five at the back to protect our lead - maybe that’s the way Jones sees forward.
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?
The only consistent thing about Southampton is its inconsistency. In 2021-22, Saints played well up until March and the team’s good form just stopped. Couldn’t buy a win after that.
You’re right in your assessment that Saints always seems to play better against the so-called big sides, but rarely get the results they need against the teams around them in the league standings - and that’s regardless of the manager. It’s been the way since the days of Ronald Koeman managing Saints and that was almost a decade ago.
I don’t think Southampton will ever be a consistent (and a good kind of consistent) side with this squad and manager - but I hope the players and manager both find a way to start picking up results in the league when they really matter.
RBM: How do you expect Southampton to set up on Saturday, and which of Southampton’s players do you think might cause Everton issues?
As previously mentioned, I hope Jones approaches the game like he did against City midweek. Start with a more attack-minded back-four formation. If we’re fortunate to play as well as we did and have a lead, I could see him then shifting our patterns to defend that advantage to try and get three points.
That’s much easier said than done, though. It doesn’t matter how bad Everton are - we very, very rarely get anything from Goodison Park.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for the match on Saturday?
If a well-earned win over Manchester City doesn’t buoy your side to winning again in the next game, I don’t know what will. I’m going to be positive for a change and predict Southampton earning an away win at Goodison Park. 1-2 to the Saints.
Our thanks to Jake for his time.