Everton kick-start their Premier League campaign under new manager Rafael Benitez as they host Southampton at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Everton’s summer was strange, as everyone looked forward to how Carlo Ancelotti might build the squad over from last season. Instead, the Italian manager departed in a hurry to take over the reins at Real Madrid, leaving the Toffees in disarray and leaving the board to find a reliable, new manager.
In came former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, not exactly welcomed by the Merseyside fanbase owing to his excellent period with the Reds as well as some of the comments he had made about the Toffees during that period. There were plenty of unhappy faces, but the Spaniard has so far stood his ground.
His ideas for the team were evident in their pre-season tour, and they in fact, won the Florida Cup, which would have been difficult had Inter Milan and Arsenal not pulled out. After their return from the States, Everton were handed a reality check by Manchester United with a thumping 4-0 victory at Old Trafford.
Moreover, the new signings have not helped ease matters with fans, as Demarai Gray, Andros Townsend and Asmir Begovic hae hardly added any optimism to the fanbase. Benitez still has a strong team on his hands and will pit his wits against Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton side in the Premier League opener.
Southampton, like Everton, had a difficult summer to deal with, which might get worse before the transfer deadline as more key stars are pencilled in for departures. In a shock move, Danny Ings, their main striker, left abruptly for Aston Villa, although Southampton aptly replaced him with Blackburn star Adam Armstrong.
The club had a mixed bag of a pre-season, which eventually ended in defeat. Hasenhuttl will take positives out of that period with decent wins against Cardiff City, Swansea City and Levante. However, the manager will have one eye on their away record towards the end of the last season, as they have lost ten out of their last eleven games on the road, with the only win coming against Sheffield United, who got relegated.
Additionally, the Saints had a leaky defence, conceding 15 goals in their last five games on away grounds. A more worrying stat is that Southampton have not beaten Everton away from home since the 1997/98 season, and their 9% win rate on an opening day is the worst of any Premier League side at present.
Team News & Tactics
Benitez’s lineup in his first game as the Everton boss will have a familiar look to Carlo Ancelotti’s, with minor changes. Despite three decent signings, only Andros Townsend might get to start from the go, while the likes of Demarai Gray and Asmir Begovic will be placed on the bench.
England stars Jordan Pickford and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are back in full training for a good period now and will feature from the start. There may be doubts over some other players, such as Andre Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin, who will be assessed before the game to determine their involvement.
Moise Kean, who spent the previous season at PSG, is reportedly carrying a knock, and will also be assessed. Furthermore, James Rodriguez, who is reportedly angling for a move away from the club, was caught on social media claiming he may not be playing over the weekend, and that could be the case after all, with Benitez reportedly keen to offload the Colombian
The most important news for Everton fans is the involvement of Richarlison, who will likely start the game. The Brazilian forward incredibly navigated the summer without rest. He featured heavily for his country first in Copa America, losing the final to Argentina, and then winning the gold medal at the Olympics.
Benitez will likely retain a back four of Ben Godfrey, Mason Holgate, Michael Keane and Lucas Digne. A midfield four looks likely in the absence of Rodriguez, with Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan in the middle, while Townsend and Alex Iwobi will be taking up wide roles behind the front two of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Pickford; Godfrey, Holgate, Keane, Digne; Townsend, Doucoure, Allan, Iwobi; Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin
Ralph Hasenhuttl will have to tinker through the squad to determine his starting lineup against Everton. Captain James Ward-Prowse is a doubt with a knee injury. The England international returned to training earlier in the week, but the manager may not want to start him yet.
Additionally, new signings Adam Armstrong and Armando Broja may not be ready for Premier League action yet as Hasenhuttl hopes to integrate them properly into their new surroundings first. Elsewhere, there could be new faces emerging in the backline, especially at left-back and central defence.
Mohammed Salisu featured heavily during pre-season and is likely to be installed in the starting lineup besides Jan Bednarek in central defence. Salisu is considered a replacement for Jannik Vestergaard, who has joined Leicester City. Romain Perraud will likely make his debut at left-back as a replacement for Ryan Bertrand. Kyle Walker-Peters will start at right-back.
Ibrahima Diallo, who regularly featured during pre-season, should keep his place in central midfield alongside long-term stalwart Oriol Romeu. Hasenhuttl will mirror Benitez’s 4-4-2 formation, with Stuart Armstrong and Moussa Djenepo supporting the two central midfielders from wide areas. In attack, Nathan Tella and Che Adams will take the central striking roles.
Probable lineup (4-4-2) – McCarthy; Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Salisu, Perraud; Stuart Armstrong, Romeu, Diallo, Djenepo; Adams, Tella
- Everton have not lost their opening game since the 2011/12 season.
- Everton are unbeaten in their last 16 home games against Southampton.
- Everton have won only twice from 12 league games at home since the turn of the year.
- Southampton have conceded 15 goals from their last 5 away games
- Southampton have lost 10 of their previous 11 away games in the Premier League
Player to Watch
Over the last few years, the Brazilian forward has become a key part of Everton and his national side. His importance in the Toffees side is sometimes underappreciated, but Richarlison can play as a wide attacker and a striker when necessary. He has also formed an important partnership with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, which Rafael Benitez will be hoping to develop further.
Richarlison is also coming back in top shape despite having no rest over the summer, playing back-to-back tournaments for Brazil while winning the Olympic Gold in Tokyo. He will be crucial to Everton’s chances this season and will have to start firing right from the offing when Everton hosts Southampton.
Everton 2-1 Southampton
Both teams enter into the opening match with uncertainty in their squad. While Everton, on paper, possess a better attack than Southampton’s, who generally look weak since the departure of Danny Ings, we can still expect both teams to score.
However, Everton’s record on home soil against Southampton will prove crucial, as they might pip the Saints for another opening day win. Expect Everton and Benitez to start the season with all three points in the bag.