SOUTHAMPTON — What we learned about Everton on Sunday at St Mary’s was that the early-season hype was perhaps a little misplaced. Their 2-0 defeat at Southampton showed up all of their problems in one error-strewn 90 minutes.
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When I first started this analysis post as I sat down in the stadium, the working title was ‘Can Everton challenge for the Premier League?’ but that quickly changed to ‘This is why Everton can’t challenge for the Premier League.’ Then, ‘What we learned about Everton’ as they still sit top of the table but put in an awful display, which may be a wake up call.
Against Southampton they showcased pretty much every reason why they will come up short in their push for the top six, let alone challenge for the title. Despite cries of ‘allez, allez’ from Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti on the sidelines, his side were stuck in neutral instead of going forward. I was sat behind the Everton bench and the exchanges were not pretty.
Here’s what we learned about Everton and their top four credentials at St Mary’s on Sunday.
Organization, defensive issues remain
Carlo Ancelotti and his coaching staff were barking out orders before set pieces came in early on and were clearly trying to focus their players. It didn’t work. With Southampton 2-0 up, Everton conceded a third (which was correctly ruled out for offside), but Ancelotti barked at Jordan Pickford for failing to come off his line. Pickford had a little go back.
A moment in the second half summed things up, as yet another Southampton counter attack ended with Michael Keane screaming ‘everybody f****** work back.’ It was a very disjointed, unorganized display. They couldn’t help out their full backs and their wide players just didn’t close the spaces down as Southampton’s high press, just like Liverpool’s last week, caught them out.
Long-time Everton chairman Bill Kenwright was sat just behind me and his groan of ‘ohhh, Blues’ said it all. Everton were very good early on and hit the crossbar and Alex Iwobi was causing problems. But as soon as Southampton targeted the Everton full backs, they couldn’t handle it. Clear defensive weaknesses remain as shouts of ‘hold the line, hold the line!’ from Pickford and Michael Keane didn’t work. Southampton should have won by many, many more.
Squad depth will be an issue
Despite spending big on key players this summer, it is clear that when a few injuries pop up, Everton will struggle with their squad depth. Seamus Coleman was out at right back and back-up right back Jonjoe Kenny was also out, so new signing, center back Ben Godfrey, was played out of position and had a tough time. The shape just never looked right.
Richarlison was replaced by Alex Iwobi and the Nigerian winger struggled to impact the game going forward and was caught out several teams defensively and was whipped off at half time. Everton’s 1-11 is good enough to compete at the top of the league but if they pick up one or two injuries the level drops off very quickly.
The same could be said of Liverpool in Jurgen Klopp’s first few seasons in charge and Ancelotti’s squad is now full of a strong starting lineup, then players who have been left over from previous managers and don’t quite fit the system. Ancelotti didn’t want to speak about adding new players in January to bolster his squad, but it is clear he will have to find more players who can slot seamlessly into his system.
Star names blow hot and cold
James Rodriguez won his battle to be fit but he didn’t do much else. A few flashy Hollywood balls aside, the Colombian had an off day, and so too did Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Without Richarlison, Everton’s forwards looked lost. Abdoualye Doucoure had an off day. Lucas Digne was sent off.
Every single one of Everton’s star men, who have been so good so far this season, were dominated by Saints’ combative midfield and attack. Late in the game, James stood on the sidelines having a chat with Carlo Ancelotti while the game was still going on summed it up. James was feeling his injury but struggled on. Everton have quality players but they all had off days at the same time.
Better days are ahead for Everton
This was one of those games where Everton were caught napping. They started well but after they didn’t break through with a goal, Southampton gained confidence and the Toffees never looked comfortable. There was a lot of finger-pointing and hands on the hips, not least from the manager Ancelotti. He remains confident they can challenge at the top end of the table this season.
“We don’t have to be too disappointed. We are still top of the table, which is an unbelievable achievement for us. We have to try to stay here,” Ancelotti said.
After their fast start to the season with four wins from their first five as they were unbeaten in eight games (their best start to a season since 1986-87, when they won the league) heading into this game, expectation levels were rising. Perhaps this was the reality check that Everton needed. Games like this happen. Players underperform. Injuries hit new-look teams harder than you would think.
Everton have shown enough so far that they can remain in the top six conversation and maybe even the top four. With perennial powers like Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United struggling early on and some in transition, their is still an opportunity for them to break up the big six.