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Everton vs Wolves: Opposition Analysis | The Pressure is Mounting

With injuries piling up, an already under-fire Sean Dyche has to get his team selection and tactics right today

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Everton FC - Premier League
Yerry Mina celebrates a last gasp equalizer last time Everton faced Wolves
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

We are only into the third round of Premier League fixtures and yet Everton is already a club in a state of turmoil. In the team’s two outings to date, they’ve alternately displayed last season’s inability to convert chances and subsequently, a worrying capacity to give up goals themselves, in defeats to Fulham and Aston Villa.

Needless to say, these are the hallmarks of a side that could once more be embroiled in a relegation battle; a depressing thought following on from consecutive escapes from the drop, each closer to the brink than the last. The Blues have brought in four new players so far this summer, but without further strengthening - and with less than a week remaining in the transfer window - another grim season awaits.

In what has already half-jokingly been billed as a “relegation six-pointer” today, the Toffees entertain fellow strugglers Wolverhampton Wanderers at Goodison Park.


Wolves had been defensively stout, yet also displayed one of the division’s least potent attacks under Bruno Lage, who had guided them to a tenth place finish in the 2020-21 season. Backed by significant spending ahead of the new campaign, following a poor finish to the previous one, the Portuguese failed to generate any new momentum and was abruptly dismissed just eight matches in. Seemingly unprepared for this possibility, the club’s ownership took an age to finally bring in their chosen replacement, Julen Lopetegui, squandering seven more games during the interregnum.

By the time the Basque was installed as manager, the Midlanders were rock bottom of the league. Fortunately for Lopetegui, the first league match for him and his charges was a visit to Goodison Park on Boxing Day, where Frank Lampard’s Everton squandered an early lead en route to conceding a late winner to the visitors with virtually the last kick. A raft of new signings arrived during the following month. Setbacks against stiffer opposition than the hopeless Blues followed, but a run of good form in April pushed the team clear of trouble, meaning they were safe by the time the Toffees arrived at Molineux for the campaign's penultimate fixture.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Wolves are punished again as Solly March fires home Brighton’s third
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

The now departed Yerry Mina - also the scorer against Wolves at Goodison - fired a 99th minute equaliser to give the visitors a vital point and the Midlanders signed off the season by absorbing 5-0 thumping against Arsenal at the Emirates, finishing in 13th spot with 41 points. Lopetegui had pulled off a significant feat in steering the team out of danger, but this ended up being the high point of his brief stay in the Black Country. Fights with the club hierarchy over a perceived lack of backing in the transfer market ensued over the summer, leading to the Basque summarily quitting his post with mere days to go before the season’s opening match.

The next day the club appointed Gary O’Neill as its new boss. He inherited an outfit that had recouped a net €45m in player transfers in preparation for the new campaign, adding no significant players (Matheus Cunha had already spent the last term at Wolves on loan, made permanent for €50m due to an obligation to buy arrangement), whilst losing a number of starters, including Ruben Neves, the veteran Joao Moutinho and defender Nathan Collins. They’ve begun the campaign pointless, losing the opener somewhat unluckily away to Manchester United, courtesy of poor officiating and last time out, succumbing to a early second half blitz by Brighton & Hove Albion, in what was otherwise a competitive match.

Style of Play

We only have two pieces of evidence with which to assess O’Neill’s Wolves side, the way they set up and their style of play, although it is possible to infer some things based off what is the new boss’s short managerial ledger. Unlucky to lose his job at the end of last season, the 40-year old had shown a real appetite for the task of rescuing a seemingly out of its depth Bournemouth outfit from certain doom. He did so by instilling belief in the players and getting the maximum out of the majority, as well as being unafraid to try new things tactically. The Cherries became a more resilient unit as a result, able to shrug off defeats without losing belief and one capable of demolishing two different Everton starting sides within a week last year.

O’Neill is quite an adaptive tactician, going with systems that suit the players available to him and tailored to the opposition. He played around with different formations on the south coast, eventually settling on a 4-2-3-1, though with Wolves he’s gone with first a 4-4-2, then a 4-4-1-1 last weekend. With his previous club, the rookie manager generally set up in a low block and relied on direct counterattacking play, with players breaking forward in order to exploit opponents when the opportunity arose. We’ve seen something of this with Wolves so far, though within his new squad, he has undoubted quality by comparison to his former club.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Hwang headed home a consolation goal for Wolves, likely earning himself a start against Everton
Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

Wolves shocked heavily fancied United at Old Trafford with the pace of their counters, based off powerful running with the ball, which exposed the home side’s relative lack of pace and physicality in midfield. The visitors outshot Erik ten Hag’s men by 23 to 15, six to two on target and generated an xG (Expected Goals) total of 2.2. Last weekend, they attempted a repeat against Roberto De Zerbi’s highly-rated Brighton at Molineux, more than matching the visitors during a competitive opening period. Trailing at the interval, they came out far more aggressively after the restart, looking to press the Seagulls defence, but this played into De Zerbi’s hands. Experts at bypassing the press, Brighton exposed the host’s high line ruthlessly, firing three goals over a nine minute spell.

O’Neill will have learned valuable lessons from what was a bruising encounter.

The Midlanders will be missing the purposeful running of former Blues target Matheus Nunes, who is suspended following a ridiculous double yellow card incident in added time last weekend. In his place will likely be Hwang Hee-Chan, scorer last time out.

Player Assessment

Matheus Cunha has been a revelation so far this season. The Brazilian, linked with a move to Everton last year (who hasn’t been?) has looked a battering ram during the opening two matches with his movement and powerful ball-carrying ability. Playing either up front, or in a supporting central role he will be a handful for Everton today, registering 2.97 successful dribbles per 90 minutes and 2.64 SCA (Shot-Creating Actions). He is also industrious in helping out defensively, but is wasteful in converting chances, managing only 0.04 goals per attempt.

Pedro Neto appears to be back to something like the form he showed as a breakout star back in 2020-21, before succumbing to serious injuries: the kneecap in 2021 which sidelined him for six months and four months out last year with damage to his ankle ligaments. Still only 23, the winger has looked quick and dangerous so far this campaign, winning seven of his attempted 12 dribbles, and leading the side with 67 touches in the opposition third over the opening two games and eight progressive carries per 90.

Manchester United v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League
The athletic Cunha ran through Manchester United’s midfield
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images


O’Neill is sure to want to get back to the way his side played the first one and a half games this season, which is to be defensively well-structured, invite the opposition on and look to break at speed with driving runs. Without Nunes in the side, this should be less effective, but Wolves still have plenty of decent athletes in the side, capable and skilful runners, even if they now lack the passing guile of the departed Neves and Moutinho.

Everton conceded the highest number of goals to the counterattack last season (ten) and the ease with which Aston Villa cut through their centre last weekend is a concern. A slow, immobile defence and a midfield that failed to provide protection at Villa Park will surely give up a lot of chances to an energetic Wolves outfit. Sean Dyche will set up narrow, which could also expose the flanks to the pace of players such as Neto and Hwang and raiding full back Rayan Ait Nouri. Given the latter two will be operating against Everton’s vulnerable right side, this is a worry.

The Blues boss has to ring the changes following the battering inflicted by Villa. If Michael Keane is announced as a starter an hour before kick-off the mood in the old ground could turn, if the under-fire centre back puzzlingly favoured by Dyche makes another costly error. The signs are not good, going off how swiftly the manager moved on from a question about Jarrad Brathwaite's possible inclusion, namechecking Ben Godfrey instead. Likewise, in the absence of the injured Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the chances of seeing Everton’s new striker, Youssef Chermiti in the lineup seem remote, given how Dyche has been reticent in saying much positive about the teenager.

So, what can Everton do? A third defeat to open the campaign would be an absolute disaster, there’s no hiding from it and would pile pressure on the Blues manager immediately. The back four has been a disaster. Branthwaite should come in, but I feel we will see Keane again, or possibly Godfrey. Neal Maupay will lead the line, despite being doomed to failure in a Royal Blue shirt. Everton’s wide areas are injury-blighted, with Alex Iwobi now absent with a hamstring problem. It’s probable that Arnaut Danjuma, impressive from the bench at Villa Park, will line up on the left, with either James Garner retaining his place on the right, or Lewis Dobbin - who Dyche has been eager to heap praise on - coming in.

Aston Villa v Everton FC - Premier League
Danjuma was by some margin Everton’s most impressive player last weekend
Photo by Neal Simpson/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images

Garner could be shifted to right back, as Nathan Patterson has struggled. Alternately, Ashley Young could shift over from left back, with Vitaly Mykolenko occupying that position.

Regardless, I don’t envisage Everton being able to rack up the number of chances they managed in their last home match, because they are now lacking their primary creator - in Iwobi - and Wolves are a better side than Fulham, who look a weak outfit. The only positive heading in, is that the visitors are a goal-shy unit themselves, so we could be witnessing some errant finishing and poor final third decision-making at Goodison this afternoon.

Prediction: Everton 0-0 Wolves

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