A first defeat, a second straight red card, a conspiracy theory but, most of all, this was probably just a reality check.
The last unbeaten Premier League record has gone and, while Everton remain proudly positioned at the top of the table, the ease with which they were dispatched 2-0 here by Southampton suggests that is also unlikely to last too much longer.
No disgrace in that but, for all their impressive start to the season, this was a particular reminder that high quality squad depth is generally the crucial component in any lasting title contender. Richarlison and Seamus Coleman were enforced absentees and, with James Rodriguez largely anonymous following a muscular injury that was causing clear discomfort in the closing minutes, Everton dipped well below their early-season levels. The dismissal of Lucas Digne also prompted questions following both Richarlison’s red card and Jordan Pickford’s reckless intervention last week against Liverpool.
Southampton were already leading 2-0 when Digne was sent off in the 72nd minute for treading on the back of Kyle Walker-Peters’s achilles tendon. It was a curious incident and, with Digne adamant that he had inadvertently caught Walker-Peters as he chased the ball, Everton will now appeal in the hope of averting another three-match suspension. Ancelotti called the decision “a joke” and suggested that it might have been a consequence of the adverse publicity that followed the Merseyside derby, when Pickford’s challenge left Virgil van Dijk needing surgery on his knee ligaments. “The red was not intentional, for sure it was not violent,” said Ancelotti of Digne. “Maybe all this talk all week against Pickford, against Richarlison, affected the decision and if so it's not right, it's not fair.”
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl saw the incident very differently and, noting how Digne’s studs had separately almost caught Walker-Peters just a few seconds earlier, was convinced that referee Kevin Friend made the correct decision. “I think he tried before to kick him and finally he hit him from behind - for me it was a clear red card,” said Hasenhuttl.
With Southampton already well in commend, Ancelotti acknowledged his team’s wider “poor performance” and the deserved loss.
Any assessment of Everton’s credentials should also factor in Southampton’s vast transformation over the past 12 months. The corresponding weekend of fixtures last season saw them lose 9-0 to Leicester City, but they are now on a sequence of seven wins and four draws in their past 13 Premier League games and, like Everton, look well capable of making a viable European challenge. “Our game management against a very good side was fantastic - it was dominant,” said Hasenhuttl.
With Ben Godfrey coming in at right-back for Coleman and Alex Iwobi playing off the left instead of Richarlison, Ancelotti had opted simply to change the personnel rather than overhaul the shape in his Everton team.
Southampton, though, are especially effective down the left through Ryan Bertrand and Nathan Redmond and, following a frenetic start by both teams, were soon pinning Godfrey back and creating chances. Jannik Vestergaard released Danny Ings and his astute pass found the overlapping Bertrand who in turn teed up Redmond to shoot inches right.
Against such relentless front-to-back intensity, Everton’s threat became increasingly reduced to occasional flashes of high quality, most notably when Gylfi Sigurdsson was afforded rare space and smashed a dipping shot onto the crossbar.
Southampton remained firmly in the ascendancy and, after Redmond again shot wide, Oriol Romeu’s powerful drive forced Pickford into a good save. The excellent James Ward-Prowse then surged forward from midfield and, with Ings weighting his return pass from a one-two perfectly, was presented with an opportunity that he smashed beyond Pickford. Ings, on whom Southampton have been so reliant to score their goals, was then centrally involved in also creating the second. Having surged beyond Godfrey and Yerry Mina, he crossed past Ward-Prowse for Che Adams.
There was time for Adams to tee up his shot and, from a narrow angle, he summoned sufficient power to beat Pickford with the help of a deflection off Sigurdsson. Ancelotti reacted at half-time by replacing Iwobi with Bernard and, while his team resumed with rather more purpose, they still struggled to create clear chances. Southampton became content to play on the counter-attack and were close several times to a third, most notably when Ings showed rare fallibility in front of goal following Redmond’s cross. The match, though, was then effectively settled when Everton were reduced to 10-men following Digne’s challenge on Walker-Peters.
What the table looks like now
Southampton won that in the first half, with Hasenhuttl besting Ancelotti in the tactical battle and his players working tremendously hard to deny Everton anything like a chance on goal. Superb from the home side. Everton's title bid has crumbled, this isn't their year, it's all downhill from here etc.
90 mins+5 - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Romeu tries another shot from distance but hits it straight at Pickford, who spills it, but recovers just in time to avoid embarrassment. The referee might as well blow his whistle now, this goose is cooked!
90 mins+2 - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Calvert-Lewin is booked for catching Vestergaard while the defender clears the ball. Again that seems a little harsh.
89 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Never fear, there's still time for Pickford to make himself look a grenade waiting to go off. Rather than boot a long ball up the pitch, he fakes... inviting the pressure on himself and having to scurry the ball out of play for a throw. Entirely avoidable.
86 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Southampton pushing for a third now, finding space all over the pitch. Rodriguez looks like he doesn't really want to run anymore, allowing Ward-Prowse to run in behind and almost get on the end of a chipped through ball.
83 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Rodriguez seems to have a little muscular problem, which will worry the Everton bench, seeing as he almost didn't make it for this game in the first place. Do they go down to nine men and avoid causing more damage? Or risk it in the hope of getting something out of the game?
Hasenhuttle is pretty loud on the touchline too, giving constant encouragement to his players. "Yes that's good!" is his response to most things done well.
80 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Vestergaard climbs an invisible ladder to batter a header towards the goal from a corner but Pickford tips it over.
Ancelotti can be heard urging his players to keep pushing. "Let's go!" etc. But they must be absolutely knackered. I can see another goal for Southampton or another red card for Everton here.
78 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Great tackle by Vestergaard. He reads a pass fired down the wing into Calvert-Lewin's path and slides across to intercept with the challenge. Southampton in total control of this match.
They've started calmly passing it around while Everton frantically chase the game and that is allowing them to thread it through Ancelotti's panicking defence.
75 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
I have absolutely no idea what planet Lucas Digne lives on if he thinks that was anything other than a red card. Ridiculous. He goes off the pitch ranting and waving his arms as if it's such an injustice. Mate, go and watch a replay. Wonder what his reaction would be if that had been the opposite way round.
Everton clearly getting wound up here.
DIGNE IS STRAIGHT OFF!
That's an awful challenge. Digne loses out to Walker-Peters, chases him and lunges in from behind, putting his weight on the back of the boy's leg, hacking him down. A stupid Sunday League tackle and he is rightly dismissed. Everton's title bid falling apart here.
71 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Bernard hacks down Walker-Peters while going for another 50/50 and again, it would be amazingly harsh to book him for it, let alone show a second. The referee seems to understand that this one isn't worthy of a yellow... but this one was worse than the first!
69 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
The pattern is Everton keep possession, work the ball forward, try a long pass into space, are forced backwards and then go again. Southampton keeping things tight, blocking the middle, pressing aggressively and have overloads wherever they are needed. The midfield four go flat when the move suits it, then into a box when the ball is central, and whoever wins the ball breaks forward with it. Redmond has just outsmarted three players at once with a smart bit of skill to do exactly that.
66 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Bernard is furious for being booked after bringing down Romeu in a 50/50. I have to say I agree with him - he has to attack the ball there and only brings him down accidentally because he loses the battle. Harsh. Everton finding it impossible to open up the Southampton defence, or midfield for that matter.
63 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Allan has been robbed by Romeu, Southampton players surge forwards on the counter but Ings runs into trouble and the chance fizzles out.
Ward-Prowse makes a brilliant interception to steal possession in the centre of the pitch, the ball is shifted to the left, Adams beats Mina, Armstrong overlaps and whips a cross into INGS! He misses the ball! That would have been 3-0 with even the slightest of touches, thought he suspicion is that Ings was offside.
60 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Godfrey is not having a great time and has been booked. Ancelotti decides to make changes, taking off Sigurdsson and Doucoure and replacing them with Delph and Gordon.
57 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Godfrey gets forward but isn't a full-back and doesn't seem to really know what to do during attacking moves. He loses the ball easily but tracks back to win possession back. Digne wins a free-kick on the edge of the box for a handball off Walker-Peters.
54 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
OOOOOHHHHHHHH that could be penalty! Bertrand gets ahead of Godfrey in the box and goes down under a clumsy challenge but the referee doesn't think it's a foul! The Var agrees... so no penalty. Hmmmm. I'm not sure about that one.
It's accidental but Godfrey clearly catches his heel, forcing him to trip up. Anywhere else on the pitch and that's definitely a free-kick so why not a penalty?
51 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Everton still focusing on the left wing for their attacking moves, with Digne getting forward more often now than he did in the first half. A corner is played short, Rodriguez crosses in first time... but is offside.
48 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Southampton target that left side immediately again, with Adams getting between Godfrey and Mina but unable to get enough power on his shot to trouble the goalie.
Everton win a free-kick as Godfrey is wiped out by Redmond but the delivery isn't great.
KICK OFF 2
Bernard comes on for Iwobi, who started well but disappeared after that. I forgot he was even playing.
Kieron Dyer's analysis
Good old Dyer, I used to enjoy watching him for Newcastle and hadn't thought about him for a while but his analysis of the game thus far has been excellent. Just like yours truly (I'M BOASTING, YES, THAT'S RIGHT, TOOTING MY OWN HORN) he's spotted Southampton's obvious focus on attacking the left wing, highlighting how their box midfield (4-2-2-2 allows you to do this) is giving them an overload against the Everton three. Godfrey's positioning is slightly off which is having knock-on effects elsewhere... and now Everton have to figure out how to score against a team who will be ready to hit them on the counter.
Half time stat for you
Look away now, Everton fans.
2 - Everton have never won a Premier League game when trailing by 2+ goals at half time (P67 D4 L63). Mountain. #SOUEVE
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 25, 2020
That's the end of the first 45 minutes. Southampton in charge having taken full advantage of Everton's only obvious weakness. It might be too late for Ancelotti to do much about it now - the players are going to have to battle their way back into this one.
45 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Everton finding it difficult to create anything as Southampton squash the middle of the pitch. They have players filling the midfield forcing play wide but the Everton delivery hasn't been very good in the last 20 minutes or so. Hasenhuttle winning the tactical battle here.
43 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
Danny Ings has just beaten three players with quick footwork out on the wing. Such a good player, even if the pass he sent forward afterwards was overhit and straight to the opposition.
The replay clearly shows Adams is a good couple of yards offside when the ball is pinged over the top.
SOUTHAMPTON HAVE A THIRD! Or do they? The flag is up...
Southampton hit an early ball over the high Everton defensive line, Adams runs through, cuts it back to Armstrong and he blasts a shot into the far corner. Var is checking the decision.
39 mins - Southampton 2 Everton 0
He might not be doing much for his defence but my lord Rodriguez is nice to watch. He's so classy on the ball, seems to know exactly where defenders will show him, then where he can take them in response with subtle little shoulder drops and body turns. Doesn't even need to move the ball to sell a dummy.
SOUTHAMPTON HAVE ANOTHER! And guess which wing this goal was created on? Correct: the left.
This time Che Adams receives the ball in space inside the box, has time to take a touch and then finishes low beneath the goalkeeper to make it 2-0.
33 mins - Southampton 1 Everton 0
Southampton having a lot of fun on the left wing, taking on Godfrey and Rodriguez. It makes perfect sense since the latter rarely comes back to help defend and the former is making his first start in a position that isn't his usual one. Redmond almost chips a cross into the far corner, then turns up a few seconds later to curl a low ball to the near post. Ancelotti will be working on a way to prevent the flow of traffic down that side.
30 mins - Southampton 1 Everton 0
And before you ask "was that Pickford's fault?" let me assure that no, it wasn't. Really well worked goal from Southampton. These teams look completely matched for what it's worth, this could end as any score.
SOUTHAMPTON HAVE THE LEAD!
THE SAINTS LEAD! 🔴⚪️
James Ward-Prowse drills in across Pickford and there's no keeping that out!
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— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) October 25, 2020
Simple throw-in, Ward-Prowse with a great first touch to beat the defender, a one-two with Ings - whose through-ball is perfectly weighted - and Ward-Prowse slams a shot into the far corner. Great goal.
26 mins - Southampton 0 Everton 0
Keane accidentally puts the ball out of play while twisting and turning next to the line, giving Southampton a throw-in close to the Everton box. They work it from right to left, the cross comes in, falls back to Romeu abotu 25 yard out AND HOLY HELL he gets hold of that one! 99 power on the shot from Romeu but Pickford saves!
23 mins - Southampton 0 Everton 0
Southampton cause a little more panic for Everton with an attack up the left wing but none of the waiting strikers in the middle are able to turn the cross into a goal.
20 mins - Southampton 0 Everton 0
OOOOOCHA BABY! WHAT A STRIKE BY SIGURDSSON! Everton are working the ball from right to left through the middle of the park and it's working every time. Sigurdsson receives on the wing and launches a dipping shot towards the goal which crashes off the top of the bar. Would have been amazing had that found the net. Southampton need to figure out how to prevent being passed through their centre.
17 mins - Southampton 0 Everton 0
Everton win a free-kick on the edge of the area and Rodriguez takes his time to line it up and assess all the angles. After the referee makes him reposition the ball for no obvious reason, he hits a powerful shot towards the top left, rather than top right where you'd expect, to try and catch the goalie out. But McCarthy's not having it!
14 mins - Southampton 0 Everton 0
CHANCE FOR ADAMS! So close for Southampton as they work their way up the left and a stabbed shot towards goal is almost turned in at the far post.
Everton attack up the other end immediately after the goal kick and Iwobi comes inside, isn't closed down, and shoots low. A deflection makes it a corner, which is headed away. Iwobi is up to tricks today, he's started really well, nutmegging and dribbling past defenders on the left wing.
11 mins - Southampton 0 Everton 0
Everton manage to get up the right, cross it in and Bednarek has a horrible touch while trying to reach the high ball. It drops to Iwobi, who pings it low into the six yard box looking for Calvert-Lewin. Southampton bodies dive in front to block a shot and Southampton survive.
9 mins - Southampton 0 Everton 0
Goalkeepers in short sleeve shirts: discuss. I'm not sure I can get on board with what Pickford's wearing but I like that he's colour coordinated his gloves and boots (both are orange) and hope that's deliberate.
6 mins - Southampton 0 Everton 0
Hasenhuttl is already up on the technical area issuing instructions to his players. Everton getting behind the ball quickly to block at half way, Southampton want to counter-attack quickly.
3 mins - Southampton 0 Everton 0
Both teams figuring each other out early on. Nothing much happening other than a Southampton free-kick into the box which comes to nothing.
Southampton get the game started.
Here come the players
I quite like this pastel lime green Everton shirt but HATE that they are not wearing blue. Blue vs red is the all time best colour combination in a football game and to deprive us of it feels evil. Evil.
How the table looks before kick-off
If Everton win they pull three points clear of title rivals Liverpool, if Southampton win they climb up into the European slots. All to play for etc but yes it is very early in the season.
Jannik Vestergaard: statistically ace
Vestergaard has worked his way back into the Southampton team after disappearing for a fairly long period of time last season and it's good to see him in there as a neutral, and fan of Opta data. Big fan of that data.
The reason for this is that according to statistics, Vestergaard is easily one of the best centre-backs in the league, regularly topping the rankings of various metrics. Let me show you what I mean. Here is what his player profile looked like in the 2018/19 season:
And this is how he ranks in 2020/21 so far:
There's a mistake in him but when he can avoid making one of those, he's an excellent player.
Everton are going to win the league
That's right, it's official, this is Everton's year. It's happening. Carlo Ancelotti, James Rodriguez, Dominic Calvert-Lewin - all the lads are on fire and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Except maybe Southampton, who are a lot better than many people perhaps realise.
The teams are in and this is what they look like:
A slight change around for Everton here. Sigurdsson in for Gomes and wears the captain's armband, while Ben Godfrey makes his first start as a replacement for Seamus Coleman. Alex Iwobi starts instead of Richarlison too, who is suspended after being sent off in his last game.
This is what Ancelotti said ahead of the game:
"The spirit and the atmosphere in the training ground has totally changed compared to last season.
"Last season was really difficult for everyone - they didn't start well, they changed the manager and I arrived, then there was lockdown, so the season was really complicated. The players were able to switch and to prepare the new season with a different spirit, that was the key.
"[Our goal] doesn't change. We started well, we want to reach the European positions, we want to play in Europe next season and so there are two possibilities - the Europa League or the Champions League.
"We hope to reach this goal that is really important for us, and for the club."
Southampton are lined up in what I think is a 4-2-2-2 formation, with Ings partnered by Adams upfront. Expect lots of work off the ball, a high press, and for this to be a fairly end to end match.
Kick off is 2pm, you can stay here for live updates and analysis throughout.