Last time out at Goodison ,Martinez opted to tackle Southampton’s trademark high press by sitting deep and playing on the counter and to be fair it worked out pretty nicely as two counter attack goals gave an under strength toffees a deserved 2-1 win.
Soton have generally struggled against the better sides in the league and at home the best placed side they’ve beaten is Newcastle, and they’re fucking abysmal. Their cause was further compromised by the loss of pacey top scorer Rodriguez and in the 3 games since he got injured they’ve failed to score a goal in open play. As a result, youngster, Gallacher began up front with Lambert working the channels in support, with Davis on the right and the impish Lallana starting from the left.
Everton made 2 changes from the Man Utd win with Deulofeu and Alcaraz coming in for the injured Mirallas and Distin in a 4-2-2-2. Deulofeu surprisingly started up top alongside Lukaku as a left sided forward meaning we had no real left midfielder. As is the case when he plays as a right forward, Deulofeu is given no defensive brief and instead the DMC (in this case Barry) is tasked with assisting Baines when possession is lost, with the other midfielders shifting across one.
The start to the game was beyond grim. Since the turn of the year when Barkley is bad he’s really bad and from the kick off his increasingly erratic form continued as he needlessly gave the ball away. Little did we know that what lied ahead would be the footballing equivalent of When Corden met Barlow, and within a minute the Saints had gone 1-0 up in comical fashion.
Adam Lallana has deservedly won plenty of plaudits this campaign and the bearded scamp was key to both goals and in general was central to his side’s cute passing triangles which befuddled us from the word go. Firstly, his clever turn put McCarthy on his arse which consequently opened up our defensive midfield clamp. Within seconds the impressive Cork played in Lambert down our right and his cross was then comically headed into his own net by Alcaraz.
Southampton were first to every loose ball and like the game at Goodison went after us in our own half from the word go, winning 20 loose balls in our half compared to our 5 in theirs with Jack Cork particularly impressive in this area. Gareth Barry – whose personal nadir last season also came on this ground – was particularly off the pace and didn’t like being squeezed on the ball as he was done. This meant he had no time to spread play as he would like and shorn of this attribute he just resembled a semi-rotund park player kicking quicker and more incisive opponents up the backside, and he received his customary yellow card just before half time.
On the ball you could perhaps forgive the younger players for having tension when in possession in a game that was huge for us, but off the ball you’d at least expect them to ‘put in a shift’. Sadly they didn’t, and despite having more possession than us Southampton worked harder when possession was lost, and regained possession through tackles or interceptions 18 times more than us.
With Deulofeu not having to pick up Clyne the full back was able to repeatedly play the ball inside to the massively underrated Davis, who himself had a very impressive game. Unsurprisingly this was the most frequent – and easy – passing combination of the game and Clyne was to be a key player in putting the game out of our reach midway through the first half.
Lallana again started the move, this time spreading play nicely from left to right, giving Clyne a 1v1 shot on Baines with Barry’s slow amble across to help out his fullback a bit of a token effort. Clyne then effortlessly glided past Baines and pinged the ball into the box for Coleman to inexplicably divert the ball past his own keeper. Coleman would probably have expected one of his two centre backs to repel the cross but his body position was all wrong and he should have been on his toes ready to volley the ball clear.
With confidence sapped after the second own goal, Martinez withdrew Barkley at half time and sent on Osman who switched with the equally gash Deulofeu, who himself was then replaced by McGeady in an attacking midfield re-jig.
Barkley couldn’t complain that he didn’t get the service – he received possession more than anyone in the first half – but failed to register any of the usual data you’d associate with the youngster. He failed to beat his man once, didn’t create any chances or registered one of his trademark long shots. It was all the more bizarre given the amount of space Southampton afforded in behind their defensive line. In short, he didn’t display any of the arrogance or swagger which has characterised his play all season.
At the sharp end Lukaku has been last for ages now and he consistently failed to hold the ball up and link play with his midfielders. His inability to move his feet quick enough to attack crosses with his head seen him spur our two best opportunities either side of half time. It was more criminal given he was up against Fonte and Lovren, two ok but limited operatives who revealed their frailties when we put them under more pressure in the second half. Lovren was particularly rash, and both his slide on Osman and pull on McCarthy should have resulted in Everton penalties, albeit we deserved nothing from the game really.
As a caveat, Lukaku, Barkley and Deulofeu are all young pro’s and as a result will always be susceptible to dips in form and inconsistency. It’s just a massive pain in the arse that they had to choose this game to stink the place out.
This was a really sloppy display by the Blues and pretty much ends our hopes of claiming 4th spot. On the ball, Southampton’s passing and movement was much slicker than ours and when not in possession they also had the edge on us throughout. It’s been a great season for the Blues but without 4 of our ‘first picks’ out for this game there was a disjointed feel to our play and too many players had off days. Whereas last week our defence held firm and our counter attacking play was ruthless on this occasion both deserted us and it’d be hard to grumble with the score.