It seems as though it’s not just the fans who want this disrupted season to end, because on the evidence of another contemptible away-day collapse, Everton’s players have already checked out for the summer.
This was almost as bad as anything served up under either Marco Silva or Carlo Ancelotti this season; nothing could top the shameful display at Anfield against Liverpool’s kids in the FA Cup but it’ll come as little surprise that 10 of the 14 players on duty that night at Anfield were also involved at Molineux this afternoon. Both performances were hugely instructive as to who has the heart and desire to play for this football club and you could easily count them on one hand.
Contrast that with today’s hosts who are well on their way to being what Everton have aspired to be under Farhad Moshiri’s stewardship but clearly are not. For Ancelotti, who has built a team before at AC Milan even if he has become renowned more recently for making established great sides even greater, and Marcel Brands the example on show was clear: Establish a desired style of play and recruit players that suit and can execute on that vision.
Six years ago, Wolverhampton Wanderers were playing in League One. They were a middling Championship club when Farhad Moshiri purchased his initial stake in Everton in 2016 and they have only been back in the Premier League for two years. Yet, assuming they don’t sneak their way in over the next three matches, they will come very close to qualifying for the Champions League this season.
That’s down to the kind of stability and savvy recruitment for which Evertonians have been pining for years now but remains stubbornly elusive at Goodison Park. The arrival of Brands offered hope that this would change but even his player acquisitions and the large sums involved are starting to look questionable. Ancelotti’s appointment feels like a final throw of the dice and there is no question that this job will be among the most challenging the veteran will ever undertake.
It’s going to take plenty of time and require yet more patience given the fresh financial constraints that the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lack of match-going fans will impose on the club’s spending plans. That will be a dispiriting realisation for long-suffering Everton fans who will tell you that, once again, their club’s squad needs a significant overhaul.
Ancelotti will probably have to make do with some key acquisitions during the upcoming transfer window and then try to make a silk purse from the cow’s ear that remains because the scope of shortcomings in the side is glaring, particularly in midfield.
That Tom Davies isn’t good enough to be a mainstay in this Everton team has become abundantly clear in recent games but to have that notion underscored so starkly and emphatically this afternoon was depressing given that he was once a hugely promising Finch Farm academy product. 100-plus games into his top-flight career, you’re left scratching around for what he brings to the team.
The 22-year-old was utterly dreadful from start to finish at Molineux — careless with possession, ponderous and unadventurous in his movement, almost completely useless as an attacking force and, once again, largely ineffective as any kind of barrier to opposition attacks through Everton’s midfield.
If you could partly — and weakly, really — blame youth in Davies’s case, his central midfield partner, Gylfi Sigurdsson has run out of excuses. The Blues’ pointer-in-chief fulfilled his initial brief in the deep-lying “André Gomes” role in the Portuguese’s absence through injury but when Everton badly needed someone to take the initiative once they had fallen behind, Iceland’s Talisman disappeared. Content to just shuffle the ball sideways or backwards, his lack of enterprise, energy or fight when the chips were down permeated the entire team who, once again, got what they deserved.
What was most galling is that many of these players are supposed to be fighting for their Everton careers under the new manager so the only conclusion to be drawn as that so many of them don’t care. In a distant echo of the 2003/04 campaign when David Moyes, at the end of his first full season in charge, saw his charges more or less give up once safety from relegation had been assured, this group look like they feel they did enough between December and February in dragging themselves away from the drop zone.
The carrot of European football was there and eminently attainable but, as Ancelotti said in his post-match press conference, “the players didn’t believe they we could reach [the Europa League] so they didn’t have the spirit to fight for the next game.” That will tell him all he needs to know; how far he and Brands can go this summer to address it remains to be seen.
It should be said that Ancelotti’s task this afternoon wasn’t easy from the outset. Gomes and Mason Holgate failed fitness tests and that weakness in central midfield prompted him to field an unorthodox 3-5-2 formation with Leighton Baines and the returning Theo Walcott as wingbacks. With just half an hour gone, he had lost Yerry Mina with a recurrence of his thigh problem and been forced to add Seamus Coleman, a third fullback, to that back line.
While the formation once more came at the expense of any attacking fluidity or penetration, it was at least containing Wolves to a degree even though the hosts caused the Toffees quite a few problems in those first 30 minutes. The lively Daniel Podence forced an early save from Jordan Pickford with a shot from the angle while Dominic Calvert-Lewin saw a similar effort saved by Rui Patricio at the other end a few seconds later.
Lucas Digne, once again leading by example with a committed and tenacious display until his clumsy foul gave Wolves the chance to take the lead in first-half stoppage time, put in an excellent covering tackle to deny Ruben Neves and Pickford made successive saves from Podence and Raul Jimenez in the 26th and 27th minutes to keep things goalless.
Everton were just too passive and safe, though. As has become frustratingly common under Ancelotti, when they weren’t belting it forward in a vain attempt to find the head of Calvert-Lewin or Richarlison, the Blues kept cycling the ball backwards. A promising free-kick just past the centre-circle after Anthony Gordon was fouled was a case in point — instead of putting the ball in the opposition box, the ball was moved sideways and the situation came to nothing.
Nevertheless, half-time and a chance to reassess things was approaching when Podence twisted and turned just inside the Everton area, drew a trip from Digne and left referee Anthony Taylor with no choice but to award a penalty. Jimenez successfully sent Pickford the wrong way and stroked home to make it 1-0.
Ancelotti reshuffled by withdrawing Baines at the break and introducing Jarrad Branthwaite but the teenager would find himself at the centre of Wolves’s second goal. It was his foul near the touchline that gave Neves the chance to swing the ball in and Leander Dendoncker easily stepped in front of the debutant to steer a header inside the far post and double Wolves’s lead.
The required response from Everton never came despite the introduction of Alex Iwobi and Bernard for Gordon and Walcott after 55 minutes and then Moise Kean for Richarlison after 63.
Instead, it was Wolves who nearly scored just past the hour mark when another Pickford howler from Podence’s effort threatened to squirm in before the smirking goalkeeper pounced on it on his goal line. Then, four minutes later, Diogo Jota was put clean through but Pickford stood up well as the substitute stumbled at the crucial moment and the keeper was able to block it away to safety.
Either side of that, Sigurdsson had wasted a rare Everton corner and had a promising shot from distance charged down while Digne smashed a shot inches wide of the far post but it felt like a matter of time before Nuno Espirito Santo’s men padded their advantage, which they did with 15 minutes to go.
Dendoncker picked out the run of Jota with a ball over the top of Michael Keane and the Portuguese buried a shot inside Pickford’s near post.
Calvert-Lewin’s only other real chance in another frustrating 90 minutes starved of service was a header off Digne’s cross that he could only plant into Rui Patricio’s arms but it was Wolves who should have completed the scoring late on.
Patricio freed Jota down the left channel with a Pickford-esque ball that again left Keane chasing shadows but when the forward cut the ball across the meet Adama Traore’s run, the winger somehow turned his shot into the crossbar from six yards out.
4-0 wouldn't have been harsh on Everton who don't now look as though they'll even finish in the top half. In the context of where the club was when Duncan Ferguson assumed temporary charge back in early December, that's an improvement of Everton's prospects but the alarming drop-off in form over the past three games is further evidence of a mindset that urgently needs to change.
Seamus Coleman, one of only a couple of players to emerge from this game with any credit after he came on as a substitute for Mina, went as far as he ever has in highlighting a worrying lack of commitment. We're about to find out if the mild-mannered, avuncular Ancelotti will stand for it or whether he can inspire some stomach for the fight ahead.
Everton are at 6th-place Wolves for today's lunchtime kick-off as the Premier League struggles to recover after the Covid-19 lockdown, with Everton players seemingly the worst affected by the enforced layoff in which they definitely seem to have lost their collective mo-jo.
If it was possible, this display would plumb new depths as Everton gifted a penalty then stood off admiringly to watch two fine finishes from Wolves that took all the points.
Baines, Walcott and Gordon all start, along with Sigurdsson despite his non-contributions so far this season. Virginia once again joins the bench, to keep Stekelenburg company, with Coleman Iwobi and Bernard. Gomes and Holgate join long-term injury victims Gbamin and Delph on the sidelines.
It's another televisual feast of multi-million-pound footballers dazzling us with their incomparable skills, brought to our televisions free of charge by Sky on their Pick channel, and for "Super Sunday" paying customers on their Main Event channel, their Premier League channel, and a host of others with different options for sound and vision.
the game started brightly enough, a good ball forward by Neves, Podence forcing a good diving save from Pickford. Similar from Walcott at the other end, a perfect ball playing in the Everton scoring machine, Calvert-Lewin, who delicately passed the ball softly back to Rui Patricio, rather than hitting it with any force that might have troubled the Wolves keeper.
After that bright start, Everton were pushed back as Wolves got into their rhythm of moving the ball around, looking to build the opening, Doherty mishitting a shot off Mina that should have been a corner to the home side.
Calvert-Lewin was fouled in the middle, Sigurdsson playing the free-kick sideways and wasting any attacking possibility. Walcott later put in a tasty cross that neither Calvert-Lewin nor Richarlison felt was worthy of any effort to meet in the middle. So much for lack of supply!
Digne gave away a silly free-kick and was booked for his troubles inside 20 minutes. Richarlison ran forward ponderously, stalling his run, the ball recirculating all the way back to Pickford.
Podence got through, thanks to a touch from Walcott, and fired low at the near post, Pickford down very sharply to stop it. From the corner, a fine acrobatic overhead kick-shot definitely required stopping by the Sunderland man.
Mina went down after straining his thigh in a nothing pass out to the side, and had to be replaced by Seamus Coleman. Everton farted about with the ball in midfield until Coleman gave it away, allowing Wolves in contrast to build with pace and movement, testing the Everton defence that prefers to show its mettle by yeilding possession.
When the midfield did provide a ball forward to Calvert-Lewin, he kindly gave it away in a poor pass in the vague direction of Richarlison, both forwards contributing very little to the laboured and uninspiring proceedings.
Davies picked out Calvert-Lewin with a rather nice chipped forward ball but quite why the Yorkshire man just collapsed in a heap at the attentions of a proximate defender, with no appeal for a free-kick, remains a mystery.
At the other end, Digne caught the back of Pondence's leg while heading out of the Everton area... Penalty. Jimenez lashes the ball into the net to give Wolves a marginally deserved lead in yet another painfully flat Everton display. What can poor old Carlo do with this lot at half-time?
Branthwaite was the answer, given his Premier League debut at half-time, with Baines withdrawn. And the youngster got an immediate baptism of fire as Dedonker, the man he was marking for an early free-kick, nodded home a simple ball without a care in the world to double the Wolves lead and end this apology of a game as a meaningful contest.
Walcott and Gordon came off for Iwobi and Bernard in a last-gasp game-changing move by the Everton manager.
Podence would get through again and force another horrifying error from Pickford, the ball dribbling through his hands and along the goalline but not quite over before he was able to recover.
An utterly exasperated Carlo Ancelloti made his fifth change, almost before the hour, the first time he had made full use of all five substitutes allowed, bringing on Kean for the exceptionally useless Richarlison.
But it hardly changed the one-way story of this game, Jota (on as a sub for Neto) getting well behind the back line and scampering toward Pickford, somehow fluffing his lines rather than powering home a third for Wolves.
Everton actually got forward for a spell, doubling the single touch they had had so far in the Wolves penalty area. But it ended in characteristic fashion when the ball fell nicely to Davies on the edge of the area and he expertly shinned his shot skywards.
From a strange free-kick, Digne came very close after Everton moved the ball with unexpected intent, the Frenchman drilling the ball inches wide of the far post from a narrow angle. At the other end, off a superb cross-field ball from Neves, Jota got wide and controlled the ball perfectly off his chest, lashing in the third past shot-stopper Pickford at the near post.
For Everton, a cross was planted nicely on Calvert-Lewin's head and he kindly nodded it down for Rui Patricio to gather at his feet. He then actually laid the ball off for Moise Kean but the pace was too much for the Italian lad.
Digne gave away another free-kick and needed treatment. He came back on and launched a nice long throw straight to the arms of Rui Patricio who launched the ball downfield, Jota beating Davies with ease and playing the ball past Pickford to set up the 4th goal for Traore... but amazingly, with an open goal gaping, he smashed the ball off the top of the bar!!!
Thus ended a game that somehow seemed worse than the preceding two abysmal efforts, this Everton side totally uninterested in pressing for a Europa League place.
Scorers: Jiménez (pen: 45+2'), Dendoncker (46'), Jota (74')
Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-4-2-1): Rui Patricio; Boly, Coady, Saiss; Doherty, Neves, Dendoncker, Jonny; Neto (56' Jota), Podence (70' Traore); Jimenez (78' Moutinho).
Subs not Used: Ruddy, Vinagre, Kilman, Buur, Jordao, Gibbs-White.
Everton (4-4-2): Pickford; Digne [Y:20'], Mina (36' Coleman), Keane [Y:57'], Baines (46' Branthwaite); Walcott (56' Iwobi), Davies, Sigurdsson, Gordon (56' Bernard); Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison (63' Kean).
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Virginia, Sidibé, Baningime.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
VAR: Andre Marriner
Everton travel to sixth-place Wolves tomorrow knowing that while European football isn't mathematically impossible, their hopes are effectively over and, as such, the focus now is very much on next season.
The Blues will start the day seven points off their opponents, who occupy seventh place, and the goal for Carlo Ancelotti must be to try to claw back Premier League merit payment revenue by finishing as high as possible in the table while also, perhaps, giving some opportunities for more fringe players to impress.
Playing Wolves pits Everton against a club who only came up from the Championship two seasons ago but who have patiently built an impressive side founded on a solid recruitment strategy based around a clearly-identified style of play and overseen by an increasingly admired coach.
Everton, meanwhile, have been mired in chaos and inconsistency for years and yet the two teams' contrasting fortunes make for sobering contemplation as Ancelotti and his men attempt to lift themselves up from two hugely disappointing performances against Tottenham and Southampton.
Of course, if you were looking for a man with a proven track record of success to provide not only stability but a plan for engineering a way back to relative success, you wouldn't look much further than Ancelotti. Which is, again, why Evertonian eyes are now trained forward toward the upcoming transfer window and 2020-21 beyond.
The formality of the last four games of the disrupted and increasingly meaningless 2019-20 campaign must be dealt with first but as Everton gear up for what will be their third match in six days, it's expected that the manager will make more changes to his line-up than on Thursday.
In order to counteract the kind of slick passing football that was almost their undoing against the Saints, Ancelotti could start with the five-man back line that he used in the second half last time out, one that was effective keeping their opponents at arms length even if it came at the expense of any attacking threat.
André Gomes, who came off before half-time against Southampton with a knock to the ankle, and Mason Holgate, who missed the game completely with a shin complaint, are both doubts, while Fabian Delph is still trying to rediscover his own fitness.
Djibril Sidibé might start and there is a chance that Ancelotti will give Dominic Calvert-Lewin a rest and give Moise Kean a rare start but the boss doesn't have a slew of options open to him.
Wolves, meanwhile, look likely to have Adama Traore available despite the pacy winger dislocating his shoulder in the defeat to Sheffield United a few days ago. Traore has been used effectively off the bench as a second-half weapon by Nuno Espirito Santo and that could be his brief again this weekend.
Victory for Everton wouldn't be enough to lift them back into the top half but it would set them up nicely to attain that goal over the remaining three matches. In the meantime, Ancelotti's assessment of his team continues ahead of the next phase of reconstructing the team under Marcel Brands.
Kick-off: 12pm, Sunday 12 July, 2020
Referee: Anthony Taylor
VAR: Andre Marriner
Last Time: Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 - 2 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Sidibé, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne, Davies, Sigurdsson, Gordon, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin