Two of this season’s brightest teams face off against each other this weekend with Southampton making the trip to Everton on the last day of Premier League action in 2013.
Everton’s defeat to Sunderland marked the end of their unbeaten home record in the league during 2013 and meant they missed the opportunity to leapfrog rivals Liverpool into 4th place. Despite going down to 10 men, Everton still managed to dominate the game against Sunderland and only an inspired performance by Mannone prevented the Toffees from picking up any points.
Southampton ended their bad run of form of no wins in 6 games – that coincided with the injury suffered by Boruc – with a comprehensive victory over Cardiff on Boxing Day. Their bad form had seen them drop to 9th place and with 5 of the 6 matches against teams higher than them in the league a slump was inevitable when injuries have occurred to key players.
Southampton’s previously sturdy defence has taken a hit since Artur Boruc was injured and they have conceded 8 goals in the following 5 matches with Gazzaniga only making 6 saves in that time. Lukaku, despite failing to score in six games, has the physicality to cause the opposition defence problems and this is a better game for him to take advantage of a back-up keeper who is not up to the quality of the Premier League.
The importance of preventing Everton dominating and dictating possession is crucial and Schneiderlin has been the person to take on this task in recent years for Southampton.
This season Schneiderlin has completed the most tackles for Southampton (45) alongside 32 interceptions which he is likely to add to as the defensive shield against Everton’s central threading passes. The French midfielder also has an impressive passing accuracy of 87% to provide a platform for Southampton’s in-form England players Lallana and Rodriguez.
Gareth Barry and Tim Howard will be unavailable with both serving suspensions and Joel Robles will come in to start his first league game for Everton. Baines may also return to the squad after recovering from a broken toe he suffered against Liverpool last month.
Defender Dejan Lovren could feature for Southampton after missing the win at Cardiff due to illness. Also in contention for a return are Nathaniel Clyne and Dani Osvaldo, but Artur Boruc and Victor Wanyama remain unavailable.
Despite their defeat on Boxing Day, Everton have still lost the fewest games this season (2).
The Merseyside club also have the best defence in the league (17) just ahead of their opponents Southampton (18).
Southampton have only ever won once in 14 attempts at Goodison Park in the Premier League era.
With both teams liking to press high up the pitch and play possession football this could affect the quality of the game as it gets bogged down in midfield. The game will become more open as the game progresses, as both teams look for all 3 points. Everton will come out on top of this.