As the holiday season is coming and going, Premier League football is returning with a swath of Boxing Day matches—including the Blues hosting Wolverhampton in a game where both sides need three points something fierce. While Wolves sit firmly at the bottom of the League table currently, they have hired a new boss—Julen Lopetegui—and are looking to save their campaign this winter window.
Everton, meanwhile, has to perform better than they did at the end of the first stretch of matches that preceded the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Standing only a point above Nottingham Forest for 18th place, another relegation battle is not something the club or the supporters have any stomach for after the way last season nearly ended.
Frank Lampard is under pressure to get this Toffees side out of the bottom half of the Premier League table, and he cannot afford for a poor start to this restart either. The team will need better offensive cohesion and efficacy, because if goals remain at a premium for this side, the wins will also not come often.
RBM: First off, Wolves really struggled across the first part of this very different, very divided campaign; what are the feelings like around the supporters, around the training grounds, and around Molineux right now?
Despondent about how bad the season has been but hopeful that the new manager combined with some January spending can keep us up.
RBM: While Bruno Lage is long gone, the club was able to find a highly respected replacement for him in Julen Lopetegui before the World Cup break; is there the sense that he can be both the boss who saves the club from relegation and builds them back up to where they were several years ago?
Absolutely. You don’t get to be Spain or Real Madrid manager if you don’t have some pedigree. He did well at Sevilla and was the number one target when Lage was sacked. His appointment gives me hope that the club are doing everything possible to turn things around.
RBM: What has gone awry for this club this season, as well as in recent seasons? Those two seventh-place finishes do not seem that long ago, and yet they were in 2018/19 and 2019/20, but can you pinpoint any decision or issues along the way that have led the team to this current point?
Poor recruitment. Ever since the summer we sold Diogo Jota to Liverpool and Matt Doherty to Spurs and replaced them with Fabio Silva and Nelson Semedo the balance of the team has never been the same. An over reliance on Raul Jimenez was also exposed when he got that head injury and all the attackers we’ve brought in have failed to produce. We had a brilliant group in those glory years that had all the qualities you need to be successful.
RBM: Will there be any business conducted to get Lopetegui those players he wants, and to sell those he will not need come January? If so, in which areas will this team be looking to improve across the winter window?
Yes. We’ve already signed Matheus Cunha for mega bucks from Athletico Madrid and we need him to score goals and/or help others find the back of the net. I’d expect a centre half and a right back to be recruited as a minimum but it’s been widely reported we’re after six in total. Could be a busy month.
RBM: When Wolves are at their best and worst, how are they playing on the pitch?
That’s been the problem. At our best we’ve looked tidy in possession but struggling to score. At our worst we’ve looked lightweight at the back and toothless in attack. It’s a recipe for disaster and explains why we’re bottom of the table.
RBM: How do you expect Wolves to set up on Monday, and which of the side’s players do you think could cause the Toffees the greatest issues?
Probably a 4-3-3. There are quite a few options for Lopetegui to consider, particularly in forward positions. Daniel Podence can be incredibly frustrating but he has quality and has hurt Everton in the past. Similarly Raul Jimenez has scored a lot of goals against you and could be a key player, even if that’s later from the bench.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Monday’s Boxing Day affair?
I’ll sit on the fence and say 1-1. I’d hope to see us improve under the new manager and with a few more players back. But there are deficiencies in this team that make it tough for us to be successful over 90 minutes in the Premier League.