2018-19 EPL Match Day 23 Preview — Southampton (4-7-11) vs. Everton (8-6-8)

After making a positive response to owner Farhad Moshiri’s demands for improved play, Everton look to make it three wins on the spin for the first time this season as they go for the double over Southampton on Saturday at St Mary’s.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Moshiri aggressively courted Marco Silva while the Portuguese manager was at Watford and eventually secured his services – along with former Watford striker Richarlison – during the summer. But after a middling opening half of the season in which Everton (8-6-8) had the same amount of points (27) as they did last term while burning through three managers, Moshiri made his voice heard in no uncertain terms last week.

The majority owner of the Toffees is still fully backing Silva but also noted to shareholders at the club’s general meeting, according to The Times, that when “I look at the table … it is not good enough.”

Those words carry weight considering Moshiri has already plowed approximately £250 million pounds into the club and likely will be the driving force behind a new proposed new stadium on the banks of the River Mersey.

To Silva and his side’s credit, there has been a response. The Toffees followed up their FA Cup victory with a 2-0 win at home over Bournemouth last weekend, but it was one without much panache or flow. Defender Kurt Zouma snapped a scoreless deadlock as he met Lucas Digne’s cross from six yards just after the hour.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin added the insurance marker in the dying moments of the match, but with Everton also racking up five yellow cards with a sixth arguably missing that would have resulted in Andre Gomes’ dismissal, it is clear Everton are still sorting themselves offensively at the bottom of the top half of the table.

“It is a process when a new manager comes in and I think he’s doing a really good job at the moment,” midfielder and Iceland international Gylfi Sigurdsson told SkySports in defence of his boss. “Not just as a club, but as players and for the fans we would want to be higher up in the league.

“When we were sixth in the league, I don’t think any of the players were happy because it’s about where you finish the season, and we kind of feel the same way at the moment and we’re not happy. Our aim is to finish the season in a strong spot.”

Everton likely will not spend on a true striker in the January window since that is almost always a seller’s market, but the Toffees might have to fend off Paris-St. Germain from poaching defensive midfielder Idrissa Gueye.

The Ligue 1 leaders have not made direct contact with Everton about his availability – Gueye still has two-plus seasons left on his current deal – but some PSG players have not been shy about lauding the Senegal international’s play to French media.

Southampton (4-7-11) are in the thick of the relegation scrap but making progress under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Saints are technically unbeaten in four matches across all competitions (1-3-0) but were dumped out of the FA Cup on penalties Wednesday by Championship side Derby County after the teams played to a 2-2 draw over 120 minutes.

Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond scored two minutes apart to give Southampton a seemingly safe 2-0 lead with 20 minutes remaining, but the Saints squandered a two-goal lead to Derby County for the second time before Redmond’s miss on their second penalty attempt wound up being decisive.

“It’s a nightmare, I think, because we had again a big chance to be in the next round and gave it away. If you have two times a chance to win and don’t do it, then you don’t deserve to be in the next round, so congratulations to Derby County. We have to concentrate on the Premier League now,” Hasenhüttl told the club’s official website.

“After the 2-0, we were maybe thinking about what happened in Derby and then at 2-1 you could feel that the guys were a little bit nervous and they got the second goal. It was too easy. In extra-time there were three great chances for us, also for Derby too, but both teams were struggling and in the shootouts it’s always about luck. But they deserved it more because they fought back twice.”

Hasenhuttl continues to go back and forth between three and four-man backs, with central defender Maya Yoshida on international duty for Japan at the Asian Cup. The FA Cup replay did have one benefit for Southampton, as wide back Yan Valery will be available after sitting out Wednesday for his two yellow cards in last weekend’s 2-1 win at Leicester City.

Even with the missed penalty, Redmond continues to be in fine form and bagged his fifth goal in Southampton’s last seven overall matches. Hasenhuttl will also have midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who completed a three-match ban last weekend and was held out of the FA Cup match.

Theo Walcott and Richarlison scored to power Everton to a 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture, though the Saints did get a measure of revenge by ousting the Toffees on penalties in the third round of the Carabao Cup.

Everton, who have just three wins in 19 Premier League matches at St Mary’s (3-6-10), last did the double over Southampton in 2001-02.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Everton are slight favourites at 17/10 compared to Southampton’s 7/4, with a draw the longshot at 12/5. Oddsmakers are uncertain how this game will shake out, offering 10/11 odds on both sides of the 2.5-goal threshold. The odds of both teams scoring, however, are a clear favourite at 4/6 compared to 11/10 odds for at least one clean sheet.

Despite a four-match goal drought, Richarlison leads the line for first goal-scoring options at 11/2, followed by teammate Cenk Tosun and Southampton forward Charlie Austin and young Saints striker Marcus Barnes — all of whom are 6/1. Sam Gallagher is a 13/2 option to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, while Everton’s Calvert-Lewin and Southampton’s Shane Long are both 7/1. Gylfi Sigurdsson is another step back at 15/2, followed by the in-form Redmond (8/1).

For any-time goal-scoring, Richarlison leads the line at 7/4, with Tosun, Austin and Barnes all joint-second at 15/8. Calvert-Lewin and Long are 9/4 picks, with Sigurdsson a 12/5 option followed by Redmond and Stuart Armstrong at 13/5.

PREDICTION

This is a test for Everton’s top-seven ambitions: The Toffees are clearly capable of winning this type of match, but their season-long lack of consistency has diminished external expectations to take them seriously enough to win this game.

Silva continues to try and find the right attacking options around Sigurdsson, again moving Richarlison to lead the line from his other spot on the flank. Ademola Lookman perhaps did enough to get a second consecutive league start on the right wing over Theo Walcott as he assisted on Calvert-Lewin’s goal after scoring in the FA Cup, though there is also a point where one wonders if Silva will put Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison together again as starters for the second time in three league matches.

Lineup juggling aside, these are the matches Moshiri wants to see Everton win to believe in his investment in this club, and frankly, it is a justifiable request. The Merseyside club has long been considered one of the “sleeping giants” of the Premier League. Or if you prefer a backhanded compliment, Everton are a more stable version of Aston Villa given their struggles to return to the top flight since being relegated to the Championship after the 2015-16 season.

The Gueye situation will be one to monitor during the January transfer window. Silva is keen to keep the Senegal international, and the last thing he and Everton need at this point is a distraction that takes away from consolidating their top-half status while kicking on to a higher level.

Thoguh disappointed about crashing out of the FA Cup in such a fragile manner, Hasenhuttl may find that elimination a blessing in disguise in his bid to keep Southampton above the drop. The German gaffer has done well mixing and matching his squad around blooding younger players, and has picked up another offensive option in Redmond to go along with Ings, Long, and Austin.

His decision to turn back to Alex McCarthy in Southampton’s last league match was an interesting one considering Gunn’s standout performance in his Premier League debut versus Chelsea. Hasenhuttl is likely not trying to foster a debate for the No. 1 shirt, but without the FA Cup for Gunn to gain further match time, the situation offers plenty of intrigue as the Saints grind out points to stay out of the bottom three.

The want is to see Everton play on the front foot in this game and burnish their top-seven credentials, but that is going to be easier said than done. This has the feel of a disjointed match in which a scruffy goal could wind up being the difference.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Southampton 1, Everton 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 23 PREVIEWS:

Wolverhampton (8-5-9) vs. Leicester City (9-4-9)
Liverpool (18-3-1) vs. Crystal Palace (6-4-12)
Manchester United (12-5-5) vs. Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-10)
Arsenal (12-5-5) vs. Chelsea (14-5-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 22 — Leicester City (9-4-8) vs. Southampton (3-7-11)

For a man who has two of the biggest league victories of the season over Big Six sides, Leicester City manager Claude Puel appears to be treading on thin ice.

The embattled Foxes boss looks to keep the Midlands side atop the pack for seventh on Saturday when they host Puel’s former club Southampton at King Power Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Leicester City (9-4-8) are currently “the best of the rest” in the Premier League on 31 points, seven behind resurgent Manchester United. Seventh place carries the potential of a Europa League qualifying berth based on Carabao Cup and FA Cup results, but supporters were hoping for a deep run in the FA Cup after a respectable quarterfinal exit on penalties in the Carabao Cup versus current holders Manchester City.

Those hopes, however, were dashed with a shocking 2-1 loss at League Two side Newport County on Sunday, a side 74 places below the Foxes in the English football pyramid. Marc Albrighton handled a cross on 85 minutes that allowed Newport’s Under-16 coach, Padraig Amond, to slot home the winning penalty.

“A lot of disappointment and frustration,” Puel told The Times after making seven changes to the first XI that powered a 1-0 win over Everton to ring in 2019. “But it’s a cup game and we didn’t find the solution to score more goals. We have had a good team with eight who had played winning the title with Leicester. I don’t want to look for excuses.”

Puel’s man management has left him open to criticism that has canceled out the goodwill that should have been fostered with wins over Manchester City and Chelsea on top of the way he kept the side together following the tragic death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in October.

Puel and top striker Jamie Vardy – who did not even make the trip to Wales – have not seen eye to eye on multiple occasions this term, and leaving midfielder James Maddison on the bench until after intermission was another talking point in the Midlands.

“The good thing about football is that you get the chance to put it right as quickly as possible,” Albrighton told Leicester City’s official website. “We’ll aim to do that. We’re at home, so it makes it even better for us, we’ve got the crowd behind us and we’ll look to start well in the game and put last week to bed.

“We’ve had two close games against Southampton (this season). I know they’re probably a different task now with a new manager. They play differently and they seem to be playing with a lot more confidence.”

Southampton (3-7-11) are now three managers removed from Puel, who guided them to an eighth-place finish and a League Cup final in his lone season in charge in 2016-17. Mark Hughes was barely successful in keeping the Saints above the drop last term after replacing Mauricio Pellegrino, and now Ralph Hasenhuttl is trying to do the same after a miserable start this season led to Hughes’ sacking.

Southampton have improved since the German took over, but they did themselves no favours in the FA Cup on Saturday, having been held to a 2-2 draw at Derby County that will result in a third-round replay at St Mary’s. Nathan Redmond continued his purple patch of scoring with a brace on either side of halftime, but Tom Lawrence set up a goal and scored a second for Frank Lampard’s side in a three-minute span of the second half.

The match did allow Hasenhuttl a chance to observe more of Southampton’s younger players, with midfielder Callum Slattery making his senior team debut.

“I think he won a lot of balls from this position and also has the technique to look in front and give the last pass. I was happy with his performance and he showed he is always an alternative for me,” Hasenhuttl noted to the club’s official website about the 19-year-old.

Keeper Angus Gunn could be in line for a third consecutive start in all competitions after turning in a clean sheet in his first league start – a 0-0 draw versus Chelsea in which the 22-year-old made a pair of quality saves to deny Eden Hazard.

Up front, Hasenhuttl will be without top-choice striker Danny Ings through injury and Charlie Austin through suspension, with the forward being given a two-match ban by the FA for making an insulting gesture in Southampton’s 3-1 loss to Manchester City on Dec. 30. Midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will serve the last of his three-match ban for a straight red card given late in that contest.

Austin will miss this match and the replay against Derby County next Wednesday. The absence of Ings and Austin puts more pressure on Redmond to continue producing. He has four goals and two assists in his last six matches across all competitions.

Leicester City ran out 2-1 winners in the reverse fixture at St Mary’s in August, with Harry Maguire’s strike in stoppage time cruelly denying 10-man Southampton a point. Demarai Gray and Ryan Bertrand traded goals four minutes apart early in the second half, and the Saints played a man down after 77 minutes after Hojbjerg received a second booking for diving.

The teams also played to a scoreless draw in the round of 16 in the Carabao Cup before Leicester advanced on penalties after an 85th-minute goal by Southampton’s Steven Davis was overturned by VAR for a handball on Redmond in the buildup.

The Foxes have not done the double over Southampton in the Premier League since 1999-2000.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Leicester City are 19/20 favourites to bounce back from their embarrassing FA Cup exit and claim all three points, while Southampton are 10/3 underdogs to claim a road win and heap further pressure on Puel. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 5/2.

Oddsmakers are predicting a low-scoring contest, with 8/11 odds offered for under the 2.5-goal threshold compared to 11/10 over it. It’s a toss-up as to whether both teams will score or a shutout will be recorded in either direction with 10/11 odds for both.

In a bit of a surprise, the Foxes striker leading the list for first goal-scorers is Kelechi Iheanacho at 15/4, nudging out Vardy (4/1). A trio of Leicester players — Maddison, Demarai Gray, and Shinjo Okazaki are all 13/2. Long was originally among that group, but with his suspension, the top Saints to make it 0-1 are Shane Long (9/1) and Redmond (10/1).

Iheanacho is a 6/5 pick to score during the course of the match, with Vardy in close pursuit at 13/10. The aforementioned Foxes threesome are each 11/5 picks to score a goal while Long is a 10/3 pick. Redmond and Stuart Armstrong both check in at 7/2.

PREDICTION

This space finds nothing wrong with the Leicester supporters being aggrieved about a potential FA Cup run scuppered with poor man management by Puel in terms of the in-match moves. It’s questionable to not bring Vardy, sure, but Puel has been consistent in that regards with the striker — even at considerable angst to gaffer, player and fan base.

A must-win sounds harsh, but a not-lose sounds more accurate. The good news is there appears to be such a margin of error regarding this chase for seventh with a rotating cast of characters among Leicester, Wolves, Everton, and West Ham United that one loss — even to a relegation-threatened side in Southampton — does not sound a death knell for those hopes. But a loss definitely adds to the irritability of those in the Midlands.

With Hasenhuttl not naming a starter between the sticks at his Friday news conference, the hedge is Gunn is going to be the one on the top of the team sheet when it is handed over. He looked calm and composed against Chelsea, and while it was smart to give him his Premier League debut at home, at some point, Gunn has to start on the road.

Why not here against an opponent playing in front of edgy home supporters? Why not now, because Southampton have played better as Hasenhuttl has blooded the kiddie corps. The Saints’ lack of offence up front and from anyone other than Redmond will probably be their undoing in this match, and not having Maya Yoshida (Asian Cup) in the back is going to be a problem against the irrepressible and tireless Vardy.

This is a game where his graft plus Maddison’s creativity separate the sides, who have already played two very close matches this season.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Leicester City 1, Southampton 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 22 PREVIEWS

West Ham United (8-4-9) vs. Arsenal (12-5-4)
Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) vs. Liverpool (17-3-1)
Chelsea (13-5-3) vs. Newcastle United (4-6-11)
Tottenham Hotspur (16-0-5) vs. Manchester United (11-5-5)