It is a credit to Southampton that with 8 games remaining in the season they are still only 6 points off a potential Champions League spot. Immediately blocking their path is a trip Goodison Park against an, almost resurgent, Everton side. In their last 2 fixtures Everton managed to pick up 2 victories, the first time they have achieved a run of 2 consecutive League wins since October. Southampton’s recent wins over Burnley and Crystal Palace, as well as the 1-1 draw against league leaders Chelsea, has held them in 6th spot only a point behind Liverpool in 5th. Roberto Martinez’s side have managed to distance themselves from the relegation scrap they so nearly got themselves embroiled in, with 8 games remaining and only 8 points separating the Toffees from West Ham in 9th, a top half finish isn’t totally out of the question. There is no doubt that will be an aim of Martinez in order to help pour as much glitter as possible over what has been a poor season for the blue half of Merseyside. Ronald Koeman’s side have shown throughout the season they will not be separated too far from the rest of the pack in the hunt Champions League football, a win away to Everton would be invaluable considering that Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City will be facing each other this week with at least 2 of them guaranteed to drop points this weekend. It was Everton who were in Southampton’s position this time last season, you can expect the Toffees will want to spoil the Saints’ chances as theirs were eventually last season.
Everton fans will be biting their nails heading into the weekend with several first team players all nursing injuries. Both Tony Hibbert and Bryan Oviedo are set to miss the visit of Southampton, respectively out for 1 week and 2 weeks each. The rest of Everton’s physio room is filled with players who could return in time for the Saturday game: Lukaku, Baines, Gibson, Kone, Pienaar and Mirallas are all noted as 2 days away from recovery. It may be unlikely that all of these players return to the starting line-up. The hope for Everton will be that stalwart Leighton Baines and first choice striker Romelu Lukaku are able to start against the Saints.
Southampton still suffer the long term losses of Mayuka and Jay Rodriguez. The biggest blow heading into the match is loss of first choice stopper Fraser Forster. The former Celtic keeper is set to miss the remainder of the season and beyond after suffering a severe injury to his knee in his last outing for Southampton. Veteran stopper Kelvin Davis showed his worth pulling off some stunning saves in the Burnley game after replacing Forster, Southampton will be hoping those types of performances will be the norm from now on in. Another potential loss that would hurt the Saints is Steven Davis, although representing his country over the international break is listed as injured for Southampton with no return date set. After his outings for his national side it would seem Davis will be capable of some level of performance against Everton on Saturday.
- Last time the 2 sides met at Goodison, Everton won 2-1 courtesy of goals from Lukaku and Coleman cancelling out Gaston Ramirez’s equaliser back in December 2013.
- Everton have not scored against Southampton since the last time they met at Goodison Park.
- Southampton have won the last 2 meetings at St Mary’s (2-0 and 3-0) since the two sides met at Goodison.
- Southampton have only managed 5 victories at Goodison in their history
- The last time Southampton won away to Everton was in November 1997, they won 2-0.
- Everton haven’t even dropped points at home to Southampton since October 2003 in a 0-0 draw with the Saints.
Everton: Ross Barkley
For a lot of critics this has been a disappointing season for Ross Barkley. It shows how high Barkley has set the bar, in terms of his performances, when a 21 year old’s season is held up to such scrutiny. After impressing off the bench for England twice over the break you can expect that Barkley will be looking to march on in the run in with Everton to help make something of his club’s disappointing year. At 21 Barkley can’t be expected to do it all, and Everton’s performances in general have been disappointing across the board this season. It can’t be easy for a young star to flourish when the rest of squad is struggling, especially when you missed the first 7 games of the season and came into the season after a mediocre tone had been set. Ross Barkley has shown the brilliance he is capable of wielding at such a young age, he will come good and potentially become England’s best product in recent history should he reach his potential. That ability can change a match and a game like this is where Barkley could announce himself to his doubters. A defining performance against a high-flying outfit like Southampton will not only boost his confidence but his club and their fans’ confidence for the run in.
Southampton: Morgan Schneiderlin
Morgan Schneiderlin’s stats for Southampton this season have been impressive. The Frenchman was expected to be part of the clubs’ exodus last summer, but seemingly against his wishes Southampton retained his services for another season. In that time his stock has only continued to grow. Schneiderlin regularly bosses the midfield no matter his opposition. His pass accuracy, his tackling, and his interceptions all contribute to a stellar midfielder that is rightly being courted by the league’s top clubs. Four of Southampton’s 9 defeats so far this season have occurred when Schneiderlin isn’t in their midfield influencing the game. With 3 goals to his name as well, the holding midfielder contributes from all angles. With Everton’s midfield being generally robust in their approach, Schneiderlin is exactly the man Koeman will look to in order to establish Southampton’s dominance on the game and you should have no trouble believing that it is what Morgan Schneiderlin is more than capable of doing
Arguably, the international break couldn’t have come at worst time for Everton since they had managed consecutive league wins for the first time since October before the break. With 7 points from their last 6 though, Everton have only managed a point less than their opponents Southampton, who have picked up 8 in their last 6, including an impressive 1-1 draw with Chelsea. At this stage of the season Southampton have a lot more to lose than Everton. The Toffees’ season has already been a disaster in comparison to their first season under Martinez but they have managed to steer away from the relegation zone (for now). Southampton on the other hand are still in with a shout of breaking into the top four, and sit only one point off Liverpool above them. Southampton have proven repeatedly they are capable fo handling the pressure of such a high-flying season, that’s why they are still in the hunt. Everton though can now play with a bit more freedom and still could sneak a top half finish if they go on an impressive run. I can’t see Southampton getting beat this weekend, but I’d expect Everton have put their worst behind them and are capable of making Goodison a more than uncomfortable visit for the Saints.