PREVIEW| Everton vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Everton welcome Wolverhampton Wanderers to Goodison Park on Sunday afternoon, looking for a valuable win to drag them away from the relegation places. This week’s results have gone Everton’s way, with Norwich, Watford, Burnley and Leeds United all losing.
The Toffees are looking to bounce back after yet another shocking performance on the road. Frank Lampard’s side were comprehensively beaten 5-0 by Antonio Conte’s Tottenham, without registering a single shot on target. In Everton’s three away games under Lampard, they have only had three shots on target, and they were all against Newcastle United.
Monday night’s performance left the Blues in seventeenth place on twenty-two points, with thirteen games remaining. The Merseyside club are only one point off Burnley in eighteenth but have played two games less. Everton are also one point behind Leeds with three games in hand and seven points behind Brentford with four games in hand.
Sunday’s opponents sit eighth in the Premier League on forty-three points, with Bruno Lage doing a terrific job in charge in his first season in the Premier League. Wolves beat relegation strugglers Watford 4-0 on Thursday night, relieving some pressure on Everton, but also stopping a mini spiral. They had lost their previous three league games in a row, by a 5-1 aggregate score.
Everton have been handed two significant boosts coming into the game, with both Ben Godfrey and Demarai Gray fit again. Godfrey has been out with a hamstring injury which he sustained in the fourth-round FA Cup win over Brentford last month. Demarai Gray is also back in the squad after missing the last two games with a virus.
Michael Keane is also fir again after going off with a head injury in Monday night’s defeat to Tottenham. However, fellow centre-half Yerry Mina is still out with a quadriceps injury. Fabian Delph and Tom Davies are both still out with injuries.
Bruno Lage does not have many injury concerns coming into Sunday’s fixture with the Toffees. Full-back Nelson Semedo is out until April with a hamstring injury, whilst Ki-Jana Hoever is a doubt, also with a hamstring injury. Apart from the two full-backs, Bruno Lage has a full-strength squad to select from.
One to Watch – Everton
Everton have been handed a crucial boost for tomorrow’ s fixture with the return of Demarai Gray. The winger has missed the Blues’ last two games with a virus but is back fit and could start.
When available, Gray has been Everton’s best player this season according to WhoScored. He has an average rating of 6.86 and has seven goal involvements in twenty-one games for the Blues (five goals, two assists).
The 25-year-olds dribbling, pace and finishing have endeared him to Evertonians who love his directness. His defensive contribution and work rate have also been really impressive since his signing, and all these qualities could unlock this tough and stern Wolves defence.
Gray stands at 5ft 11in, making him one of the smallest players in the Everton squad. This means that his aerial ability is a weakness for him. But Everton’s style of play sometimes does not benefit him, playing long balls to a winger who is consistently up against opponents over 6ft tall and expecting him to win them is not clever, and always sets Everton on the back foot. Hopefully, the Blues play to Gray’s strengths if he features at all tomorrow.
One to Watch – Wolverhampton Wanderers
Striker Raúl Jimenez is Wolves’ top scorer in the Premier League this season, with six goals. He also has three assists taking his goal involvement tally to nine, which accounts for 33% of Wolves’ goals.
The Mexican has many notable strengths including his heading, shooting and defensive contribution. And following Monday’s defensive performance, Everton’s back three or four, depending on the team Lampard selects, will need to perform much better to stop the 30-year-old.
However, Jimenez’s main weakness is his offside awareness. He has been caught offside nineteen times this season, the third highest in the Premier League, behind Ivan Toney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Tomorrow’s fixture is absolutely vital to Everton’s survival hopes. As mentioned, all the teams around the Blues have lost this weekend and Everton could begin to put some distance between themselves and the bottom three.
Wolves are looking for back-to-back wins for the first time in three weeks. Bruno Lage’s side are also looking for their first Premier League double over the Toffees following their 2-1 win at Molineux. The win would also boost their European prospects, with a win lifting them into sixth place.
Alex Iwobi has three goals in his last four games against Wolves, but he has not featured in the Blues last three games and with the return of Demarai Gray he could be pushed further down the pecking order.
Frank Lampard’s four games in charge at Goodison have seen some of the best performances and best atmospheres in a long time, and Goodison needs to be as intimidating as it has ever been to help spur on the players.
If Goodison is at its bear-pit best tomorrow and the players respond to it, then there can be only one winner.