Wolves expose lack of direction at Everton
Wolves and Everton began the post-lockdown period, theoretically anyway, fighting each other for a European spot. The fortunes of the two clubs since the restart neatly sums up where they find themselves under their respective managers.
Wolves have a clear identity under Nuno Espirito Santo, one in which the players clearly have faith. After back-to-back defeats by Arsenal and Sheffield United, they stuck to their guns and got their just rewards here, a fourth win in six games lifting them back into the top six and in the Champions League conversation.
Everton, by contrast, have lost their way. With this performance, which manager Carlo Ancelotti labelled as “unacceptable”, they surrendered any last hopes they had of qualifying for Europe.
More worryingly, they raised a host of new questions about their team and whether Ancelotti is the man to rebuild it. The Italian has made Everton more organised in his eight months at the club, frequently switching formations midgame to cover up deficiencies and nullify opponents. But he arguably got his selection wrong here.
With Seamus Coleman rested, Everton began with a back three of
Michael Keane, Yerry Mina and Lucas Digne. Theo Walcott and Leighton Baines were wing-backs.
Wolves enjoyed that. Even without Adama Traore in their starting line-up, they got in behind Everton repeatedly, winger Daniel Podence targeting Walcott in particular.
After Mina went off injured and Coleman slotted into the back three, things only got worse. Raul Jimenez nearly scored an overhead kick before converting a penalty on the stroke of half-time, awarded for a clumsy Digne trip on Podence.
The second half was a horror show from an Everton perspective. Jarrad Branthwaite, an 18-year-old centre-back signed from Carlisle in January, came on for his debut and within 45 seconds gave away a free-kick from which Leander Dendoncker headed home.
Wolves went through the gears, Traore coming on and running defenders ragged. And they saved the best for last. Diogo Jota’s goal, from Ruben Neves’s wonderful long pass, was sensational. But Everton were all over the place by then.
The malaise started at the back – Jordan Pickford adding to his recent bloopers reel with one which squirmed between his legs and almost over the line – and extended into the midfield. Ancelotti is going to have a stiff neck this morning the number of times he turned and shook his head in frustration after Tom Davies gave away possession, which was a terrifying amount.
Davies and Gylfi Sigurdsson are patently not a central midfield pairing. And that has to be the top priority for Everton this summer. The club are unfortunate that JeanPhilippe Gbamin, signed to replace Idrissa Gueye in the engine room, got injured right at the start of the season. But given sporting director Marcel Brands’s record in the transfer market – £35million midfielder Alex Iwobi and £30million striker Moise Kean came on in the second half here and made zero impact – there is no guarantee Gbamin would make a huge difference.
Everton fans will hope Ancelotti plunders his contacts book and brings in a few of his own signings.
Whether he has the stomach for it after so many years at Europe’s elite clubs remains to be seen.
“There are some excuses, but I don’t want to have excuses, the performance was not acceptable,” Ancelotti said.
As for Wolves, they have plenty to look forward to, most immediately a trip to Burnley on Wednesday. “It’s about reacting,” said Nuno, dismissing reports he had signed a new contract. “Arsenal was not a good game, Sheffield United was a better one. Today we played better.”
Game over: Diogo Jota celebrates scoring Wolves’ third goal to put the seal on victory