Everton manager Frank Lampard said on Friday he expected another relegation battle after narrowly avoiding the drop last season.
The former Chelsea boss saved the Toffees during his first five months in charge as they guaranteed top-flight survival with a game to spare.
Lampard then lost Brazil forward Richarlison, who joined Tottenham in the pre-season transfer window.
Financial fair play restrictions have hampered Everton’s ability to strengthen in the transfer market and that has shown in the Liverpool-based club’s run of one win in 12 games in all competitions.
Lampard’s men sit third from bottom of the Premier League, but are only in the relegation zone on goal difference ahead of a huge clash against bottom-of-the-table Southampton on Saturday.
“The start (to the season) was going to be tough, Lampard told a pre-match press conference on Friday. “For us that probably meant staying where we are in the league and that may be the reality.
“I don’t mean to sound negative. Once Richarlison moved, it’s hard to replace him. A unique player, Brazil’s number nine.”
Everton’s form at Goodison Park dragged them to safety last season with memorable wins over Chelsea, Manchester United and Crystal Palace.
Fans, however, are planning to protest against owner Farhad Moshiri after the Southampton match.
“From my point of view and that of the players, our only thing is to have personal responsibility for me doing my job, and the players doing their job. We have to think about ourselves and performing,” added Lampard.
“If the fans see that in the game, from Everton players and staff, then they’ll react positively.”