A journey down South to the St Mary’s didn’t seem a bad prospect for Evertonians early on in the season, having already beaten them (quite comfortably) at Goodison and also containing a decent record against Mark Hughes teams. However, the appointed of Ralph Hasenhuttl is already looking like the best move the Saints could’ve taken at the time, 3 of their 4 wins this season have come under his management – even though he’s been there just over a month. Add that to Everton’s inconsistent form recently and losing four times out of five at Southampton, it looks much more challenging for The Toffees to pick up a result.
Silva’s men are currently performing far from the quality produced at the start of the season. Just two wins since the end of November, and even they were against Burnley and Bournemouth. Beating the Cherries was a relief, but even during that game, Everton produced very little quality in possession. A change in the system is required and the sooner the better, personally I don’t think Marco Silva will rotate certain players round and into a more suitable system (I’ll explain which I think would be best later).
Meanwhile, Southampton are performing much better than what was seen under Hughes, impressively beating Leicester away from home on their last matchday. They also gained a point at Stamford Bridge and beat Arsenal in just Hasenhuttl’s second game as manager.
So how has Hasenhuttl turned the ship?
Firstly, Southampton are converting a lot more opportunities than what they were. It’s worth mentioning that a majority of clubs who are around the relegation zone underperform in terms of Expected Goals, but Southampton were over 7 goals away from what they should’ve been scoring! Now the difference between xG and Actual Goals going in are much closer together.
The Saints have had a tough run of games as well, scoring goals against Arsenal, Leicester, West Ham and even netting against Manchester City. They’re starting to convert these chances much more than earlier on in the season.
Hasenhuttl’s has changed their starting formation quite frequently, but in most games, the Southampton team are set up in a 3421 system. Not only does this make your team compact and close together, but it also makes it difficult for the opposition to make runs without being surrounded by defenders.
Away to Leicester, they held their shape rather well, whilst still on the ball carrier and marking the space around them. Off the ball, Stuart Armstrong will drop back next to Romeu and Ward-Prowse, making a 3-man midfield in front of a 3-man defence. The Foxes were forced to make constant sideways and backwards passes to retain the ball, and only accessing the area if they were to cross the ball. Jamie Vardy was completely marked out the game, only making 14 touches in 90 minutes.
In possession, Southampton attempt to pump long balls up the pitch and behind the defensive lines. This is not only just to set a higher line, but to form a counter press when the long ball breaks down. They target the ball carrier and surround players around the man in possession to cover passing lanes. When the frontline is broken with a forward pass, Southampton players around will swarm on that man receiving the ball, creating a pressing trap and making it difficult for the ball carrier to offload.
Collapsing and counter-pressing are key parts in their attacking play, something Hasenhuttl used consistently at Leipzig. It allows them to win possession far forward up the pitch and create chances without the opposition in their defensive structure. Both Shane Long and Nathan Redmond have a good amount of pace, both are perfectly capable of running a lot of ground and making ball recoveries.
Here is a great example, Ben Chilwell is baited into running with the ball after Schmeichel’s pass, with Yan Valery pressing him, Nathan Redmond dropping back from a forward position and eventually Oriol Romeu is the man to win back possession.
If Southampton have done their homework, then pressing both Idrissa Gueye and Andre Gomes would be their way to success. Gueye struggles immensely to progress the ball forward, whilst if Gomes is pressed, you instantly eliminate Sigurdsson from the picture. This is where I believe Marco Silva needs to add another midfielder next to Gueye and Gomes, that player can relieve constant pressure on our midfielders by being another passing option. Away at Southampton, they know who to press, so give that player support in the middle.
I’d want to watch Everton play in a 433, not only has it got the best out of our attack over the last few years, but it is a formation that Silva and Marcel Brands are very experienced in. My bold rotation would be to put in Tom Davies in a 3-man midfield (he performs a lot better in 3-man formations than 2) and start Sigurdsson upfront.
Davies is very capable of passing the ball forwards and finding players in front of him. Not only that but you take away his defensive responsibilities and let him be the attacking link with Lookman or Bernard on the right. Where Sigurdsson is going wrong is that he doesn’t get the ball enough and very quickly fades out of the game. On so many average position maps, he is virtually next to our striker or the furthest man forward. So why not give him the chance upfront against Southampton?
Here is Sigurdsson’s shot map from his confusing secondary striker/creative midfielder role. As you can see a lot of chances he has are inside of the penalty area and he has a very good xG – which is the highest in the Everton squad. He shoots very much like a striker and his role is to move forward already. I think it’ll be a fresh rotation for Everton, a front three of Richarlison, Sigurdsson and Lookman would be well fed and capable to target the half-space.
It’s worth mentioning that Southampton concede a lot of passes in their own attacking third, creating space and pulling markers out of position will be crucial in making progress forward. Leicester made 197 out of 257 passes successful in Southampton’s final third, mostly targeting full-back hot spots. Instead of hopelessly crossing the ball into the area like we usually do, making forward runs and having players that can pick out passes will be an important asset against this Saints defence.
To conclude, Saturday’s match is an important game for both teams, the hosts will be looking to increase their good form and continue to move further away from the drop zone. The Toffees need to be gaining some momentum back, as well as a fresh change across the squad. Everton can easily slip away from the European spaces within the next couple of matches. Can Everton reverse the stigma on their travels to St Marys?
Stats via understat.com, @footballfactman and @StatsZone
Up the Toffees!