While both sides have made dire starts to the season, Everton fans will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel after their side’s 2-1 victory against Southampton on Saturday.
The win at St Mary’s – where Southampton have now lost their last four home games in a row by an aggregate scoreline of 18-3 – has eased some of the pressure on Marco Silva, even if his side are still 15th in the Premier League. Ralph Hasenhuttl, meanwhile, is floundering horribly amidst a difficult second season on the south coast.
While there were some parallels between the two sides at kick off, they now look like teams going in different directions.
Here’s how the situations at Everton and Southampton compare after a game which has left the Saints second bottom and with little cause for hope.
Following their narrow 2-1 defeat at Manchester City, James Ward-Prowse declared that nobody could challenge the players’ commitment. But plenty of Southampton supporters are doing just that following the capitulation against Leicester and again on Saturday, when they were booed off at half-time and full-time. St Mary’s was strewn with scarves thrown on to the pitch after they had been given to each supporter before kick-off.
Southampton do not have the look of a happy squad – and some players could probably empathise with full-back Cedric, who announced last week his intention to leave the club at the end of the season. The one player perhaps bucking the trend for Hasenhuttl’s side is Danny Ings, who has six goals in his past seven games.
There were no signs that Everton’s players were not motivated to play for their manager. The team celebrated with supporters at the final whistle and, with the situation looking precarious at 1-1, Silva’s players showed plenty of fight to wrest the game back away from Southampton. Afterwards, Silva dedicated the victory to Andre Gomes, whose serious injury may have provided them with extra incentive.
Richarlison responded to Silva’s support during the week by scoring the winner and hugging his manager in celebration. Silva said afterwards that seeing the Brazilian score made him “one of the happiest people in the world” and added “the fans love him”.
Southampton supporters have raised eyebrows all season at Hasenhuttl’s continual rotation of formation and personnel, particularly in defence.
He played with wing-backs on Saturday, Cedric and Stuart Armstrong initially, neither of whom were in their natural positions. Increasingly, the high-pressing approach which so endeared the Austrian to supporters is becoming a rarity, as the defensive weaknesses of the team become ever more apparent. There is no doubt that this is a team struggling for identity as well as confidence.
Silva stuck with his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation and his team were dominant for long spells in the match. They were particularly impressive in the first half, when Theo Walcott attacked at will down the right wing. The criticism of Everton would be that they were wasteful with several promising openings.
In recent weeks, Silva has opted for the youthful Mason Holgate, 23, and Tom Davies, 21, who are rewarding him with their performances.
Southampton made a number of changes at the interval, all of which had a positive impact as they started the half by equalising and enjoyed a spell of pressure.
Cedric was hauled off in place of Sofiane Boufal, who created the equaliser with his trickery early in the second half. But still the wing-back areas were problematic as Southampton simply do not have the players for that role. Ward-Prowse and Moussa Djenepo occupied those positions in the second half and it was no surprise when the winning goal came down Djenepo’s side.
Silva’s changes had a positive impact, with Alex Iwobi and Dominic Calvert-Lewin showing up well. Michael Keane was a late substitute, having also been dropped from the England squad, but Silva played down the defender’s loss of form.
“Sometimes if you spend some games on the bench, it is not the end of the world,” he said. “Michael Keane knows that and he will become stronger because he has quality.”
The noises coming from St Mary’s suggest that Hasenhuttl will not be sacked, though his increasingly beleaguered demeanour must raise the possibility of him leaving of his own accord.
The plan is still for a new director of football to be appointed following the departures of Les Reed and Ross Wilson, but if that is to work it must surely happen soon, with the Saints looking increasingly rudderless.
Everton’s form has been improving and, but for an extraordinary intervention by VAR, they may well have earned their first away win of the season at Brighton a fortnight ago. Silva laughed off any talk of pressure and pointed to Everton’s miserable record at St Mary’s to contextualise this victory.
“The last 20 games when Everton played Southampton away, Everton just won three games. Maybe you don’t know. Just three games in 20! 20! Maybe for you it is just a win, maybe for Everton it is a little bit more. I am really happy to see our fans go back home again, not to pressure.”