Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe analyses how Southampton can build on a result to savour against Manchester City when they travel to Everton, in this week's Tactical Watch in association with Utilita Energy...
Southampton lurch from one tough challenge to the next; the Premier League’s relentless, jam-packed schedule giving them little time to savour a famous victory over Manchester City last weekend, as a trip to Goodison Park to face Everton looms.
The Toffees have started post-lockdown football well, emerging from a difficult run of fixtures with seven points from a possible 12. They held champions Liverpool to a 0-0 draw and beat a Leicester City side fighting for a top-four place 2-1.
Here, we outline the three keys to victory against a team looking resurgent under manager Carlo Ancelotti.
The raised bar
The performance Southampton delivered in the prestigious 1-0 victory over Man City last weekend raised the bar. To a man they were superb, and collectively it may well have been the best-ever performance of the Ralph Hasenhüttl era.
Ché Adams’s goal – his long-awaited first for the club – was truly special, but just as impactful was Jack Stephens and Jan Bednarek’s titanic defending in the box, Alex McCarthy’s performance between the sticks and the sheer amount of battling and running everyone got through.
No doubt Hasenhüttl will be asking for a similar effort going forward, and that’s tough. Playing with that level of intensity, desire and fight on a weekly basis is hard, as it’s natural to raise your game for the visit of last season’s champions, then perhaps drop off a few notches after.
A trip to Goodison Park, to meet Ancelotti’s Everton, may not end well if Saints relent now. The Toffees’ own performance levels have been up and down, but a consistent feature in their play has been a willingness to scrap for every ball.
You have to match their heat levels if you’re to get the better of them.
4-4-2 vs 4-4-2
Fifteen years ago this would barely be worth mentioning, but seeing two 4-4-2 formations collide in today’s Premier League is genuinely rare.
Both Hasenhüttl and Ancelotti have settled on this shape thanks to its ability to press across the pitch and provide easy avenues for the ball to move forward. It can encourage some rather direct play – again, an antithesis to many top-tier sides’ strategies nowadays – and when game plans like this collide, it tends to create intriguing 1v1 duels across the pitch.
Everton’s 4-4-2 is perhaps a little more fluid than Saints’; one of Everton’s wide men has license to come inside and operate as a No 10 on the ball, temporarily creating a midfield diamond look, as the opposite “winger” tucks in to fill the space.
Typically that’s been Alex Iwobi or Anthony Gordon cutting in, and both have looked lively, with Tom Davies balancing things on the other side. That leaves a curious central pairing of Gylfi Sigurðsson and Andre Gomes – an imbalanced duo on paper, given both prefer to attack, but the battling nature of the team makes it work.
The team who emerges victorious from this game will have done two fundamental things well: earned the upper hand in what promises to be a bitty, scrappy midfield; and won more of their individual battles across the pitch than they’ve lost.
Given he now has his first goal under his belt, it would hardly surprise if Adams was given the nod up front alongside Danny Ings again.
Ings has a habit of scoring against Everton – he has four goals in seven Premier League starts against them – and his movement figures to be a real nuisance to Michael Keane and co. here, while Adams’s speed and strength in the channels is something the Toffees could well struggle with – particularly given their own genuinely fast defender, Mason Holgate, limped off in the loss to Tottenham Hotspur on Monday and may not feature.
Everton boast a similarly dynamic striking duo in Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, a pair who – embodying the team ethos – work extremely hard to hunt the ball down and create attacks, and stop at nothing to get a foot, a toe, a hair, anything, on the end of a cross.
Both can run the channels, both can drop in and receive to feet, and both can score with multiple body parts. Due to the variation in their play, they’re probably about as difficult to deal with as Ings and Adams, shining the spotlight on both centre-back pairings in action on Thursday, as well as how well Saints can stop the supply of crosses into the box – likely more from the left, via Lucas Digne, than the right.