After last weekends opening fixture against Watford at Goodison Park, Everton now travel to St Mary’s on Saturday looking for their first victory of the new season. Any hopes of a positive winning start quickly evaporated at the Old Lady on Saturday afternoon and were replaced with negativity and in truth, at times, a toxic atmosphere the like of which we saw all too often last season. The natives are getting restless after a summer of transfer inactivity and extremely worrying signs that lessons have not been learnt at all from the problems that so plagued the teams performances last season. The game against Southampton now takes on even more significance, especially with a fixture list looming that would make even the most optimistic blue shudder with anxiety.
As Everton’s Premier League rivals spend money with continued regularity the only real transfer speculation Evertonians are fed on surrounds the future of the extremely talented John Stones. Constant newspaper journalists and national and local radio stations seem intent on selling the future England captain on Everton’s behalf, most notably to Chelsea. Even despite the fact Roberto Martinez has continually stated he is not for sale. Again on Thursday morning he repeated his stance adding that his decision was final. All this speculation though seems to have had the desired affect with Martinez admitting Stones has been affected. But although he was at fault for one of Watford’s goals last weekend it didn’t appear to show in his overall performance.
Everton have this week once again been linked with moves for last season’s loan star Aaron Lennon and Manchester United centre half Johnny Evans, with both players reportedly close to signing for the blues. And on Thursday afternoon the club confirmed the signing of eighteen year old centre half Mason Holgate from Barnsley for a reported one million pounds. Martinez though has said he will go straight in to the under twenty ones squad to continue his development rather than join the seniors this season. But after Xherdan Shaqiri signed for Stoke City to add to the ever growing list of players the national media insist we have missed out on this summer these are not the big name stars Evertonians were hoping would be added to a squad in real need of a major lift.
With the transfer deadline edging ever closer Everton and in particular Roberto Martinez have to act swiftly otherwise you get the impression both will feel the wrath of disgruntled supporters in the coming weeks. With fan groups calling open meetings before a ball had even been kicked on Saturday and special programmes regarding the state of Everton’s finances being aired on a national sports station last Monday evening, the one thing Gareth Barry has asked Evertonians for this week, namely patience, is seemingly in short supply. The sooner Everton get a win then to ease some of the growing pressure the better. Saturdays game has all of a sudden became a really big one and all eyes will be on Roberto Martinez and the final result.
What makes Saturdays game all the more difficult is the opposition we will face. Ronald Koeman’s Southampton are a tough proposition and Everton’s record at St Mary’s is dreadful. The Dutchmans’ side dismantled Sunderland at St Mary’s last season running out eight nil victors. Admittedly the opposition was poor but the scoreline was still hugely impressive. The Saints are brimming with talented players and appear to be a club with ambition. At first glance that comment may be questioned after all this is the club that have sold on some major talent over the years. The likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, and Callum Chambers have all been prized away by bigger clubs and more handsome wage packets. But they have excelled in bringing top class talent through the ranks over the years and in the Staplewood training ground they now boast a multi million pound state of the art facility on the edge of the New Forest which they will continue to use to try and unearth the next group of talented youngsters to integrate in to their already impressive squad.
Again this season big stars like Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathanial Clyne and Toby Alderweireld have moved to pastures new, although the latter was only on loan at St Mary’s last season. But when Southampton lose their better players they more often than not recruit more than able replacements. Their recruitment policy is top class. Last season Dusan Tadic , Graziano Pelle, Frazer Forster and Toby Alderweireld all signed up and this season Jordie Clasie and Cedric Soares amongst others have joined the reveloution. The Saints finished seventh last term following on from an eighth place finish the previous season. The big test will come this season with their likely participation in the Europa League. Evertonians know only too well what affect that competition can have on a clubs Premier League campaign. But you get the impression Southampton will give both competitions everything they’ve got this season. And in Ronald Koeman they have a fiercely ambitious and talented manager who if they can prevent from walking the same path as his predecessor, Mauricio Pochettino, could well go on to build something that could last for years.
Both clubs secured 2-2 draws on the opening day of the season and will be looking to build on that on Saturday. Arouna Kone’s late goal at Goodison will hopefully have given him the confidence to go on from here and finally try to build some momentum. Everton looked a lot more threatening with two up top towards the end of last weekends game and many believe it is the way forward for this team, but the important question is does Roberto Martinez? With no new striker yet to be added, Kone could well be given the nod to start alongside Lukaku. Although it is unlikely given that Martinez does tend to prefer the one up top especially away from home. Everton’s record at St Mary’s is poor to say the least and last seasons three nil humbling is still fresh in the memory, so a different approach maybe what is needed this time around. It would leave us more open in midfield but we need a victory and in order to get it we will have to be bold. The build up play is still far too slow and pedestrian and much more urgency is required in our play if three points are to be gained here. In truth it appears a tall order.
Leighton Baines could be out of action for up to twelve weeks after he was injured in training. Kevin Mirallas though is expected to be fit after suffering an ankle injury due to the horror tackle by Watford’s Valon Behrami. Gerard Deulofeu, Muhamed Besic and Aiden McGeady could all be welcomed back to the matchday squad. Southampton will be without Frazer Forster for eight months with a knee injury. He is joined on the treatment table by Bertrand, Gardos and Ramirez. Jordie Classie played in an under twenty one game against Manchester City on Monday night after being out with a hamstring injury but has since suffered a relapse and will have to wait to make his debut. Steven Caulker will also miss out.
Barring more injuries the team line up will depend on how Martinez wants to play this one. Will we see a return to the bold tactics that served him so well in his first season or will he stick to the cautious two defensive midfielders that seems to slow our play down so much? I suspect the latter.
Predicted team. 1.Howard 2. Coleman 3. Galloway 4. Jagielka 5. Stones 6.Barry 7. Mirallas 8.McCarthy 9.Lukaku 10.Barkley 11.Cleverley.
Last three. Everton 1 Southampton 0. Southampton 3 Everton 0. Southampton 2 Everton 0.