Southampton 2 – 0 Everton
As magical as Everton’s start to the season has been, there were always going to be setbacks and bumps in the road but as reality checks go, this one perhaps came sooner and more brutally than expected. With a first-choice XI as good as most teams when firing all on cylinders, Carlo Ancelotti’s side stormed to the top of the Premier League with four straight wins but if cracks had started to emerge in the derby last weekend, a wedge was driven into them on the south coast this afternoon.
Richarlison’s unnecessary sending off against Liverpool last week felt like it was going to be costly and, in combination with the loss to injury of Seamus Coleman and fitness concerns over James Rodriguez, that proved to be the case as the Toffees put in their worst performance since the final day of last season. In retrospect, that shouldn’t be surprising because Ancelotti was forced to turn to some of 2019-20’s under-performers and the lack of depth in quality of his squad was disconcertingly exposed on a chastening afternoon at St Mary’s.
It would be remiss not to point out at the outset that Southampton were excellent and, in many ways, were everything Everton have been up until now but patently weren’t today. Quicker, more energetic, more imaginative and more incisive, they were full value for the victory. A year ago today, seven of Saints’ 11 starters today they were crushed 9-0 on this ground by Leicester and it was only a few weeks ago that they lost 5-2 to Tottenham, so credit must go to Ralph Hasenhuttl for continuing to work with his players to engineer improvement.
However, Spurs’s victory was notable in that they ruthlessly exploited Hasenhuttl’s high line with the pace in transition of Son Hueng-Min, scoring three more goals than Everton managed shots on target today; with no Richarlison and with Southampton playing a far more intelligent game this time around, there simply weren’t the opportunities for the Toffees to do the same.
Instead, it was an examination of how weak this Everton team can be when the “second string” players like Alex Iwobi, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bernard simply aren’t able to step up and provide what their hosts’ midfield, all of them supposedly inferior players, offered, particularly in the first half.
Like Marco Silva before him, Ancelotti’s challenge with all three players is that they are best playing centrally behind the striker(s) and, as such, they are luxuries, particularly in a team that doesn’t really accommodate a “No 10”… and if it did, James Rodriguez would be the one to fill it.
True to his erratic form since joining from Arsenal, Iwobi endured a torrid 45 minutes and was rightly hooked at half-time by which time Everton were trailing 2-0 and had barely laid a glove on Southampton. The problem was that, also shoved out on the left flank, Bernard was only marginally better and it wasn’t until Anthony Gordon came on just short of the hour mark that some of that pace, direct running and unpredictability that Richarlison provides was injected into the side.
Unfortunately, any hope that Everton could retrieve something from the game vanished when Lucas Digne became the second recipient of a straight red card in the space of a week. The debate will run over whether it was accidental or a “dangerous” challenge worthy of a straight red card and a three-game ban — don’t hold your breath on the club’s appeal against the decision being successful given the narrative that has been playing out since the incident with Jordan Pickford and Virgil van Dijk — but the Frenchman was always risking contact and “taking a yellow for the team” by running so closely behind Kyle Water-Peters in the way he did.
With James then being forced to amble his way through the closing stages with a hamstring strain because Everton had no more substitutes available, it really was just a case of keeping the score down and getting back to Merseyside to regroup ahead of the trip to Newcastle next weekend.
In what frame of mind Everton will travel to the northeast will be down to Ancelotti’s motivational and inspirational powers because this defeat and the manner of it does raise questions over whether this team is as far along as we thought. When the increased competition was spurring those players who had lost their first-choice roles to operate at 100%, it felt as though the depth was there but the performances of Iwobi, Sigurdsson and even André Gomes last week will give the manager plenty to think about in the days ahead.
Southampton making a strong start to the game wasn’t unexpected. Coming off a stirring 3-3 draw at Chelsea, their tails would have been up but it quickly became apparent that Hasenhuttl’s men were moving the ball more effectively through the lines than Everton who were having trouble playing past the Saints’ press.
The Austrian manager had clearly done his homework, instructing his players to push through the gap behind James on the right to target Ben Godfrey who made a full debut to forget, struggling out of position at right back. It was down that avenue that Ryan Bertrand almost served up the opening goal after 11 minutes but Nathan Redmond scuffed a great chance wide and 12 minutes after that, Stuart Armstrong air-kicked another low cross from the same position.
In between Sigurdsson had come within inches of opening his Premier League account for the season with an almost brilliant strike from the corner of the box following a typically sublime Rodriguez pass but the shot bounced off the top of the crossbar. Little did they know it then but it was as close as the visitors would come to scoring on the day, although there was a case for a penalty when James got around Adams and the striker shoved him over the byline with no attempt to play the ball. (It makes you wonder how penalties are given for unintentional handballs and the like but not for obvious fouls like this.)
Back at the other end Oriel Romeu had space to test Pickford from distance but the England ‘keeper pushed his shot away but only a minute later, the hosts took the lead. This time, the attack came down the right and rather than be the goalscorer, Danny Ings became the provider with the first of two assists on the day following an admittedly clever piece of mis-direction from a throw-in.
James Ward-Prowse and Armstrong switched positions allowing the former to ghost away from Sigurdsson, flick the ball over Allan and collect a return pass from Ings before slamming a shot across Pickford and into the far corner.
Eight minutes later, Everton were 2-0 down and facing a mountain to climb if they were to keep their unbeaten start intact or even get back to winning ways. Che Adams found Ings down the left flank where he drove past Godfrey and flighted the ball to the back post and over the head of Sigurdsson as the only player in “sea foam green” in attendance. That left Adams time time to line up a shot that deflected off Sigurdsson and past the keeper from the angle.
Had Armstrong’s “goal” six minutes before half-time not been ruled out for offside, this would have been over as a humiliating contest by half-time but, as it was, Ancelotti had time to try and engineer a comeback with his changes. The way that Southampton were now set up — compact in defence of their two-goal advantage — made things that much harder for Bernard who often found himself boxed in by the touchline and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who wouldn’t end up registering a single shot on target all game, remained isolated.
There were occasional moments where Doucouré’s determination threatened to force a mistake which was why his withdrawal in favour of Fabian Delph in the 58th minute was a somewhat perplexing one. The French midfielder had provided the only box-to-box presence for Everton and with Allan looking out of sorts and less than 100% fit, it seemed like the Brazilian would have been the more obvious candidate to make way.
Gordon came on at the same time and the two new introductions looked as though they might give the Toffees a platform from which to mount a challenge over the final half hour but Digne’s dismissal 14 minutes later put paid that. The French fullback had already clipped Walker-Peters’s ankle as the Saints man pulled away from him but in attempting to chase him down, Digne caught his foot when planting his own down, stopping the run and prompting referee Kevin Friend to brandish a red card. Video Assistant Referee, Simon Hooper, didn’t disagree and Everton were forced to play the final 20-odd minutes a man down.
Thankfully, the scoreline remained the same, with only Jan Bednarek coming close to padding Southampton’s lead with a header that Pickford palmed over from a corner.
So, unless the Football Association elects to overturn Digne’s ban, it was another damaging afternoon for Everton and Ancelotti but not a catastrophic one if they can find focus on the training pitch this week and formulate a plan and team selection that could usher back in some of the free-flowing passing and movement that has under-pinned their strong start to the campaign.
The manager will, unfortunately, have learned who can be relied upon to come in and effect things and who failed to take their opportunity but an overall lack of quality options means that he will have to struggle through for the next couple of games until Richarlison, in particular, is available again.
The Brazilian offers so much in terms of work-rare, power and space-creation that he is always a massive miss but without him, the team needs to find other ways of playing. That didn’t happen today.
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Todays a reality check, and the test Soton, poised, was today, was sadly failed abjectly.
Defeat comes to every football team today, aside for the first 23 minutes and about the first 6 minutes of the second half, Everton werent seriously playing football with a purpose to win this game. Desire, etc, the same old today haunted the team, but the energy and guile wasnt there.
Today has proved the squad lacks the strength in depth and for me, theres no space for statues in any team, and in my view Siggy today, dire apart from a good shot and a few decent passes that continued the flow forward, went missing.
Id say also that Andres Gomes, as much as I want him to be the player, whose potential, we saw two years ago, I just dont see happening. Too slow and a couple of 60 yard under no pressure switching passes, doesnt warrant a place, in the starting line up.
These players in my view are a luxury you can only play in testimonial games, and I hope they prove me wrong.
Desire, fight, and game management and two self inflicted howlers sealed Evertons, first defeat this season. Jordan, also at times, was playing chicken, and got away with it.
More than ever this week, is massive but I’m looking forward to Newcastle. Another massive game, but sadly today, abject failure, and the pressure point game, effectively the team didnt turn up.
Is the teams set up, now sussed, Im not sure, but today Soton, picked us off, on the counter. One player doesnt make a team, but Richarlisons, role, it seems is gonna be tough to replace, as the work he does across the park, literally attack and defend from the back, cant be replaced by any player, in this Everton squad.
Today in my view no driving force and inspiration, it was like theres no command on the pitch, may be there was, but the verbal and visual grit needed to galvanise a team under the cosh, wasnt really there, in my view.
I seen Kean, and Digne, mix a few words, which showed some care, but Everton, were guilty of consistent standing off for the first two goals, and the game was always tough, to recover from at 2-0, down,
Still top of the league on GD, we didnt concede in the second half but a massive concern in that we didnt get a shot on goal in the second half.
A massive week at FF, and hopefully the players available, can put a shift in and get a good result at the Toon.
Still top, shit happens, like today, so we move on and bounce back next week, at The Toon.