So, Everton lost away to a superior team today. In other news, ‘I Got You Babe’ was on the radio this morning and Ned Ryerson offered me life insurance. This match may have been played on July 12, but for every long-suffering Evertonian this was yet another February 2.
In every sense, this bruising 3-0 vanquishing by Wolves was Everton’s Groundhog Day; the song you know every lyric to by heart; the film you can quote verbatim. We all knew when the Gylfi Sigurdsson pass back to Michael Keane was coming, when the scatterbrain defending was right on cue, when Jordan Pickford was about to offer a hearty grin at his own ignominy. From the first minute here Everton retreated so readily, as if reaching into their pockets, not wanting any more trouble and personally handing Wolves the three points.
Indeed, if there was anything off-script about this latest tragicomedy, it was that the opener was so overdue in its arrival. Wolves toyed with Everton for the entirety of a stolid first half, biding their time as the grimaces of resignation among their royal blue counterparts grew deeper and deeper. Daniel Podence sprung Pickford into action with a fierce drive at his near post. Raul Jimenez purred ahead of him. Otherwise, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men were afforded the luxury of taking their time.
But arrive it did, fittingly through more foolhardy Everton defending. Less debatable penalties will be awarded than for this Lucas Digne foul on the mesmeric Podence, but to aimlessly stick a leg out as the Frenchman did, not least with Podence cornered, smacked once again of an Everton player either physically spent, mentally vacant, or worse - both. Jimenez assuredly fired Wolves ahead just before Anthony Taylor blew the half-time whistle. The slow, repeated tolling of a bell would have been more appropriate.
In this respect, it’s difficult to know what to glean from Everton here. Games like this are the most arduous to discuss because there’s no original talking point to dive into, no avant-garde ideas to posit. Just another case of everything in its wrong place. As it was at Tottenham last week, at Chelsea in March, against Norwich in November. The list, as you’ll know all too well, could easily go on and on.
If there was anything impressive about Everton, it was only how impressively low they stooped; how every single peccadillo registered present and correct here. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison endured another chapter of the lonesome life of the Everton centre-forward. Support from the flanks was non-existent. Defensive parsimony looked to be returning under Carlo Ancelotti, but Leander Dendoncker rebuffed that by easily evading poor Jarrad Branthwaite, who conceded the free kick which led to Wolves’ second just a minute into the 18-year-old’s Everton debut. Once Everton has touched you and all that, Jarrad.
Further forward, in the merciful absence of the injured André Gomes, Sigurdsson and Tom Davies showed not one sign of resuscitating what must surely be the most limp, passive midfield in the Premier League. Not only did both offer the most perfunctory of attempts at two of a midfielder’s core principles - passing and tackling - but sought every opportunity to actively hide from proceedings again. One particular act of finger-pointing from the atrocious Sigurdsson - as if to tell Keane, in possession, not to pass to him was especially excruciating if again nothing new. Even Jamie Carragher in commentary sounded depressed by him. “Go forward!” he seethed at the Icelander. If only the advice had been heeded.
In goal, meanwhile, Pickford’s brain fades returned from a brief hiatus to make a resounding comeback. A tame Podence effort should have made for the most rudimentary of saves, at least for an England number one, but in his typically madcap fashion, Pickford let the ball squirm under his body only to retrieve it in the nick of time. Galling for the rest of us, but at least he saw the funny side. And if that wasn’t enough, Pickford even treated us to an encore, when a timid right hand could not stop Diogo Jota from beating him at his near post.
In all honestly, while there are worse players in more urgent need of being jettisoned this summer, it does feel as though the tongue-wagging Pickford embodies the state Everton are in. He, like the team in which he plays, is at times decent, but rarely anything more than just alright. Not least given the millions that have so far been frittered away by Farhad Moshiri, Everton should not settle for just alright.
Yet Pickford appears to not have the mentality or professionalism to strive for better. He seems content with just being an Everton mainstay, with just being England’s first choice, with just being alright. It is a grim, damning reflection of the tides of slapdash planning and misplaced hubris, which together have contrived to leave Everton further away from the Premier League’s elite than before Moshiri climbed aboard the gravy train.
Which, by the way, was February 27, 2016. On the same day the Iranian bought his initial 49.9 per cent in this fractured club, Wolves beat Derby County 2-1 to move up to 13th in the Championship, albeit still 12 points off the play-offs. Now sixth in the Premier League and outsiders for Champions League qualification, the speed at which they have raced past Everton in the four-and-a-half years since is mortifying. And while their own financial muscle in Fosun International gave them a leg up, theirs is a lesson in how to spend shrewdly, how to build sustainably, how to basically do everything Everton haven’t done under Moshiri.
All such evidence was laid bare in this Sunday afternoon stroll to the point where, as Adama Traoré swung leisurely at the crossbar with an open goal to aim at, Wolves began taking pity on Everton. We all already knew what to expect from Everton in games like this by now. So too, it seems, did Wolves.