Everton v Southampton: grafters and match-winners

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Ronald Koeman – www.worldfootball.net

If Everton and Southampton were to merge, forming a combined team with each other’s strengths and best players, that side could conceivably gatecrash the title race. Creating Everhampton FC may be logistically problematic – players would have to meet somewhere in Worcestershire for home games.

The idea though, remains the same. Everton have plenty of matchwinners in their squad, gifted individuals capable of producing a moment of magic. Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulefeu and Romelu Lukaku have all impressed at times this term, albeit some with a degree of inconsistency. The team’s attacking potential is evidenced by a return of 74 goals in all competitions, eight more than Leicester.

Southampton, this season, are at the opposite end of the spectrum to Everton. They have conceded just 34 goals, only three more than the leading East Midlanders. Ronald Koeman has favoured honest grafters, rather than players that will set the league alight. For example, Steven Davis has started more games than both Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane, the latter two Koeman seems reluctant to fit in the same team. Tadic and Mane offer more creativity, but Davis provides the defensive balance.

This tactical trend may explain why Southampton have kept 15 clean sheets in all forms and conceded the fifth fewest shots on target. However, it might also explain why the quality of attacking football has not been to the same standard of the previous two seasons. In the 13/14 campaign under Pochettino, they became notorious for their high-pressing and ruthless forward play, this season we are seeing a more subdued structure.

The question facing both clubs is whether they can adapt. To get to the next level, which the more optimistic fans will see as a sustained top four challenge, these teams need to tweak their tactical setup to strike the right balance. Southampton need to compromise their defensive stability in order to find a space for one or two matchwinners, even if that means being a bit more aggressive in the transfer market.

By contrast, Everton must find a defensive base from which to build. Wednesday night’s 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace represents a small, if unspectacular, step forward in that regard. Players at least showed some bravery and responsibility with John Stones, Gareth Barry and Seamus Coleman displaying leadership skills.

If they could put in that kind of defensive display on Wednesday, one must question what had been stopping them being so organized for the last 20 months. Roberto Martinez deserves to be under a lot more scrutiny than he is from the national media. It looks as though the rumours surrounding Marcelo Bielsa are false but Bill Kenwright could do worse than appoint a manager in his mould. Bielsa gets teams pressing from the front and working as a team, qualities which Everton have been missing for a long time. Both teams are capable of going that step further but small changes are needed.