Everton travel to Southampton on Monday evening looking to build on the positives of the goalless draw recorded against Swansea City in their last Premier League outing.
A first clean sheet since September was about the best David Moyes could make of the draw with the Welsh side but considering Everton’s defensive record was bordering on the ridiculous, conceding at least one goal in 18 consecutive games, preventing the Swans adding to that tally is not something to be glossed over.
That Swansea showed little desire to trouble the Everton back line – especially after half-time, although Michu did hit the crossbar in the first-half – no doubt helped, and Southampton are unlikely to be so reticent. Buoyed by coming back from two goals down against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to draw 2-2, the Saints have pulled three points clear of the relegation zone.
When the sides met at Goodison Park in September it was, unsurprisingly, Southampton who scored first, netting through Gaston Ramirez after six minutes after Everton’s marking from a corner completely fell apart. Everton though hit back with three goals, including a Nikica Jelavic brace, all before half-time, Leon Osman claiming the other.
Everton though find themselves in a strange position when their home and away league records are compared. Although they have won more points on their own turf, Moyes’ side have actually been slightly more prolific on their travels – by a single goal, a small difference to be sure but indicative of Everton’s approach on the road.
In their last league match away from home, the 2-1 win at Newcastle, Everton lost the percentage battle but that is a rarity – more indicative is the victory at West Ham by the same score. Everton took more than 60% of possession and had more than twice the number of shots as the home side.
It was the third away game of the season in which Everton had 60% or more of the ball, after Swansea City and Fulham, and in seven of their 11 away games Everton have taken more than half of the total possession of the match. Their lowest total, 37% in defeat to West Bromwich Albion, came while the Baggies were in their fine early season form, and Everton posted a respectable 43% in drawing with the champions, Manchester City.
So Everton are unlikely to go to Southampton and let the home side dictate. Three points would mean Everton would not only reach the 40-point mark a full two months earlier than last season but also capitalise on any potential slip-up by the sides directly above and below. With Tottenham Hotspur facing Manchester United at home at Arsenal travelling to Chelsea, Everton could be in a position to draw level on points with Spurs and move six clear of Arsenal.
A heavy enough win would even take Everton into fourth place on goal difference, depending on the outcome of Tottenham’s meeting with the league leaders. Keeping a second straight clean sheet then becomes about more than simply taking positives.
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