At the end of the 2016/17 season, Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers were poles apart.
The Blues, having completed a first full campaign under Farhad Moshiri’s ownership and Ronald Koeman’s management, finished in a respectable seventh place, with a Europa League campaign and a summer spending spree on the horizon.
Wolves, by comparison, had also come to the end of a difficult first term under new owners, the Chinese conglomerate Fosun International, who had already dispensed with the services of three managers, and presided over an underwhelming 15th-placed finish in the Championship.
In the time that has elapsed since then, Fosun have spent wisely, rectifying mistakes they have admitted to, molding a squad under the leadership of the bombastic yet inspiring Nuno Espírito Santo which has fused style with substance, and plays with both a freedom and a togetherness. In that regard, it should come as no surprise that they steamrollered the Championship last term and are currently seventh in the top-flight.
On the evidence of the two sides’ meeting at Goodison Park on Saturday, the chasm between the clubs remains. Only this time, it is Wolves who look light years ahead of the Blues.
The statistics would have you believe Everton were perhaps unfortunate. They dominated possession, outnumbered Wolves in shots, and had as many on target as Saturday’s visitors.
Yet in truth, this was a total mismatch, as the wretched Toffees were outplayed in their own back yard by a side not even in the same league as them 12 months ago. Wolves were everything Everton were not, and have not been for much of the last five years: potent in front of goal, organised, industrious, spirited.
Cynics may draw the shallow conclusion that much of their recent success is due to the cash injection of their new, multi-billionaire owners, for whom money is no object.
But while Moshiri, himself worth more than £1 billion, has bankrolled expensive failure after expensive failure at Goodison with no semblance of a long-term vision, Fosun offer him the perfect example of how not to waste an enormous chequebook.
Wolves undoubtedly possess several star players, not least the Portuguese triumvirate of Rui Patrício, Rúben Neves and João Moutinho, but whereas Everton’s bigger names too often play for themselves and only themselves, nobody in Nuno’s squad looks or plays above their station. There is a team spirit about them which, try as Moshiri might, money simply cannot buy.
It is a testament to Nuno’s man-management, meanwhile that the supposed ‘lesser lights’, such as Championship regulars Matt Doherty, Conor Coady and Ryan Bennett, have embraced the step up, rather than let themselves be over-awed at the scale of the challenge.
Everton, comparatively, wilt at the first sign of danger, typified by the unfathomable statistic that they last came from behind to win a league game in December 2017, the most damning indictment of the lack of resilience in this patchwork squad.
Wolves’ excellent recent run includes wins over Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool; Everton have beaten none of these three teams since March 2016. It’s as much an issue of mentality as it is quality.
The blame can not only be laid at the door of the players, though. When Wolves traipsed through a difficult October and November, winning just one of their seven games in those two months, Nuno saw fit to change the side’s setup.
Since switching from his original 5-2-3 to accommodate another central midfielder, his side have found their feet again, look comfortably the ‘best of the rest’ outside the top six, and have lost just three of their 13 games since the start of December.
Silva’s problems are evident, yet he refuses to adapt as Nuno has. Conceding three goals from set-pieces at Millwall last week was criminal, yet even more unforgivable was Everton’s ability to repeat their mistakes on Saturday, as striker Raúl Jiménez, a thorn in the Blues’ side all afternoon profited from a Moutinho free-kick.
Rarely has Silva veered from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation this season, either, despite it being obviously incompatible with the playing styles of players such as Gylfi Sigurðsson and Cenk Tosun, two players who cost the club more than £70 million together.
As a black cat invaded the Goodison pitch for several minutes in the second half, several Wolves players were locked in conversation with each other. In stark contrast, those in royal blue stood alone, muted, numbed.
On the touchline, meanwhile, Nuno spent almost the entirety of the match prancing about in his technical area, though the same enthusiasm went amiss in Silva, who cut a statuesque, beleaguered, beaten figure throughout. On this evidence, it is little wonder why the former is proving such an inspiration to his players, and the latter is struggling to get a tune from any of his.
By the time the Wolves playing squad and coaching staff turned to celebrate with the brimming, booming away end at full time, Goodison was already half-empty, if not more. While one fan base revelled in its side’s brilliance, the other seemed entirely disenfranchised with its own club’s woes.
If ever there was an indication of the contrast in cultures between the two clubs, this was surely it. Wolves have regained their identity under their new billionaire owners, while Everton have seen theirs slowly ebb away under Moshiri.
Galling as it was to watch Everton surrender in such meek fashion on Saturday, there was, undeniably, something to behold about Wolves’ performance. It is the sort of showing that Blues fans, loathe as they would be to admit it, crave from their own side, and indeed the like of which that many of the older generation grew up with on an almost-weekly basis.
Quite where the Blues go from their latest nadir remains to be seen, but if Moshiri can take any positives from Saturday, it must be the example provided by Fosun of the good that can come from hefty investment.
If the watershed moment for the Iranian had not already arrived, then Saturday should have been exactly that, because the groans of discontent aimed his way will only amplify the longer he continues to fail to deliver on his promises.