Everton suffered their first defeat of 2020/21 as they were beaten 2-0 by Southampton at St. Marys Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
It was a thoroughly deserved win for the home side, as they blunted the Blues’ attack better than any side has so far this season. Carlo Ancelotti’s side had just six shots, which was comfortably their fewest in their first six league matches. Aside from when they took nine at Selhurst Park, Everton had at least 11 in their other four games.
If you factor in the quality of chances, the picture is even uglier. Expected goals is a model which assigns a value to all shots based on the historic likelihood of similar opportunities being converted in the past.
According to FBRef.com, the Blues’ chances on Sunday were collectively worth just 0.4 expected goals, when Everton had averaged 2.0 across their opening five matches and never had less than 1.3 in a single game.
It was clearly a poor day on the attacking front, though in fairness there were some relevant factors which didn’t help.
For starters, Ancelotti was unable to call upon two of his five most creative players from the season so far, and another didn’t complete the match.
If you rank the Blues’ regular starters by shot creating actions per 90 minutes played in 2020/21, then James Rodriguez is comfortably in front. But next in line is Richarlison, who is currently suspended, and he is followed by Lucas Digne, who was sent off after 72 minutes at Southampton. One full-back then follows the other, with the injured Seamus Coleman next in the standings.
Everton will be looking to bounce back against Newcastle after defeat to Southampton.
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And it isn’t just the players who were missing but how they link up too. Everton’s fourth most common passing combination in the win at Tottenham on the opening weekend was from Coleman to Rodriguez, with 17 passes. They linked up for eight against West Bromwich Albion, nine at Crystal Palace and 11 – the joint-fifth most for Everton that day – in the 4-2 win over Brighton.
Despite the Blues having a similar amount of possession at St. Marys as they had enjoyed against Spurs, Brighton and in the Merseyside derby, stand-in right-back Ben Godfrey only made five passes to Rodriguez, with only one in the final third.
This is no slight on a young centre-back who was playing out of position to help the team, but it illustrates that a key component of Everton’s usual build up play was missing.
The Blues were also faced with something that they hadn’t previously had to contend with this season, in that they were behind for a large part of the match, and they also went two goals down for the first time.
Everton equalised against West Brom 21 minutes after Grady Diangana had given them the lead, and they were only behind for a total of 25 minutes in the derby despite trailing twice in that match.
It’s always harder to generate good scoring opportunities when behind, as the opposition side are content to go with a safety first approach and hope to score on the counter. When behind by two goals, the task is obviously even harder.
And that was abundantly clear on Sunday. The two teams had taken four shots apiece before James Ward-Prowse opened the scoring with the Saints’ fifth. Per Understat, the home side were just 0.02 expected goals better than Everton over the opening 26 minutes of the match. It had been even to that point.
But from there, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side were able to keep the Blues at arm’s length. Everton only had two shots over the rest of the match – a Yerry Mina header from a set piece, and a Rodriguez shot which was blocked by Jannik Vestergaard.
Southampton are good defensively too. Only Brighton and Liverpool have a higher success rate for pressing this season (via FBRef), and only the former has been more successful than the Saints against Everton so far in this campaign.
They were also able to nullify the Blues’ crossing, which is a huge part of their arsenal. Everton have six crossed assists this season – the most in the Premier League – but completed just two of the 21 crosses they attempted at St. Marys. This was in part as the home side blocked three of them, a total only West Brom have bettered against the Blues in 2020/21.
So in many ways the result was a perfect storm of facing a very solid team while understrength. But Everton will inevitably trail again at times and be without key players in future, so Ancelotti needs to figure out how to get the best out of his team in such circumstances.