Everton return to Premier League action against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday with more mileage in the legs than expected after being taken to extra time against Rotherham in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Carlo Ancelotti made a number of changes for the game, but the starting XI should have been more than good enough to overcome their Championship opponents.
Instead, after a bright start, we were treated to a sloppy, lacklustre display that let the Millers back into the game and dominate for large periods.
Though they got the win in the end, it highlighted the paucity of options Ancelotti has at his disposal, especially in midfield.
With Allan injured and Abdoulaye Doucoure on the bench, Tom Davies and Andre Gomes occupied the centre of the park. But the duo struggled badly, offering little protection to the back four, offering nothing going forward and giving sloppy passes away to the opposition. It was the type of display we witnessed during the summer restart, when there was a gaping hole where Everton’s midfield was supposed to be.
Doucoure eventually came on and immediately made a difference, with his composed finish from James’ pass sealing the game in extra time.
But the 120 minutes of action meant some players played far longer than Ancelotti will have wanted given the trip to Molineux is just three days later.
On a more positive note, Lucas Digne got just over an hour on his unexpectedly early return from injury, while James played more than 90 minutes on what was his first start in a month.
Everton have not played consistently well since half-time of the Arsenal game so they are unlikely to turn out a settled, fluid performance. But they have at least shown signs of character in recent weeks to scrap their way to results, which I was I think they will try and do on Tuesday.
After back-to-back seventh-place finishes and a run to the Europa League quarter-finals, expectations were high at Wolves going in to their third season in the top flight.
Their ambitious owners have helped fuelled a dramatic rise from mid-table in the Championship to the upper echelons of the top flight in the space of just three years, with a close relationship with agent Jorge Mendes giving them an edge in the transfer market, which includes being able to acquire some of Portugal’s best talent.
Starting the 2019-20 in the Europa League qualifiers and reaching the last eight of the restarted competition in August meant Wolves’ campaign lasted over a year, which is bound to have taken its toll on the legs.
That may have contributed to some patchy results so far this season, with one win in their last seven league games putting pressure on Nuno Espirito Santo for the first time in his Wolves tenure. That said, the congested table means a win on Tuesday will move them to within four points of Everton, while a win over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup on Friday will have boosted confidence.
They also have a decent recent record against Everton at Molineux, losing just one of the last six league meetings – a 3-0 back in April 2011 that featured a Phil Neville screamer (yes, you read that right).
Their 3-0 victory in July was also one of Everton’s worst performances of the restart, with Ancelotti and Seamus Coleman publicly questioning the players’ attitude after the game.
It means they have a point to prove when they head back to the Black Country on Tuesday.
Wolves 3-0 Everton - July 12, 2020
Goals from Raul Jimenez, Leander Dendoncker and Diogo Jota gave Wolves a comfortable victory over Everton in July. It could and should have been more too. The Toffees were rotten.
Rotherham (H – FA Cup) Won 2-1 AET
West Ham (H) Lost 1-0
Sheffield United (A) Won 1-0
Man Utd (H - EFL Cup) Lost 2-0
Arsenal (H) Won 2-1
Crystal Palace (H – FA Cup) Won 1-0
Brighton (A) Dre 3-3
Man Utd (A) Lost 1-0
Tottenham (H) Drew 1-1
Burnley (A) Lost 2-1
Ancelotti says striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin will miss Tuesday’s game because of a hamstring injury. Richarlison will also be assessed in training to decide whether he is fit to take part.
Lucas Digne came through Saturday’s game unscathed on his return from injury and is in contention. Allan is still 10-15 days away from a return while Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Fabian Delph have no comeback date in mind.
What they said
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti: “We don’t have a good memory of the last game we played there – it was one of the worst games we played.
“But now we have more consistency and knowledge. Defensively, we are better compared with six months ago and I hope we can show that on Tuesday.”
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo: “We had seasons before, I think in the first season of the Premier League, we made the same starting 11 ten times I think, so that reflects a lot on where we were before.
“Now is a different situation, but we are ready for it. It’s always demanding, for all the situations that are around us, and this particular year is very demanding for everybody.
“We have Boly out, we have Marcal out, we have problems, and we will try to find solutions for them. Jonny is improving, he’s doing very well, but he still has time to rejoin us again.”
Don’t let Wolves’ league position deceive you; this will be a tough game. Everton are not playing particularly well at the moment and the extra exertions against Rotherham won’t do much to help.
With the league so tight, one bad result can send you tumbling down the league. So some sort of positive result is vital to maintain their upward momentum.