Everton are back!
After a six-week break for an unprecedented mid-season World Cup, the Premier League returns with its traditional full Boxing Day programme.
There’s no time for Everton to ease themselves back in, though. They face a vital match against bottom club Wolves, who could move to within a point of the Toffees with a win.
Conversely an Everton victory would put them seven clear of the Black Country side and could open a for-point gap between themselves and the drop zone.
Here we go again.
The gap probably came at a good time for Everton as they endured a horrendous final week, with three defeats against Leicester and Bournemouth twice. The angry reaction by the fans at the end of the second Bournemouth defeat (which was understandable given the woeful performance) suggested the season could begin to unravel pretty quickly.
The table has remained sobering reading while we distracted ourselves with the action in Qatar, but at least some time out to take stock will offer something of a fresh start for all concerned. After all rewind back to the middle of October and things were looking rosy after that 3-0 win over Crystal Palace.
Of course the playing staff has not changed so the same strengths and weaknesses will remain until the January window opens. But with the table still very tight just a couple of quick wins will move the club away from immediate danger and allow everyone to breathe a little easier ahead of the January sales.
Wolves have endured an even worse season than Everton, finding themselves rock bottom with 10 points from 15 games. They will though have a new man in charge and a sense of renewal after a difficult campaign to date.
Bruno Lage was sacked in October but the club initially failed in their attempts to lure Julen Lopetegui to Molineux, with the former Spain boss unwilling to move away from his ill father back home.
Academy boss Steve Davis took charge but won just two of his eight matches, prompting the board to return for Lopetegui and succeeding this time around, with the 56-year-old in the dugout for the first time against the Toffees.
He has been promised backing by the club in the January transfer window which has already begun with the loan signing of forward Matheus Cunha from Atletico Madrid, who will look to boost a flagging attack that has scored just eight goals in 15 matches.
Everton 0-1 Wolves, March 13 2022
Everton slid further towards the relegation zone in March when a header from current Toffees loanee Conor Coady condemned the them to a fourth straight defeat.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is doubtful for Monday’s game as he continues his recovery from a knee injury suffered before the World Cup break.
Conor Coady is definitely unavailable as he is unable to play against his parent club. Everton’s other World Cup participants Jordan Pickford, Amadou Onana and Idrissa Gueye are in the squad.
Andros Townsend has suffered a setback in his recovery from an ACL injury and will miss the festive fixtures. James Garner is the only other absentee as he continues his recovery from a back problem.
What they said
Everton boss Frank Lampard: “We had a break from training which was really good for everyone, and then we have been working on things that we know we can improve on. Generally, and in particular on how we finished, the two games against Bournemouth.
“Before that, I think we were making good strides in a lot of ways, but people’s minds can get drawn to those two games. We have to think bigger than that and keep working.
“There have been certain challenges in terms of scheduling and the workload being staggered for different players, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
“Freshness of mind, sometimes, and having a break is a good thing. We forever talk about how busy our schedule is, and then something comes and breaks the schedule up and you can use it in a positive way.
“I think we have done that, there have been challenges, but I hope to see a team run out that has a freshness about them, an energy and fitness as a basic point.”
Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui: ”I think he [Lampard] has developed as a big coach. I knew him when he was a coach of Chelsea and now he’s working in a very good way with Everton. His teams are very remarkable and I know his teams, and it’s going to be a very hard match.
“But in the same way, it’s a very exciting match for us and we want to play this match a lot, and to be ready to try to overcome this opponent.
“There are a lot of things to overcome. They are a very combative team in the defensive phase and in the offensive phase, they have good players, in all the positions.
“But all of the teams in England, all the squads are very good, and with Everton, we will have to be with a very high concentration, and compete with them in all the situations, offensive and defensive situations too.”
It is very Everton to be thrown straight into a huge match. It is important not to overreact whatever the result, but that will be easier said than done if they lose and head into the new year in the relegation zone.