One game stands out above all the rest in the Premier League this weekend. It is a match with the potential to impact the seasons and shape the short and medium-term futures of the two clubs involved. A contest where defeat for either side is unthinkable, where victory would leave supporters in spasms of ecstasy. Yes, Everton's trip to Southampton on Saturday afternoon is a clash with so much at stake that it definitely and without question eclipses all other fixtures this weekend.
For Saints, it is the chance to continue the delicate rebuilding process after THAT night against Leicester City. Ralph Hasenhüttl's side have negotiated back to back games at Manchester City with minimum damage done. In two games at City they have conceded just five goals, the same number the Foxes managed in the FIRST HALF at St Mary's. Tomorrow's game starts a run of eminently winnable fixtures when compared with the previous five. A single point from games against Spurs, Chelsea, Wolves, Leicester and City is clearly not great, however, it is not a string of results that would normally raise many eyebrows. What does raise eyebrows is months of dismal home form culminating in THAT awful night two weeks ago. A heavy thrashing like THAT has the potential to ruin a teams morale, send them under, but equally, it could be a catalyst for improvement. A line in the sand, a low watermark that so embarrasses those involved that they are spurred onto improvement. Given the evidence of two games against City, the early signs are that Ralph Hasenhüttl is using THAT bad experience to get a positive reaction from his players.
Everton, like Saints, find themselves much lower down the league after eleven games than they expected to be. While Saints look decidedly top ten on paper, Everton fans might have imagined their team even further up the table at this stage. Marco Silva is in his second season now, big money has been spent, the squad looks jam-packed full of quality, this was supposed to be Everton's year. With three of the 'traditional' top six experiencing difficulties, this season is turning into a prime opportunity for a smaller club to steal a precious top-four slot. Marco Silva seems to have all the relevant tools at his disposal and yet, it is Leicester City that look set to step into the quality vacuum at the top of the table. It is worth pondering where Everton might be if Brendan Rodgers had assumed control at Goodison Park and not the King Power Stadium.
And so to Saturday where defeat for either club, just ahead of the international break, could be calamitous for the remainder of the season. A loss for Everton, against a side that has not won at home since mid-April and recently got humped NINE-nil, would surely make Silva's position all but untenable. Likewise, if Southampton do not start picking up points soon, the brave and once so promising Ralph Hasenhüttl era could come to a damp and squib-like ending.