Evertonian eyes will be on Richarlison as the exciting Brazilian makes his expected full debut
Everton's 2018-19 Premier League campaign begins in front of the BT cameras in the late-afternoon kick-off at Molineux against newly-promoted Wolves.
With a succession of pre-season defeats sowing nagging fear into the hearts of Evertonians and the bulk of the Blues' summer transfer business going right to the wire, this fixture had been taking on an ominous air.
The new players drafted in by Marcel Brands and Marco Silva on deadline day might not feature but the arrival of Bernard, Andre Gomes, Yerry Mina and, perhaps, Kurt Zouma has transformed the outlook for the season and hopefully given a timely fillip for fans and players alike on the eve of the new season.
It's a good thing, too, because while Everton avoided any of the top six in their first game, the impressive manner in which Nuno Espírito Santo has bought this summer promises to make the Midlands side a very difficult opponent than normal.
The promoted teams, hopped up on the adrenaline and enthusiasm of coming up, often get off to a flier anyway but Wolves have conducted their summer business like an established top-flight side, actually outspending Everton in their bid to stay up on their return to the top flight.
Diogo Jota, Willy Boly, Ruben Vinagre and Leo Bonatini, loan players who were instrumental in Wolves' promotion push last season, have all been tied down with permanent deals.
Full-back Jonny and striker Raul Jimenez have come in on season-long loans this time from Atletico Madrid and Benfica respectively, while Rui Patricio was snapped up on a free transfer in the wake of the controversy at Sporting that prompted the goalkeeper to cancel his contract with the Lisbon club.
Adding pacey winger Adama Traore and one-time Blues targets Joao Moutinho and Leander Dendoncker, it makes for a well-rounded transfer policy well executed. There are no guarantees that those new ingredients will all gel perfectly on the opening day but, again, they make for a tougher game than was perhaps anticipated when the fixture list was first published in June.
Prior to their deadline-day spree meanwhile, Everton looked worryingly ill-equipped for the many tests that lie ahead and, barring a turnaround in form, confidence and fitness from the central defensive pairing, they will carry some of those frailties into this game. Again, it's unlikely that either of the new recruits in that position will play much, if any, part in this game. Mina only returned to Barcelona from his post-World Cup break a week ago and while Zouma is probably further down the road in terms of readiness, neither player will have had any time to mesh with their new team-mates and take on Silva's plan and instructions.
That leaves Phil Jagielka, a player who finally started looking like his 36 years were catching up with him in pre-season, partnering Michael Keane who is still lacking confidence and adequate positional sense. It may be a case of either hoping they have used the past week to focus their minds and bodies or trying to simply muddle through at Wolves until further changes can be rung at the back. (It would not be a surprise to see Silva impose his desire to usher in the new era by replacing Leighton Baines with new signing Lucas Digne.)
Morgan Schneiderlin carries similar concerns. At one point almost nailed on to leave Everton this summer — he still might if he can secure the return to France he admitted privately that he craved at the end of last season — the midfielder looked better against Valencia but not completely assured. He is a good bet to start alongside Idrissa Gueye in the middle of the park at Molineux, with Gylfi Sigurdsson deployed in front and Cenk Tosun leading the line flanked by Richarlison and Theo Walcott.
If they can keep the door closed at one end, then it's that front line and the changes in approach that Silva has been trying to impose that hold the key for Everton against Wolves. Tosun looked sharp last weekend, bagging a poacher's goal with a very nice finish across the goalkeeper, Walcott seemed to hit the ground running despite not having played much of the pre-season programme, and Richarlison has been the pick of the Blues' players in the last couple of games, often by some distance.
Summer friendlies can often be very false indicators of what is to follow when the serious action of the Premier League gets underway. It wouldn't be the first time Everton have struggled through an abysmal pre-season, only to come to life when required.
Hopefully the shot in the arm provided by the new signings and the excitement of the big kick-off will see that happen again. Of course, if it doesn't, it won't be the end of the world; it's just the opening game and you get the sense that Marco Silva is only just getting started in his project to turn Everton around.
Kick-off: 5:30pm, Saturday 11 August 2018
Referee: Craig Pawson
Last Time: Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 - 0 Everton, May 2012
Predicted line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka, Keane, Digne, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Sigurdsson, Walcott, Richarlison, Tosun