Premier League Preview: Everton v. Southampton

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• Everton have failed to score in three of their last four games against Southampton.

• Saints’ last win at Goodison Park was a 2-0 victory in November 1997, when Matt Le Tissier and Kevin Davies both scored.

• Southampton have kept 14 clean sheets – more than any other top-flight team this term. (BBC Sport)

It’s been a disappointing 2014-15 league campaign for the Toffees, who were among the Premier League’s best when they didn’t also play in a major tournament abroad.

Everton finished at fifth-place a year ago to prompt their inclusion in the Europa’s League group stage, while Roberto Martinez witnessed his side make an admirable push in that competition, advancing to the final 16 before Dynamo Kiev provided the 6-4 on-aggregate knockout in March.

Winning two of their past seven league contests, Everton is hovering around the middle of the table in 13th place: one point above West Brom and eight points below 10th-place Stoke City.

On the other end, Southampton have cruised through a largely wonderful year and have surpassed expectations. That’s why manager Ronald Koeman is a strong favorite for PL coach of the year.

[Other PL previews: Manchester United v. Aston Villa | Arsenal v. Liverpool | Chelsea v. Stoke City]

At sixth in the league table, the Saints fell to West Brom in a 1-0 defeat at the end of February but have made up for that misfortune by remaining unbeaten in their past three games—a draw to Chelsea with victories over Crystal Palace and Burnley.

Though nicely positioned to slide into that fifth-place slot where Liverpool currently resides, Koeman knows the following 2015-16 campaign, if Europa League qualification occurs, will be demanding for his current roster, presenting one of the highest-quality back lines in England now.

Catch the full live game online on NBC Sports Live Extra at 10 a.m. ET this Saturday.

What they’re saying

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman on Everton’s inconsistent season (Saints official website): “It’s a tough test because I think Everton deserve a higher position on the table because I like the way they play football. I like the way how Roberto Martinez is doing his job…They have good individual qualities in the squad but it’s a difficult season for them. I think one of the reasons because they play Europa League on Thursday and the risk to have more players injured is there.”

Everton manager Roberto Martinez on Ross Barkley’s performance this year (Sky Sports): “Although he’s a young man, I think Ross is already used to dealing with extremes. When he plays well, he’s the best footballer England could have and when he has a bad game, it’s the end of the world….I think what is true that Ross Barkley has achieved an incredible level of maturity this season. He’s had to go through a period of difficulty the same way we have as a team.”

Match injuries/absences

Romelu Lukaku was recently ruled out of Belgium’s double-header after sustaining a  hamstring injury in the Toffees’ last league match against QPR, and his status will likely be revealed by game time.

Darron Gibson’s stomach strain will face proper judgement. Kevin Mirallas, sidelined following Everton’s Europa League loss to Dynamo Kiev, and Steven Pienaar, out since December with a knee problem, may see time on the pitch.

Southampton midfielder Steven Davis might sit out due to a groin ailment picked up on international duty with Northern Ireland, and netminder Kelvin Davis should take Fraser Forster’s spot, who is coping with a notable knee injury.

Prediction

Although Everton’s not in the thick of contention for a top-five spot, a first-class display from the Toffees could well result in three points, and I like their chances at Goodison Park enough. Everton 1-1 Southampton.