Everton host Wolves at Goodison Park on Wednesday knowing surely only a win will keep their faint hopes of European qualification alive.
After Sunday’s dismal home defeat to Sheffield United, the Blues sit eighth, three points behind Tottenham in sixth and West Ham in seventh, ahead of a final-day trip to champions Manchester City.
On the positive side, Goodison will welcome 6,500 Evertonians to Wednesday’s game, the most in the stadium since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Wolves, who lost to Everton 2-1 in January’s reverse fixture, are 12th, with Nuno Espirito Santo’s depleted side no longer able to finish in the top half.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, we spoke to Dave Azzopardi, host of YouTube channel Talking Wolves:
RBM: Firstly, given how long last season was for Wolves especially [383 days], and the amount of injuries they’ve had this year, did you half-expect the sort of drop-off that they’ve had in the Premier League?
Dave: Before the season, I don’t think anyone expected the drop-off but because of the amount of injuries we’ve suffered, it’s understandable.
Like you said, it was a ridiculously long campaign for us last year and without a proper pre-season, you could say this was bound to happen.
RBM: What’s been the biggest difference between Wolves this season and the Wolves teams that finished seventh in the previous two campaigns?
Dave: A key difference is probably the absence of Raul Jimenez. Since his injury at the start of December, we have really struggled to find the net regularly.
Of course, the sales of Diogo Jota and Matt Doherty in the summer have lowered our goal threat slightly, as both players always offered that threat when going forward.
RBM: Given Wolves aren’t playing for much more than pride now this season, what have you made of them recently? Is the hunger still there or do they look like a team who can’t wait for the campaign to end?
Dave: I think both the players and management are looking like they can’t wait for the season to end.
It’s been a really long couple of years for the club and it’ll be our first proper break the squad and staff would have had for a couple of years. I’m hoping it will help us recharge the batteries and help us crack on for next season.
RBM: What do you sense the general consensus is among Wolves fans towards Nuno? And are you still behind him?
Dave: I’m personally very much behind him. I think he deserves some more time, especially after his fantastic three seasons before this campaign.
It’s very split though; there have been many fans who have been putting the pressure on Nuno, probably since Christmas, really due to our poor and inconsistent form. I’m hoping that a proper pre-season and having the fans back will help us get the fanbase back on side.
RBM: Nuno seems to have been giving more opportunities to some of Wolves’ younger players lately. Have any of them stood out particularly?
Dave: Yes, definitely. We’ve seen Morgan Gibbs-White given more of a chance recently and he has been really decent.
Vitinha, who has been on loan this season, has started some more games recently and shown spells of real quality too. It’s also good to see Fabio Silva start more games and get more minutes. He’s improving every game, getting into the right areas; we just need to see him stick the ball in the back of the net a little bit more.
RBM: What should be at the top of the club’s to-do list this summer?
Dave: Definitely a couple of new centre-backs and probably a new central midfielder, at the very least.
We’ve looked very poor defensively this season and haven’t actually improved our centre-back options since promotion back to the Premier League. If Nuno is hoping to stick with this 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system, two natural centre-backs are a must this summer.
RBM: How do you expect Wolves to set up on Wednesday?
Dave: Like I just mentioned, he seems to be leaning towards this four at the back system so I’d imagine his line-up will be along these lines: Patricio; Ait-Nouri, Boly, Coady, Semedo; Neves, Dendoncker; Gibbs-White, Vitinha, Traore; Silva.
RBM: Which of Wolves’ players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Dave: Adama Traore has blown hot and cold but on his day is a real nuisance. He caused Tottenham some problems last weekend so I’m hoping he’s on it again versus Everton.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game?
Dave: Got to back my own team. I’m hoping we can catch you on another off-day at Goodison. 2-1 Wolves.
Our thanks to Dave for his time.