Ronald Koeman returns to St. Mary’s for the first time since his departure to Everton earlier this year, with Frenchman Claude Puel taking his place in the home dug out on the south coast. The warmth of his reception in Hampshire may be in doubt, but what is not in doubt is the fact that this fixture represents a tough match up for both sides, and fans of both Southampton and Everton may well use this game as a yardstick to see the progression under their new managers. Historically Everton have Southampton’s number in this fixture, winning this encounter a total of 46 times to Southampton’s 27. This is mirrored in more recent ties, with the Saints winless against the Toffees since December 2014 when a 3-0 victory with goals from Graziano Pelle, a Lukaku own goal and a rare Maya Yoshida effort, gave Southampton fans an early Christmas present. However, now is as good a time as any for the St. Mary’s side to end their relative hoodoo against the blue half of Liverpool, as despite the Evertonians looking down on Southampton in the league table (7th to 11th), they are on a poor run of just one win in seven league games.
Southampton made life more difficult for themselves than it ought to be in their Europa League campaign with a loss to Sparta Prague, meaning they are unable to top the Group and receive an ‘easier’ tie in the knockout stages. That said, qualification should be a near formality with a home tie against Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva their final fixture (although let it be noted Sheva are level on points with the Saints and have done the ‘double’ over Inter Milan). An EFL Cup quarter final match against Arsenal waits after Sunday’s showdown with the Toffees, and it is likely Puel will have one eye on that clash as it represents a very real chance of major silverware for the Saints. In the league Southampton are muddling along okay. A slow start has quickened, but there have been a few blips – a loss at Hull City immediately springing to mind.
Everton, as alluded to above, are not enjoying the richest vein of form, having won just one in the league since defeated Middlesbrough in mid-September. Defeats to Burnley, Bournemouth and a thumping at the hands of Chelsea have not made Ronald Koeman’s task any easier. That said, as we near the Christmas period, Everton miss out on 5th place only on goal difference. With fixtures against Manchester United and Liverpool (both at home) and a trip to the Emirates Stadium pencilled in all before Christmas, Everton will surely eye this fixture against Southampton as one to get three points to build momentum going into a tough December.
Predicted line ups
Southampton predicted starting XI:
Everton predicted starting XI:
Injuries and suspensions
Jose Fonte and Dusan Tadic will be assessed ahead of this one, as the pair missed the trip to Prague with respective nose and foot injuries. Matt Targett may be another absentee with a hamstring issue.
Everton welcome back Gareth Barry from suspension, as they have no fresh injury concerns.
It will be interesting to see the sort of reception Koeman gets on a cold Sunday afternoon in November on the Solent, but that aside this game could go one of two ways. Either it’ll be a case of two good sides cancelling each other out, or one side will take the initiative and impose themselves on the game to make a statement. In this writer’s opinion, expect the former.
Our prediction: Southampton 1-1 Everton
Featured image: All rights reserved by Rory Llowarch