Later this afternoon, Southampton kick off the new 2021-22 Premier League campaign off with a trip to Goodison Park to take on Everton.
Like with Southampton, much has changed at Everton over the summer.
Carlo Ancelotti left for pastures new at Real Madrid, and then came in Rafa Benitez - the talismanic figure that led cross-city rivals Liverpool to Champions League glory.
To see how Everton fans are thinking ahead of Southampton’s visit, we spoke to Trent Nelson of Everton SB Nation blog Royal Blue Mersey to gauge the feeling from the blue side of Liverpool.
In return, you can read my thoughts on their blog here.
SMM: Hello Trent! How are you feeling about Everton ahead of the new season?
Despite the doom and gloom, the Toffees are in a positive state in certain areas of the pitch, but still sorely lacking in others. As long as they can supply Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the box Everton should do well, but as last season proved the team cannot rely on just him and Richarlison for goals. Everton have been hamstrung in the transfer window with bloated contracts and wages, and until they can jettison some of those players this will remain the status quo. As you yourself said when we discussed Southampton however, it is difficult to give a proper assessment of the squad until the window closes.
SMM: Rafa Benitez. How are Everton fans reacting to his appointment?
There was certainly an unpleasant backlash when rumours first began picking up traction that Benitez was a serious candidate for the position. Overall though, there is some hope and faith in Rafa given his pedigree. His intimate, educational, positive, yet demanding style of talking to each player could be beneficial for the youngsters at Everton. While there are some fans who adamantly insist they will never accept him as their manager, the truth is that the Blues are so starved of success that if he somehow gets us to Europe or actually wins a cup, he will be embraced wholeheartedly.
SMM: Were you disappointed with the way Carlo Ancelotti left things at Everton?
Certainly. The fanbase had given him a lot of leeway despite some truly awful performances last season and there was hope that in his second full season there would be some improvements. That he left the club in the lurch in such an unexpected way however, was a bit distasteful and inconsiderate. There have been rumours in recent weeks that he probably chose to leave once he heard of Everton’s financial woes, but that’s neither here nor there.
SMM: Speaking of financial woes, how do you rate Everton’s transfer dealings in the summer so far?
They have been severely hampered by the Premier League’s financial regulations and have been unable to bring in too many players, but those they have have so far appeared to be positive selections for the club. Andros Townsend is a very capable winger who can provide crosses to both Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, while Demarai Gray seems a brilliant Swiss army knife of sorts for Rafa, with pace, versatility and creativity at wing or inside in a more central role behind the number nine. Asimir Begovic too seems as positive a replacement for the departed Robin Olsen as could’ve been found, especially for the price.
Not enough has been done to get rid of non-contributing players however, with only Bernard sold so far.
SMM: Who do you see as Everton’s key players for the season ahead?
Apart from some obvious names like Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Jordan Pickford, young defender Ben Godfrey is expected to contonue to grow. The strength of the midfield relies heavily on the fitness of Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure, and if Moise Kean and James Rodriguez continue to be Blues then their contributions will be important too. Names like Sporting Lisbon’s Matheus Nunes, or Manchester United’s Andreas Pereira in the center of the park are ones to watch, as would be the elusive right back replacement now that Denzel Dumfries is on his way to Inter Milan from PSV Eindhoven.
SMM: What’s the story with Everton’s squad?
Ok, so first off, the weaknesses for the Toffees: Everton need creativity in the offensive build up before anything else. While the team can score should the ball get to its two or three most dangerous players, DCL, Richarlison and Rodriguez, that has not always been the easiest exercise for the club. Our newly bolstered winger group should be a strength of this team this season as long as they can consistently get the ball into the box. Adding a playmaker or two in the middle of the pitch would help to remedy this glaring weakness with the jury still out on if Gray could fix that.
This will be fourth straight year we go into a season without a long term replacement for aging right back Seamus Coleman, and this continues to be a weakness for the side who cannot provide balance across from Lucas Digne.
SMM: What are Everton fans hoping for this season?
According to a recent poll done by The Athletic, no fan group is more pessimistic about their upcoming season than the Toffees. For a team full of highish expectations last year, this is quite the role reversal to be sure. I think that fans are simply dying to see some real, tangible improvement, in the way that things were looking at stretches of last season’s campaign.
With the newly created Europa Conference League, it will be a consistent possibility for English clubs to make it into a European competition with even just a seventh place finish on the Premier League table; supporters are likely hoping for a top six or seven finish, yet I doubt many would offer so much hope without shades of sarcasm attached to it.
SMM: What is your prediction for Everton - Southampton?
I think that Everton will have their hands full with the aggressive Saints press. The Blues are moving the ball faster than they were under Ancelotti so they might be able to unlock Hassenhuttl’s side.
The availability of DCL and Richarlison is a positive even though five players are ruled out due to isolation regulations. I will say that Everton wins 2-1, though it could be very dependent on the first goal - should the Blues fall behind then Goodison Park will quickly revert to its toxic worst.
We’d like to thank Trent and Royal Blue Mersey for their time.