Everton travel to Molineux to face Wolves on Sunday knowing their European hopes hang by a thread after a disappointing week that yielded just one point from games against Spurs and Southampton.
Not only were the results disappointing but the performances were too. The Toffees carried on where they left off against Tottenham with an equally flat display against Southampton, who should have been at least three goals up at half-time.
The fact they weren’t was down to bad luck and poor finishing at theIR end, combined with a moment of magic from Lucas Digne and Richarlison at the other.
It leaves Everton in 11th place, five points behind eighth-placed Arsenal, though if rumours are to be believed and Manchester City escape their European ban, it will be seventh that delivers the final Europa League spot this season.
The Southampton game again highlighted the paucity of options at Ancelotti’s disposal in midfield. There is a gaping hole in the centre of the park that makes it easy for the opposition to dominate.
Ancelotti responded by going five at the back and playing more direct, but that is only really a sticking plaster to see us through to the end of the campaign, where new recruits are needed.
There has been suggestions Mason Holgate could perform as an emergency central midfielder, while Beni Baningime’s case has been strengthened simply because of the failings of others.
Whatever the team is will certainly be a temporary measure. But at least we have a manager who has the tactical nous to get the best out of what he has, raising hopes that with a few additions he can ensure displays like the ones we have witnessed this week become the exception rather than the rule.
Wolves have enjoyed nothing but serene progress since the summer of 2017. They romped to the Championship title at the end of that season before finishing in seventh place in the Premier League the following year, their highest league finish since the early 1980s.
Yes, they have been well backed financially by Chinese owners Fosun, but their close relationship with agent Jorge Mendes has allowed laser guided recruitment that puts other teams’ spending sprees to shame (ahem).
While some teams have struggled to cope with the rigours of European football, Wolves embraced the Europa League (which began 12 months ago in the first qualifying round) , successfully juggling domestic and continental ambitions.
They drew 1-1 at Olympiakos in the first leg of their last-16 time before the Covid-19 shutdown in March, with the second leg scheduled for next month after the Premier League season has ended.
They also remain in the hunt for a Champions League place, though their hopes took a hit this week with back-to-back defeats against Arsenal and Sheffield United, leaving them six points behind Manchester United in fifth.
That is more than they lost in their previous 11 games, demonstrating a consistency and resilience that suggests their stay in the upper reaches of the top flight will be a lengthy one.
Everton 3-2 Wolves - September 1, 2019
Everton overcame Wanderers in a five-goal thriller a full 10 months ago at Goodison Park. Richarlison and Alex Iwobi scored either side of Roman Saiss in the first 12 minutes. Raul Jimenez looked to have secured a point with 15 minutes left, but Richarlison’s towering header from Digne’s searching cross five minutes later sealed the points.
Sheffield United (A) Lost 1-0
Arsenal (H) Lost 2-0
Aston Villa (A) Won 1-0
Bournemouth (H) Won 1-0
West Ham (A) Won 2-0
Southampton (H) Drew 1-1
Tottenham (A) Lost 1-0
Leicester (H) Won 2-1
Norwich (A) Won 1-0
Liverpool (H) Drew 0-0
Everton will assess Andre Gomes and Mason Holgate ahead of Sunday’s game. Holgate missed the Southampton match with a shin injury sustained at Spurs. Gomes meanwhile was forced off in the first half against the Saints with an ankle injury.
Fabian Delph remains sidelined as he works his way back from a muscle injury, but Yerry Mina showed no ill-affects after his comeback against Southampton and will be available.
What they said
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti: “It [Sunday] will be tough, for sure. Wolves are fighting for Europe so I expect a really tough game,
“We want to keep fighting and keep going until the end of the season. The fact Wolves have had one more day rest is important.
“I have to take care of the line-up. I want to keep it fresh and do some changes for the game. We don’t have time to recover properly.”
Wolves head coach Nuno Espirito Santo: “Carlo has proven he’s one of the best around, all the titles he’s achieved, at some big clubs he’s managed. Big admiration for Carlo. I hope I can have a good conversation with him before and after the game because he’s an inspiration for us young managers who want to improve – he’s a big reference.
“It’s difficult to defend against Everton because they have so much talent. We have to focus on all the aspects of the Everton team. It’s not only Richarlison, they are full of talented players, so our approach is based on Everton as a team, not only individual players.”
The end is in sight for Everton, but I hope their double disappointment this week doesn’t signal a let-up in application in their remaining fixtures. The new campaign is already less than two months away so maintaining momentum is important. Improvement is certainly needed on the last two performances though, with Wolves proving to be one of the most consistent sides outside of the top four.