Monday 2nd January 15.00 GMT
Happy new year to you all. We trust that all hangovers have been dealt with and any arguments cast aside in much the same manner as those pesky resolutions you thought you stood a good chance of keeping. It’s a new year in name but in real terms it’s very much the same as yesterday or the day before that so is there any hope of much change in the league?
Everything makes sense again
Maybe not at the top where Chelsea seem close to unbeatable. The chasing pack of Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Manchester United are separated by just seven points and will likely hold as a group if not necessarily in that order. United, the laggards of this group, are themselves seven points ahead of the team closest to them in the race to the line – Everton. All of which indicates that natural order has been restored to the BPL after last season’s extraordinary turn of events.
The fight for what’s left
And so it is that Everton are leading the charge for the unofficial title of ‘Best of the Rest’. In order to claim this honorific as their own, they will need to beat the teams around them starting with their visitors this afternoon. Southampton have suffered two losses on the bounce but are still just three points behind their hosts and more than capable of agitating for a positive change to their current standing.
Not looking gift horses in the mouths
Last time out, Everton came from behind twice to draw 2-2 away to Hull. In a helter skelter game, they had to thank Hull’s goalkeeper for one of the funnier own goals that you’re ever likely to see as well as the ultimate guide in How Not to Defend courtesy of Robert Snodgrass which saw Ross Barkley chalk up the late equalizer. A point wasn’t much good to them but for the sake of the mental boost gained by way of a battling display, the result wasn’t totally bereft of merit.
Not playing well either, though
But that is the silver lining in a pretty dull cloud. As game (and unlucky) as Hull were, a team with Everton’s resources and qualities should be beating teams at the bottom of the table. The players don’t seem to fully understand what it is that their manager, Ronald Koeman, wants them to do or, more worryingly, if they do understand it’s not effective, to say the least. Basic awareness of positioning and shape seems to be lacking and, as a result, the defence is looking shaky and Romelu Lukaku often finds himself isolated.
Neither are this lot
Southampton, by contrast, seem far more comfortable in their skin, the manager’s message apparently reaching receptive ears for the most part. Which is not to say that that all is rosy in their garden. Their aforementioned losses also saw them reduced to ten men in both matches and, as a result of the latter of those two red cards, centre back Virgil van Dijk will miss this tie. The defence will be compromised as a result, the Dutchman having been particularly impressive this season. Another issue is on the goal-scoring front where they have only netted six in their last five games with three of those coming in a single match.
Saints to get their strut on away from home?
Another reason to worry Saints fans is their away record; two wins on the road all season doesn’t give much cause for optimism. Having said that, their two losses coming into this game have both been at home so maybe the change of scenery will do them some good. It might also be in their favour that Everton have only won three games at home since the beginning of October.
The market has Everton as strong favourites and, in light of van Dijk’s absence, this makes a degree of sense. There’s some appeal in the 27/10 price for the Southampton win but their relative dearth of goals does count against them. However, a price of in-and-around 6/5 for an Everton win seems a bit short considering their form. BetFair have the draw at 12/5 and that sounds decent to us.