Everton vs. Southampton: 6 Things We Learned
Everton returned to winning ways with an important 2-1 victory over Southampton.
The three points helped soothe memories of a surprise Boxing Day defeat to Sunderland and reignited their European challenge.
Seamus Coleman provided the hosts with an early lead as he ghosted past James Ward-Prowse and unleashed a powerful effort past Kelvin Davis.
Southampton pulled level when Gaston Ramirez's swerving effort left Joel Robles floundering on 71 minutes, only for Romelu Lukaku to lash home the winner just three minutes later.
Here's a look at some Everton-related talking points to emerge from this fixture.
Surprise Rotation Pays off
Roberto Martinez shuffled his pack and made five changes for this game, more than in any other match this season.
In fact, until now the Catalan had made just 19 changes in 18 Premier League games, keeping his selections consistent as the Toffees' style evolves.
His hand was forced by suspensions to Tim Howard and Gareth Barry—as well as Phil Jagielka's injury—but his decision to omit both Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas left the Toffees lacking creativity.
Their roles went to Steven Naismith and Bryan Oviedo, presumably in an attempt to combat Southampton's energy with industry on both flanks.
Seamus Coleman's individual brilliance masked some of these issues, and by the time Southampton equalised, both Pienaar and Mirallas were on the field to help find the winner.
There's no doubt this was a risky strategy from Martinez, especially after a loss; however, the most important point is that it worked, and the Toffees now have their most creative players much fresher for Wednesday's trip to Stoke.
Coincidentally, Everton have won all seven of the games in which Martinez has made two or more changes to his lineup. Unchanged, the Toffees have won just once in six games this season.
Thus far, there's no denying Martinez's rotations have worked every time.
Coleman Continues to Flourish
Seamus Coleman continued his recent goalscoring trend by notching his fifth goal of the season, his fourth strike in seven games.
He sauntered down the right before bursting past James Ward-Prowse, cutting in and blasting an effort into the top corner.
It was the sort of individual magic his manager would have been desperate for with such a heavily depleted lineup, and it eventually proved to be the difference.
Coleman has been one of the Toffees' best players under Martinez. He's contributing far more in the final third but, just as crucially, has also ironed out the defensive blips that were affecting his game.
His anticipation and confidence seem to have reached new levels, and he currently stands as one of the Premier League's leading right-backs.
He can't have too much further to go.
Lukaku Back in the Goals
Romelu Lukaku had endured something of a mini-drought in recent weeks, failing to find the net in his past five games for the Toffees.
He returned to type by scoring yet another winner for his temporary employers, again without being especially dominant in his performance.
With half the season gone, he's already reached nine goals for Everton, a total good enough to see him joint top, or top goal scorer in three of the Toffees' past five seasons—a stat that also highlights what's so often held the Toffees back.
The Belgium international continues to provide the prolific edge that's been missing for several recent seasons at Goodison Park.
He's currently on course to produce the club's best-ever goals tally in the Premier League era, and the extra points his goals bring may well be the difference in making Europe.
Barry's Absence Felt Most of All
All of Everton's absentees were missed during this game.
Howard's presence and Jagielka's leadership left the defence feeling more vulnerable, while no Mirallas and Pienaar resulted in a lack of creativity during the early stages.
However, no absence was felt more than Gareth Barry's.
The England midfielder has already become integral to his new side, and without his presence, the Toffees struggled on and off the ball.
The midfield was too accommodating without possession, providing too much space for Southampton to exploit, but it was the passing game that was left most depleted.
Barry has been Everton's leading passer in 10 of his 14 games and in all of the last six fixtures, often by a considerable margin. He's responsible for moving his side around, and without his influence, Everton lacked imagination and often surrendered possession cheaply.
Without Barry dictating the tempo, the Toffees recorded 27 fewer passes than in any match this season and also averaged under 50 percent possession in a home game (45 percent) for just the second time under Martinez (having previously done so against Chelsea).
These numbers are all a direct result of Barry's absence from the Toffees' core and suggest his side were slightly fortunate to win—the first time they have done so without him.
Thankfully his suspension is just for one match, but this again emphasises just how vital it is that his loan becomes a long-term deal.
Mixed Introductions for Alcaraz and Robles
This game saw Antolin Alcaraz and Joel Robles fully introduce themselves to their new club's supporters.
Robles has appeared in the Capital One Cup and replaced Howard as a substitute against Sunderland, but this was his first Premier League start, while it was Alcaraz's first appearance in an Everton shirt.
The Paraguayan fared much better than his fellow new signing. He was a calming presence in defence and made more clearances (15) than any other player. He was occasionally let down by a poor touch, but that can be attributed to his lengthy spell out injured.
While he didn't exactly press Jagielka for selection, he confirmed the Toffees won't be affected by the probable sale of Johnny Heitinga in January.
Robles was mostly assured but will be wincing at footage of Southampton's goal.
He was completely caught out by Ramirez's effort which seemed to pass through his hands. Fortunately for the young Spaniard, Lukaku's quick riposte spared him the agony of costing his new club any points.
Toffees Maintaining Champions League Pace
At the halfway point, Everton sit fourth on 37 points from 19 games, currently on track for Champions League football.
Over the past five seasons, 70 points has been the average needed, with a maximum of 73 required last year for Arsenal.
That shows the size of job still needed to finish fourth, but with every team now faced once, there's nothing to suggest the Toffees' can't repeat their form in the return set of fixtures.
Just another 28 points would match the Toffees' best-ever Premier League points tally, which also shows the progress made.
At the very least, this start should leave Everton aiming for a return to Europe in some form.
The fact all this is possible in what's supposed to be a transitional season is a testament to Roberto Martinez's instant impact in his first year in charge.