Premier League | St Mary's | Sat 26 Apr | 12:45pm
Southampton’s campaign is more or less finished. Unlikely to overhaul the eight points that separate them and crisis club Manchester United (your correspondent never thought he’d write those words in his career), Newcastle don’t seem likely to pick up a result anytime this millennium, so won’t catch the Saints in the ‘race’ for eighth. Last weekend’s drab draw at Aston Villa served notice of a few tired minds and legs, as does a recent record of one win in five.
- Aston Villa 0-0 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 0-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Man City 4-1 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 4-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Spurs 3-2 So'ton (Prem)
- Everton 2-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Everton 2-3 Palace (Prem)
- S'land 0-1 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 3-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Fulham 1-3 Everton (Prem)
That said, it’s been an impressive second top-flight campaign on the south coast for Mauricio Pochettino’s men, despite the off-field doubt following Nicola Cortese’s mid-season departure. Few Premier League teams can claim to offer such verve and attractive football as this nascent group of players who continue to improve above all expectations. Underpinned by the consistent Jose Fonte and Dejan Lovren at centre-back – plus bright-young-thing Luke Shaw on the left – the Saints have a solid platform from which to let their attacking talent thrive.
Adam Lallana and the now-injured Jay Rodriguez have rightly received the majority of the plaudits, but Steven Davis has been quietly excellent since the turn of the year. Whether on the right of midfield, or from a more central position, the Ulsterman provides the dynamism and no little talent that Pochettino teams require most. With Rickie Lambert backing up another season of goalscoring, Saints fans have every reason to enjoy the final games of 2013/14.
For their Merseyside rivals, however, this is crunch time. Fresh from signalling the end of David Moyes’ Old Trafford reign, Everton must maintain the momentum to overturn Arsenal and secure the final Champions League spot. Eight wins from nine is a record that only Liverpool can match, and the Toffees' exciting brand of fluid football under Roberto Martinez should make this an entertaining contest.
Brilliant Belgians Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas have continued to prove why the Lowlanders are World Cup dark horses, while full-backs Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are among the league’s best attacking threats from deep. Then there’s Ross Barkley.
A 3-2 loss at home to Crystal Palace is only a temporary blip and this exciting squad has a real shot at bringing European football back to Goodison Park. And few could begrudge them that.
Sylvain Distin’s hamstring strain is likely to keep the hulking Frenchman out for the remainder of the season, along with Mirallas, but Phil Jagielka may be fit to return alongside John Stones at centre-back. Steven Pienaar, Lacina Traore, Bryan Oviedo, Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson remain long-term absentees.
Gaston Ramirez (ankle), Rodriguez, Maya Yoshida (both knee) and Kelvin Davis (back) miss out for the Saints.
Key battle: Luke Shaw vs Seamus Coleman
Do you like full-backs? Do you like young full-backs? Do you like young full-backs who are their team’s principal attacking outlet? Then you’re in luck, because Saturday lunchtime’s contest will see this season’s finest exponents battle each other in close proximity.
Against United last weekend, the Irishman created a game-high 5 chances – including the assist for Mirallas’ second – and was a constant menace in attack and diligent in defence. Shaw also created the most opportunities in the Saints’ draw with Villa (even if 2 isn’t many, admittedly).
The pair’s delivery into the box is exactly what Lukaku and Lambert thrive on. Expect more of the same.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Everton 2-1 Saints (Prem, Dec 13)
- Saints 0-0 Everton (Prem, Jan 13)
- Everton 3-1 Saints (Prem, Sep 12)
- Saints 2-2 Everton (Prem, Feb 05)
- Everton 1-0 Saints (Prem, Oct 04)
You’d never guess Pochettino and Martinez were schooled in Spain, would you? OK, that’s exactly what you’d think, but the La Liga influence on the Argentine and Spaniard has reaped the rewards, especially at Everton whose style has been totally reinvented under Martinez. Both extremely tactically aware and happy to take risks in the hope of winning games through daring, their teams represent exactly what the Premier League is all about.
Facts and figures
- 14 of Everton’s last 21 away games have been goalless at half-time.
- Everton have lost only 2 of their 14 trips to middle-third teams since the start of last season (W6 D6 L2).
- 13 of Saints' 16 home games against top-half teams since start of last season have had at least 3 goals.
- Saints have lost the second half in 4 of their last 5 home games against top-half teams.
Everton with the greater desire. 1-2.