No Reinvention of the Wheel
Anyone expecting to witness a fundamental change in Everton’s style of play after the long layoff for the World Cup would have left Goodison Park disappointed (or in my case, sat through Amazon’s post-match coverage whilst allowing what I’d just witnessed to permeate through my brain). Other than the mandatory replacement of Conor Coady (on loan from Monday’s opposition and therefore unavailable) with the fit-again Yerry Mina, the major shift was in Amadou Onana being the deepest sitting midfielder, with Idrissa Gana Gueye this time more advanced on the left.
Alex Iwobi was again deployed on the right of the midfield three. Onana made a few important interventions from this position in the early going, but was also caught in possession twice in the opening five minutes; the youngster did OK and recycled the ball intelligently (managing a 94.2% pass accuracy) but I would have felt happier if he’d been played alongside Gueye, with Iwobi as a free-roaming number ten.
The Nigerian had one of his poorer outings this year. It's apparent that he is more impactful if central, or played on the left side of the three-man midfield, but is being constantly deployed to the right. He was caught out for the decisive goal - as the nearest man to Adama Traore - who he allowed to get behind him and uncharacteristically, Iwobi didn’t make much of a recovery run, being easily overtaken by the backtracking Vitalii Mykolenko, who was a long way further upfield when the Wolves counterattack started.
Everton’s play was more of what we’ve seen this season, lacking in width and imagination. There was no central figure to hit up top, little creativity from midfield or the wings and no penetration from anywhere. Defensively, the side was solid enough and benefitted greatly from Mina’s presence, which allowed the back line to play a higher than we’re used to seeing. The threat offered by Wolves was contained quite easily, so it was irritating to watch Everton concede from a lapse defending a set-piece and to be caught out naively in the game’s closing minutes. The second goal in particular was maddening: both fullbacks pushed right up leaving just the two central defenders at the halfway line and Iwobi and Onana drifting up in support. This was structural breakdown and poor game management, I can’t stress this enough.
There Are No Internal Solutions
The Blues racked up a decent amount of shots (12), but most of their attacking play resulted from the visitors’ careless passing, particularly in the first half, or from them being pressed into errors. Anthony Gordon was particularly adept in pressuring the young Wolves left back, Hugo Bueno, who coughed up the ball five times in the 58 minutes he was on the pitch. That the home side could not take advantage of these numerous opportunities was disappointing and further highlighted how blunt Everton’s attack is. Not only do the team create very little, but there is no cutting edge even when the opposition appears to be doing half the job for them.
Neal Maupay was again something of a phantom and looks unsuitable to lead the Everton line, during what figures to be the interminable absence from the team of primary striker, Dominic Calvert-Lewin. His acquisition from Brighton for around €12m late in the transfer window appears a poor decision, even if it is still early days in Liverpool for the Frenchman. Nobody expected him to be a prolific forward, given what we’d seen of him on the south coast, but he’s offering very little at the moment, other than effort. His finishing was always erratic at Brighton and he’s not getting the opportunities that he enjoyed at his former team. The rest of his game is not making up for that deficiency.
Everton enjoyed the bulk of possession (57%) but Maupay managed only 27 touches, most of them far from the danger zone; he’s dropping deep to try to get involved but that just leaves a big hole where the number nine should be. He can’t compete aerially and is too often bullied off the ball (he lost it five times during the Boxing Day match). Worst of all, even when presented with the ball on the halfway line by more sloppy Wolves play, instead of a one-on-one with goalkeeper Jose Sa he was easily run down by Nelson Semedo, highlighting a lack of any real pace. The Blues have had six weeks to work on adapting their style of play to bring the best out of the Frenchman, but sadly it was more of what we’ve seen from him previously.
Young Tom Cannon got a rousing cheer when introduced from the bench in the 83rd minute and this in itself shows how desperate the situation is. The 19-year old is doing well in the Under-21s but this level is probably below that of even fourth-tier men’s football and what the youngster needs is a good loan next month, in order to learn his trade, not to be thrown to the wolves (no pun intended). A couple of poor starts and it won’t be long before the lad is written off and that’s in nobody’s interest.
Frank Lampard was again slow with his use of substitutions and once more they didn’t impact the game. This is getting to be a defining characteristic. Wolves actually had more first team players unavailable than did the Toffees, but they still found something from the bench that could change things up. Everton’s only tactical shift was the replacement of the ineffective Dwight McNeil with Demarai Gray. Other changes were of necessity: (Godfrey for the struggling Mina) and Abdoulaye Doucoure’s customary ten minutes of nothingness, along with Maupay’s overdue withdrawal.
McNeil, other than providing a nice corner kick assist for Mina’s goal was largely invisible. He lacks pace so a higher defensive line at least gets him further up the pitch, but the summer recruit cannot beat a man and I’m not sure how he can be deployed effectively. The winger cost Everton €17m and it is worrying that Lampard and his coaching staff cannot get something out of a player who, at 22 years of age, still has room to improve.
Gordon was Everton’s only genuine threat during the game; his average position was far in advance of the striker, Maupay and he received nine progressive passes, far more than anyone else in Royal Blue. He was back to his industrious best, leading the team with six tackles and pressured Wolves throughout. However, the negative part of his game: failing in all six attempted dribbles and not converting decent chances, remains.