Reunited and it felt so good.
After marking his Everton debut in grand style, Richarlison and the Toffees open their Goodison Park slate Saturday versus Southampton looking to maintain their offensive flow.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
A record £50 million signing from Watford, Richarlison is together again with Marco Silva, who brought the Brasil international to Vicarage Road from Fluminense prior to his sacking.
While the process to reunite the pair at Goodison Park was equal parts protracted and messy — it surprised no one Wednesday when Everton football director Marcel Brands admitted to The Times the animosity between the clubs drove the asking price for Richarlison above market value — it was clear for one match at least the 21-year-old was every bit worth the extra quid.
Playing the left wing, Richarlison scored goals on either side of halftime, twice giving Everton the lead before the 10-man Merseysiders were pegged back in a 2-2 draw at promoted Wolverhampton.
The two goals displayed the different natures of Richarlison’s goal-scoring nous, bundling his first inside the six-yard box as a free kick fell to him in the 17th minute and picking the far corner to beat Rui Patricio inside the right post from 12 yards after being sent through by Cenk Tosun in the 67th.
“We are talking about a player who is 21,” Silva told The Telegraph about Richarlison, who failed to score in his final 26 league matches with Watford. “We have to be calm with him. He has the talent, he has everything there, but you have to protect him, support him.”
Calm is not a word that could be associated with centre back Phil Jagielka, who will serve the first of his three-match ban for a direct red card following his studs-up challenge on Diogo Jota in the 41st minute after losing possession on the slick pitch. Everton did not appeal the suspension, which rules Jagielka out for the next two league matches and their second-round Carabao Cup contest.
After using Jagielka and Michael Keane as his first central defence pairing, Silva could turn to a new duo. New signing Yerry Mina was ruled out of this contest as he continues to work to match fitness. The ex-Barcelona man and £28.5 million signed after a standout effort for Colombia at the World Cup in which he scored three goals in helping Los Cafeteros reach the round of 16.
Kurt Zouma, on loan from Chelsea, started 32 matches for relegated Stoke City last term as he fell out of the rotation at Stamford Bridge following a torn ACL suffered in the 2015-16 season. Mason Holgate, who played the final 49 minutes after Jagielka’s expulsion as a tactical sub replacing Gylfi Sigurdsson, is also in the running for a spot.
Southampton (0-1-0) did not look much better than the side that narrowly escaped the drop last term as they played Burnley to a scoreless draw at home last Saturday. Despite attempting 18 shots, the Saints put only three on target and failed to get going offensively until the introduction of Danny Ings and Mohamed Elyounoussi just before the hour mark.
“We needed to gain control of the game so we changed the personnel and the shape as well which helped us,” Southampton boss Mark Hughes told the club’s official website. “We were able to get up the pitch. We created a number of chances and on another day I think we did enough to win the game.”
Elyounoussi, though, is not expected to be available after suffering a hamstring injury in the draw. Hughes did say Stuart Amstrong should be recovered from a knock and available for selection.
Ings, on loan from Liverpool as a rare player move to St Mary’s between the teams in recent years, is trying to adjust to playing underneath as opposed to a traditional striker.
“At the moment, I’m getting used to the way the team play – I wanted to come on and get a feel for the football they play,” said Ings, who took three shots and has just four goals since bagging 11 for Burnley in 2014-15. “There were a lot of spaces coming deep, so I drifted into those pockets, got on the ball and tried to play people in.
“I want to show people it’s not all about running in behind for me – I can come short and play too.”
Hughes could restore left back Maya Yoshida to his starting XI after holding out the Japan international, who helped Samurai Blue reach the knockout round of the World Cup this summer. Yoshida would likely replace Wesley Hoedt in Southampton’s three-man back line.
The Saints took four points from last season’s meetings, routing a disheveled Everton squad led by caretaker manager David Unsworth 4-1 last November. The Toffees rescued a point against the 10-man Saints in a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park on Tom Davies’ goal in the 96th minute.
Southampton have taken points in two of their last three trips to the blue part of Merseyside but are winless in 13 there (0-4-9). Their lone win in 19 Premier League matches (1-5-13) at Goodison Park was a 2-0 victory in 1997.
Per Ladbrokes, Everton are strong favourites at 20/23 odds, while Southampton check in at 10/3. Those who believe the points will be shared can get a return on 23/10 odds. The two most likely scorelines listed are 1-0 Everton and a 1-1 draw, which both return 11/2 odds.
Despite his brace at Molineux, Richarlison is ninth on the list for any-time goal-scorers at 13/5 odds and sixth among Everton players. Tosun leads the line at 5/4, followed by Oumar Niasse (8/5) and Saints forward Charlie Austin (7/4). For opening goal-scorers, Tosun again is the favourite at 16/5 odds, with Niasse 4/1 and Austin 9/2. Richarlison is again down the pecking order at 7/1.
Beyond Austin for Southampton, Gabbiadini is a 5/2 any-time goal-scorer and 13/2 to make it 1-0. Ings is an 11/4 any-time scorer and 15/2 to stake the visitors to a 1-0 lead.
In terms of personal preferences, I like the match result of Everton and under 2.5 goals returning 14/5 odds.
Jagielka’s absence could be an addition by subtraction as it forces Silva to test his depth at centre back. Zouma appears to be the most likely replacement for this match at least since Mina is in his first week of practices with the Toffees, and it’s also possible Silva takes the path of least resistance and keeps Keane as opposed to trotting out a new duo in front of Jordan Pickford.
Offensively, there is little to worry about for Everton except where Barcelona loanee Andre Gomes can be deployed after his late arrival before the transfer deadline, though that headache has been put off for another week since the Portugal international will be held out. Silva could not make aggressive changes down a man against Wolverhampton as Sandro Ramirez and Dominic Calvert-Lewin sat unused.
Southampton left much to be desired offensively versus Burnley, and the Saints likely will have less possession in this match given Everton’s talent on the ball. Without Elyounoussi, the task becomes that much harder to maneuver through the midfield, and getting service to Charlie Austin will be vital to at least challenge whoever is in Everton’s central defence.
Still, Everton look to have too much class for Southampton and should open their home schedule with three points in convincing fashion.
Prediction: Everton 2, Southampton 0
(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am making edits in the interim, adding projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction in this blog.)