Everton will look to avoid a third straight Premier League defeat when they travel to Wolves for their final game of 2023.
They were particularly unfortunate not to get a draw at Spurs, while the City game hinged on that controversial penalty decision, which highlighted the flaws in the current handball rule.
It is also clear that some players are looking a little leggy after a busy few weeks, with the small squad stretched further by injury and suspension.
Saturday’s trip to Molineux is quickly followed by an FA Cup third round match at Crystal Palace, before a 10-day gap until their next game against Aston Villa. That will then be followed by a blank weekend as the Premier League winter break returns, a vital chance for the squad to refresh and regroup.
Performances remain at a decent level so no-one should panic at the last two defeats. But Luton’s recent good run, which has cut the gap between Everton and the bottom three to just a point, is a reminder that the threat of relegation still lingers and no assumption should be made about the appeal against the 10-point deduction.
Gary O’Neil was thrust into the Wolves job just days before the start of the season, following Julen Lopetegui’s surprise resignation.
The Spaniard quit because promises over squad strengthening could not be kept, with finances tight.
O’Neil, who did a good job keeping Bournemouth up last season, picked up the pieces and has guided the club up to 11th place so far, despite a flurry of controversial VAR decisions go against them.
They have a decent recent record against the Toffees, winning four of the last five meetings, with the fifth game seeing Everton snatch a last-gasp raw in May.
They are also unbeaten in their last seven home league games, their best run since 2019, and go into the game of the back of impressive wins over Chelsea and Brentford.
Everton 0-1 Wolves, 26 August 2023
Wolves collected their first points of the season with a smash and grab victory over Everton at Goodison Park in August. The visitors had just two efforts on target, with one of them, Sasa Kalajdzic’s 87th minute header, the difference.
Abdoulaye Doucoure is rated as ‘touch and go’ for Saturday’s game as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury.
Ashley Young and Idrissa Gueye are both sidelined, though the latter’s injury is not as serious as initially feared.
James Tarkowski and Dominic Calvert-Lewin picked up knocks against Manchester City but will be fit to play after resuming training on Friday.
What was said
Everton boss Sean Dyche: “I think despite the obvious situation [the 10-point deduction], 26 points would be a healthy return with regards to a step forward from the last couple of seasons.
“I think there is also what you see beyond the points return, like the way the team and squad are going about it - it feels like we have got a more aligned Club.
“The fans’ connection with the Club is something I endlessly talk about. The alignment between us the staff and the players - that is beginning to mature. These are all important factors.
“The news of the 10 points put a dent in that, but it hasn’t broken anything. We are still there, fighting and working hard, and I still believe we have the players to get more from the season than what we are currently getting.”
Wolves boss Gary O’Neil: “I think they’ve been very impressive. They’ve had some fantastic results and really good performances and seem to have evolved quite a lot from when we last played them, having watched quite a lot of them this week.
“They’re doing really well and I still see them as a point ahead of us in the league because they would normally be on 26, so that shows what a good side they are and how well they’ve done, so it will be a really tough test. They have their way of doing things and in their away games they can make the home teams feel a bit frustrated.
“They’re very well organised without the ball so it will be a test for us. They’re very physical, good from set plays, and another really big test – our third massive test in six days. I’ve managed to get the boys done today fairly early with a light training session and got them away early to give them as much recovery as possible and looking forward to another big game at Molineux.
“The fact that we’ve won the last two isn’t going to help us. Everton aren’t going to go easy on us because we’ve won the last two. It’s going to be another really tough test.”
It has been a busy few weeks – and an eventful year – but even if they end the year with a defeat I think Everton can look forward to a much more positive 12 months than the one they have just endured. But one last win to win to see out 2023 wouldn’t go amiss.