Two struggling teams, albeit one more so than the other, meet on Sunday afternoon setting up for an interesting fixture at St Mary’s Stadium.
We caught up with SB Nation colleagues Royal Blue Mersey and contributor Sean Lunt to discuss everything Everton, including the departure of our former manager Ronald Koeman, and where it went wrong and if relegation is a serious concern.
St Mary’s Musings: We will keep it simple. What on earth has happened to Everton?
Sean Lunt: Basically, everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong at the club this season. They failed to sign the players they needed in the summer, the signings they did make haven’t worked out and it seems the season, particularly the extra burden of Europa League football, wasn’t planned for properly. Throw in Ronald Koeman and his team throwing in the towel off the pitch, if reports are to be believed, and you’ve got yourself a nice hot mess that is very reminiscent of what was going on at Aston Villa before they went down.
SMM: How has it gone south so quickly and were there warning signs that something like this could happen?
SL: In truth, there probably were signs that things could go this way but they were all overlooked because of what was perceived to be a great summer transfer window. The lacklustre manner in which Everton went about looking for a replacement for Romelu Lukaku and then the uninspiring performances in the early rounds of the Europa League should have had us all fearing the worst.
SMM: Poor Ron, Ron. What was the highlight of his tenure at the club and where did his demise begin?
SL: The highlight would definitely be that 4-0 win over Manchester City at Goodison Park last season. That game will live long in the memory of many Everton fans. The strong run of form, especially at home, that stemmed from that in the second half of the campaign was particularly fun too.
His demise began early on in the campaign in the 1-1 draw with Manchester City. Had the Blues won that game at the Etihad and not given away a last-minute equaliser, it could have provided serious momentum to the campaign. Instead, the disappointment from that seemed to seep into everyone and they never really recovered from it. Some Everton fans would tell you he was doomed from the beginning, though, because of his failure to buy into the club and the manner in which he treated it as a stepping stone from day one.
SMM: All that money spent this summer -- what signing have made an impact and who of the new Toffees hasn’t performed? What should or can be done in January?
SL: Jordan Pickford, despite conceding a tonne of goals, has been very impressive and looked well worth the lofty price tag. Indeed, if he continues to impress it would be no surprise to see him as England’s number one at the World Cup next summer. Nikola Vlasic has also proven to be a smart capture.
In contrast, Davy Klaassen has been nothing short of a disappointment since arriving from Ajax and Sandro Ramirez is yet to show any signs that his impressive form for Malaga last season was just a fluke.
A striker is desperately needed in the January transfer window, as is a new central defender, with Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams far past there best and showing as much on several occasions this season.
SMM: Who is going to be critical for helping Everton stay in the Premier League?
SL: It appears that it will be Oumar Niasse. The Senegal forward has come back from the dead at Goodison Park this season, putting in a number of impressive performances in spite of Ronald Koeman’s attempts to ruin his career. Niasse’s energy, enthusiasm and tireless running have proven vital so far and the fact he is also scoring goals is just a bonus. If Everton can’t get a striker in January, which is very likely to happen, they’ll need Niasse to keep up his revival.
SMM: Do you think the board was close to re-appointing David Moyes as manager of Everton? If so, how would fans have reacted?
SL: It’s very easy to believe that Bill Kenwright will have put his name forward as an option. The two maintain a good relationship after working together for so long and Kenwright is certainly a man stuck in the past when it comes to how the club works. Farhad Moshiri is not like that, though, he wants Everton to be a big club with a star name in the dugout and knows Moyes is not that man.
Had it happened, though, the fans would not have been happy. While there are some who still think highly of Moyes most remember how he treated and spoke about the club once he’d departed for Manchester United. As far as they’re concerned he regularly disrespected Everton during his time at Old Trafford and that makes him an enemy these days.
SMM: Romelu Lukaku for Wayne Rooney — it’s fair to say who got the better deal, but what have fans made of Rooney’s pitiful return to the club?
SL: It’s been a mixed bag for Rooney at Everton this season. At times he’s looked half decent and even bagged a couple of crucial goals. However, for the most part, the struggles that marred the end to his Manchester United career have come with him to Goodison Park. As a result, Everton fans have largely grown ambivalent. They knew what they were getting and anything other than that is a major bonus. Most agree he shouldn’t be starting games and would prefer he didn’t, which is just sad when you think of it.
SMM: How could Everton not learn from Southampton’s mistake of selling away all their goals — *cough* Graziano Pelle *cough* — without properly replacing them?
SL: In hindsight, it’s a scandalously bad mistake. Everton had from January last year to replace Lukaku and should have been exhausting all avenues to do so. To then allow him to leave before having a replacement lined up or secured was gross mismanagement at all levels, Steve Walsh and Ronald Koeman should have been sacked for just that.
Looking back, it seems they became so engrossed on signing Gylfi Sigurdsson, a player they didn’t actually need but wanted to sign in order to make a statement, and in the process forgot to get the one signing they desperately needed. It was simply negligent.
SMM: Who on Everton should Southampton fans be wary of?
SL: Tough choice given no Everton player is particularly impressing at the minute and the one shining grace, Oumar Niasse, has been suspended.
Ademola Lookman is certainly one to keep an eye out for; he’s a bag of tricks with pace to burn and could enjoy a bright future if he gets serious game time this season. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is another bright talent too. He's come on leaps and bounds despite all the pressure on him at the club this season and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares up against Virgil Van Dijk.
SMM: Despite our nowhere near teething attack, which Saints player will be a cause for concern for Everton?
SL: Manolo Gabbiadini will be the one Everton should watch. He may not be in form but it seems almost inevitable that he’ll have a good game against the side he seemed extremely likely to join before heading to the south coast. Let’s not overlook, either, he’s got two goals to his name this season and is Saints top scorer, even if he is in bad form.
SMM: A 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Atlanta … Surely set up for a heroic 1-0 win over the mighty Saints? Your prediction?
SL: Confidence is likely to be low and I can’t see this being a classic given both sides are severely lacking up front at the minute. Everton should be capable of bringing an end to their terrible away form though, with those rested in midweek coming in fresh and eager to impress. A 2-0 win for the Toffees!