Southampton begin their 2021/22 Premier League campaign with a visit to Goodison Park to face Rafa Benitez’s Everton.
Both sides are going through a period of relative upheaval, with Saints dealing with the sudden departure of talisman Danny Ings and defensive giant Jannik Vestergaard whilst Everton face up to life after Carlo Ancelotti.
Goodison hasn’t always been the happiest of hunting grounds for Southampton but with murmurings of discontent amongst Everton fans and a sense of frustration with the appointment of former Liverpool boss Benitez, there may not be a better opportunity for Ralph Hasenhuttl to secure a rare opening day win.
Everton were underwhelming during their chastening 4-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford last Saturday but Toffees fans will point to the absence of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison as key factor in the margin of the defeat. The attacking duo remain doubts for Southampton’s visit; Richarlison seems unlikely to be risked following his Olympic exploits last week, whilst Calvert-Lewin still has the niggle which affected his pre-season.
Southampton will be looking for a strong Premier League start against Everton
It was evident to all of those present at Old Trafford that this is an Everton team lacking in confidence and it was noticeable that certain players did not look interested. A prime example of this was the mercurial talent James Rodriguez, who has made no secret of his frustration that mentor Ancelotti has now departed Merseyside. The Colombian playmaker looked reluctant to engage in a midfield battle with a motivated United side including the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Nemanja Matic.
Although Everton were able to field a strong back four comprising of Keane, Coleman, Digne and Godfrey, there were several moments where United were able to capitalise on poor communication within the defence. The returning Jordan Pickford also endured a torrid afternoon, partly at fault for the first and looked shaky throughout. Despite his impressive form for the national side, opposition sides will feel that Pickford always has a mistake in him – this may well encourage Southampton to take some early shots to catch the England keeper out.
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Southampton prevailed in the home fixture at St Mary’s in 2020, courtesy of goals from Ward-Prowse and Che Adams, whilst the Blues ran out 1-0 winners at Goodison in March 2021. If Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin return for the match on Saturday, Southampton will know they are in for a tough test but there will be hope that an unsettled Everton defence, characteristic of a team in transition, could offer opportunities.
Everton set up in the final pre-season friendly in a 4-2-1-3 formation with Allan and Doucoure sat in front of the back four. James was afforded a free roaming role behind a front free three of new signing Demarai Gray, a disappointing Alex Iwobi and former Tottenham and Palace winger Andros Townsend. It will be important for Saints to find pockets of space between the holding duo and what was at times a static pairing of Godfrey and Keane. Benitez may look to Jerry Mina to offer experience to combat the threat posed by Adams, Armstrong and Walcott.
Southampton have sought to bolster their attacking options following Danny Ings’ £30m move to Aston Villa last week. Armando Broja, the young 19 year old Chelsea striker, has been brought in on loan to offer a different option with his height and hold up play, whilst Adam Armstrong will be keen to show his merits in top flight following a prolific season in the Championship with Blackburn Rovers.
Although Saints have had a mixed pre-season, they will be optimistic that their new signings, including young talent Tino Livramento, will offer more options and depth than last season. Despite the vultures circling the likes of Jannik Vestergaard and James Ward-Prowse, the Southampton boss Hasenhuttl will remain optimistic that there be no further uprooting of a squad which briefly topped the table last November.
There have been some bright spots in the pre-season fixtures, with Salisu looking promising and Romeu looking back to his combative best. Promisingly, the versatile Livramento looked particularly lively in his second half cameo against Bilbao, whilst squad players including Stephens, Walcott and Redmond have all looked keen to stake their claim.
Most Saints fans will be desperate for Hasenhuttl to pick a keeper to stick with for the new season rather than the constant chopping and changing witnessed at the back end of last season. Forster seems the likelier choice given recent form but which ever player claims the number one slot, it is important they are given an extended run in the team so they can gel with the defence and holding players.
Both teams will be keen to get points on the board in what threatens to be one of the most open and competitive seasons in years. If both teams play to their potential, this could be a tight game but with Everton always tough to beat at Goodison, a draw would probably represent a positive result for Ralph Hasenhuttl.
Likely Saints team
Forster, Perraud, Salisu, Bednarek, Walker-Peters, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, S. Armstrong, Tella, A. Armstrong, Adams
As a 3pm kick-off, this match will not be shown live on UK television. Highlights will be shown by on the Sky Sports app and online, whilst the BBC will also show the best bits from the game on Match of the Day.
In the US, this match will be shown live on NBCSN.