If the defeat to West Ham on New Year’s Day was annoying, dispiriting and had you admonishing yourself for thinking that top four might be an option for this Everton squad without another significant injection of quality in the January transfer window, this win over Wolves was, obviously, a hugely uplifting one.
Not only because it returned the Toffees to winning ways and made it five wins from six in the Premier League but also because it was secured by a side that played 76 minutes without a recognised striker on the pitch… and even then, despite the fact that he often plays up front for Brazil, Richarlison, who came off the bench for Gylfi Sigurdsson, isn’t usually regarded as a centre-forward.
It was also the first League match that Everton have won with James Rodriguez in the starting line-up since November when they beat Fulham at Craven Cottage and, with fitness now on his side, he looked much more productive. The Colombian played the full 90 minutes of the frustrating games against Leeds and Burnley and then missed the next four games through injury before returning as a substitute against the Hammers 11 days ago.
While he wasn’t able to influence the games that book-ended his spell on the sidelines in the way he would have wanted, James was instrumental this evening to a performance that, in the absence of a target up front, demanded guile, movement and a good deal more consideration in possession that the Blues have displayed at times this season.
Flitting about in an unrestricted role behind a nominal “false 9” in Sigurdsson, dropping into pockets of space and moving the ball on intelligently, Rodriguez provided much but he was ably assisted by another inventive and purposeful display from Alex Iwobi, the excellent touch of Lucas Digne bombing on down the other flank, and the box-to-box presence of Abdoulaye Doucouré.
Iwobi, James and Digne combined superbly for the opening goal and, when the contest had lapsed into something of a stalemate in the second half with precious few chances for the either side, it was André Gomes who came off the bench to find the head of Michael Keane, who steered home the winner with 13 minutes to go.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s absence for a Premier League fixture for the first time all season was compounded over the weekend by a knock for Richarlison that meant he wasn’t deemed fit enough to start this game and it presented Carlo Ancelotti with a choice between starting Cenk Tosun for a second successive game or going for something altogether more bold and conventional.
Ultimately, despite the Turkish international scoring against Rotherham in the FA Cup on Saturday and converting what would, in all likelihood, have been the winner in normal time had it not been for a hair’s-breadth offside decision, the manager opted to leave Tosun on the substitutes’ bench and deployed Rodriguez and Sigurdsson ahead of Doucouré and Tom Davies in the middle and the four-man back line behind that that had formed the bedrock of those four successive League wins that ended 2020.
With the crutch of Calvert-Lewin’s aerial ability and hold-up play gone, the formation lent itself to greater fluidity on the ball from Everton and an often open game against an opposition of similar technical capacity and one also managing without its main centre-forward as Raul Jiminez continues his recovery from a skull fracture.
In contrast to what was an overly cautious and narrow line-up at Newcastle back at the start of November, this felt like it had an altogether more positive feel and it all came together beautifully with just five minutes gone.
Iwobi passed inside to Rodriguez and followed the path of the Colombian’s cross-field ball to Digne with a single-minded run towards the penalty spot and, when the Frenchman volleyed it across, the Nigerian met it with a really fine, composed, first-time finish that crept inside the near post.
With the likes of Ruben Neves, Pedro Neto, Nélson Semedo and teenager Rayan Aït-Nouri in their ranks, Wolves carried plenty of threats of their own and they had wiped Everton’s lead out within eight minutes of falling behind.
A corner from the right was only cleared as far as Aït-Nouri on the Wolves left and when Doucouré sold himself too early, his compatriot glided past him to the byline before drilling the ball across goal for Neves to volley home at the back post.
The two sides then traded blows as a rare mistake by Digne let Neto in but Fabio Silva's volley in front of goal was saved by Jordan Pickford and Leander Dendoncker just missed getting his head on a cross from Nélson Semedo while, at the other end, Iwobi and Rodriguez played a one-two which put the Nigerian in but his shot was also tame enough for Patricio to smother.
While it remained a fairly open game between two technical teams lacking a genuine focus up front, goalmouth action was at a premium in the second half but it was Ancelotti's first substitution that ultimately paid dividends. It came at a time when the visitors had lost their way a little so it was somewhat surprising that the Italian swapped Davies for Gomes but, just as he did at Sheffield United on Boxing Day, the Portuguese stepped off the bench to add a robust, measured presence and that little bit more class in midfield.
He also turned provider after Everton had survived a scare when Neves's dipping volley just cleared Pickford's bar. Iwobi and James combined again with another neat exchange of passes that ended with the former's shot being charged down by Conor Coady and the ball going behind for a corner. That delivery was glanced away by the Wolves defence but was collected by Gomes who swung it back in and Keane did the rest with a well-placed header.
It was just rewards for a player who has emerged as a commanding presence in Everton’s defence and who is now adding more goals to his repertoire, a crucial ingredient if this team is to remain among the top four places and on the fringes of the title race.
A handball by Doucouré just outside the box had Evertonian hearts in mouths as Neves lined up a direct free-kick with six minutes to go but, thankfully, his effort clipped the outside of the post and it was then just a case of Ancelotti's men closing the match out to wrap up another three points.
Given what happened on this ground on 12th July last year with six of the 11 players in common in the line-up and Everton’s injury problems up front this evening, expectations were low for this game which makes what felt like an improbable victory all the sweeter.
A hard-earned draw to take into another potentially testing away encounter at Aston Villa would have been gratefully received but, as Ancelotti reiterated after the game, he wanted his side to get back to winning ways to make up for what happened against West Ham.
Victories for the teams below in their games in hand would drop the Blues back to sixth place and that may ultimately be where they end up without reinforcements this month. But the longer they keep chalking up wins and the longer they’re hanging around the upper echelons of the division, the greater the chance that Everton can achieve something truly unexpected in this unpredictable season.
Reader Comments (38)
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1 Posted 13/01/2021 at 08:27:23
Just shows what a quality manager can do. Think what we'll be like when he has all his own players.
Dreaeaeam... dream, dream, dreeaam.
2 Posted 13/01/2021 at 09:16:32
However, in all three cases, it would only be on goal difference, so we're right in the mix for Europe –
at least until the season is suspended again!
3 Posted 13/01/2021 at 09:30:01
We are nearly at the half way mark of the season and we are very close to the top spot. We have to keep grinding away and if we can pick up 15 points out of a possible 18 in our next six games we are in with a real chance this season.
Hopefully by the end of the month we will have a fully fit squad to choose from and we can give the title a right rattle. We have no European commitments and this has to be a help in the second half of the season.
4 Posted 13/01/2021 at 09:52:10
Add to that a blossoming team spirit and belief you can start to believe that something serious is happening at the club.
Its only natural that us Evertonians are reticent when it comes to expectations. Weve been led up to the altar and jilted too often. There is a difference in the air this time though. I think that comes down to the manager hes seen it all and done it all, the players have total trust in him.
As Dean above says, Carlo has signed a few players and he has given a confidence boost to the incumbents. He is creating a side that cant be bullied but still has enough magic to win games. With our resources this is a perfect fit for the club at this time. Furthermore there are contracts ending soon and confidence that two or three future signings will be targeted well and strengthen us again. This will add to consistency and bolster our aim of being realistic top 4 challengers.
The other teams around us are not the finished article. They all have their own weaknesses and theyve all be inconsistent at different points of the he season. A team who gets a bit of momentum going can grab this league by the horns and win it.
With Calvert-Lewin and Allan coming back, the possibility of Richarlison finding his top form once again we have a really good first 11 who can harness this momentum. Also, with James seemingly getting fully fit we have a world class player who can make all the difference when it comes to top 4 aspirations (or better).
5 Posted 13/01/2021 at 10:35:56
Nice to hear Carlo praising Sigurdsson after the game, he unselfishly worked himself into the ground in an unfamiliar role trying to make space for Iwobi and co. it worked a treat for the first goal.
James was class all night long spraying balls round with precision
and guile. Gomes exuisite cross for the second goal, a superb header from Keane gave us the victory, all in all a good all round team performance, Carlo's doing a great job, plus the feeling it will just get better the more signings he's allowed to make.
6 Posted 13/01/2021 at 10:48:41
I think Michael Keane deserves a special mention, if I had been asked prior to coming back from lockdown to finish the season would I have been disappointed if we had sold Michael Keane, I would have said no. But for the way he played in the remaining games of last season and the games he has played this season, for me he has been our best and most consistent player. I read with interest that during the first lockdown that at his own cost he employed his own sports psychologist. Something that is quite normal in golf and tennis and snooker, but not something that seems to happen too much in football. But you can see since working with the psychologist his game has come on leaps and bounds the indecisive Keane has been replaced by a very assured Michael Keane. I also think Carlo can take some of the credit for turning him into for my money one of the best CBs in the Premier league. I also think with Mina they have formed a very dependable pairing.
I read that most of the players talk about Carlos calmness, but they also say he talks to them a lot about non football related things. I read Pochettinos auto biography were he said that he talked regularly about non football things to the Spurs players. He said it was important to talk to the players about how their wives were how their kids were and how their families were. Because he reasoned if a players wife and kids and family were happy then he had a happy player who would perform to the maximum. I think there is a lot more to football management that just picking a team on a Saturday. There is no doubt in my mind that Carlo is a top top manager, I read all the nonsense sometimes spouted on T/W about him being here just to top up his pension and he is not the manager he once was. We have a very special commodity and I hope he stays longer than the current deal.
7 Posted 13/01/2021 at 10:49:57
It does frustrate me when I think of the missed opportunities though.
If we had got something from the games against West Ham and Leeds (both very much games we SHOULD be winning) we would be in an even better situation!
I'm not going to dwell too much on that though, we are still doing very well and if Ancelotti can bring in the same quality of players as he has already done with his buys then the future looks very bright.
We need top quality at RB CM RW and CF in my opinion.
8 Posted 13/01/2021 at 10:51:16
9 Posted 13/01/2021 at 10:55:06
10 Posted 13/01/2021 at 11:17:02
Man-management is what Carlo is good at.
11 Posted 13/01/2021 at 11:17:35
To be fair I think there are some who genuinely believe we should be doing better (than top 4...) already but personally I think they are the younger lot, but there are a couple who are either trolls or have a stubborn dislike for Ancelloti and seem to revel in his every mistake to the point that they seem disappointed when we win. They wont change and unless we win the league or the CL in the next 18 months will repeat the same mantra every live forum.
Then there are others who genuinely see room for improvement and call it as it is but give credit where its due.
Myself? Im an eternal optimist where Everton are concerned - Ive watched them since the late 60s and seen more disappointment than glory (I was even living abroad from 83-98) but I sincerely think that Carlo Ancelloti is our best chance of future (not immediate) success. Apparantly that means Ive got “low expectations”. I cant really figure that out, especially when people accusing me of that seem to prefer David Moyes or Sam Allardyce in charge.
12 Posted 13/01/2021 at 11:21:04
13 Posted 13/01/2021 at 11:30:39
14 Posted 13/01/2021 at 11:54:26
We get beat its down to the manager.
We win its down to the players.
Some of them have made their minds up on Ancelotti.
One or two of them wont let their ego change their minds.
15 Posted 13/01/2021 at 11:59:24
James in the ‘floating central role seems to be ideal, I reckon Dom would have scored a couple at least last night and will be gutted he wasnt on the pitch as we finally got some decent balls in!
Lots to be positive about, Richy will not get a move anywhere better than Everton the way he has played this season.
16 Posted 13/01/2021 at 12:23:10
My concern however over a long time is Tom Davies. Well and Pickford but we really are stuck with him, I'm not going to mention our 45 million weapon.
Sadly looks like the Villa game will be off, again when we have momentum.
18 Posted 13/01/2021 at 14:26:36
I feel a bit sorry for Tosun; after almost grabbing a brace in the FA Cup, he might feel aggrieved not to have started – unless he was deemed knackered, which based on his game time seems highly possible.
Still, Carlo's tactics were justified and no Evertonian can complain on that score. Looking forward to trying to predict the line-up against Villa!
19 Posted 13/01/2021 at 16:04:52
Best of all though I had a fiver on Keane to score a header at 16-1, so it was a doubly-delightful moment when he nodded it home to win us the game.
The red shite are 5-2 to win the league, we're a point behind on the same number of games and 80-1. Tempting to use some of my winnings on an each-way bet, but I probably won't.
Anyway, well done to Carlo and the lads and thanks, Michael, for the cash.
20 Posted 13/01/2021 at 16:21:17
21 Posted 13/01/2021 at 16:28:00
No mention of our injury ravaged squad.
22 Posted 13/01/2021 at 17:08:25
Rob and Nathan, I'm assuming that Rich will be up top until Dom returns next month. That's the position he plays for Brazil.
Jay #21, that's weird, what I heard from the Peacock commentators (once they were audible) was a balanced account. Funny how people hear the same thing and get differing impressions.
23 Posted 13/01/2021 at 17:28:35
Yet they also gave us the necessary defensive cover in front of the full backs to disrupt Wolvess runners. The formation made the team look very solid so that ultimately we did to Wolves what West Ham and others have done to us, digging in and grabbing a late winner.
24 Posted 13/01/2021 at 17:33:30
25 Posted 13/01/2021 at 17:46:23
26 Posted 13/01/2021 at 18:13:53
You're a little confused there, fella. Who is it you think should be apologising... and to whom?
Ancelotti has been quite rightly murdered on here and other websites. Some of his performances have been shameful. I still haven't got over the embarrassment of him blinking when the intrepid Davey Moyes eyeballed him and walked away with three points – Despite having a vastly inferior squad of players at his disposal.
I have a pretty good idea who the people are who have quite rightly roundly criticised and rejected the cowardly tactics we have seen on several occasions this season and, to a man, they have all come out and given Ancelotti credit for last night's win. The same people were out in force to credit him when we beat Leicester too. That's how this footy lark works. Play well and you get praise; play shite and you get criticised; lose and you get hammered.
The majority of people who admire and support Ancelotti on this website have that open-mindedness. They see him as a great man, but they also see his errors. They're knowledgeable supporters with the ability to think for themselves. But there is a hard core – the "fingers in the ears" crowd – who simply blind themselves to his errors. They will defend and excuse anything and everything. No criticism (no matter how legitimate) will go unchallenged, even if it takes a hundred rabid posts to refute them all.
If you are looking for apologies from people who criticise players, then look no further than Carlo's excuse makers: "What chance has he got with this load of shite?" You must have seen and heard that a thousand times on here.
If you are looking for the people who criticised the manager to apologize, you will be in for a very long wait, my friend. While it's possible for Carlo to win them over by setting out to win each game, they will always feel justified in hammering the cowardly stuff.
Every game represents a new start for Mr Ancelotti. Continue with last night's mindset and he will not only win over his critics, he will have them eating out of his hands.
I don't know the people who have criticised him personally, but I can guarantee you one thing: They are all supporters who want to see their Everton play the game in a manner it is meant to be played – to win! They will not be repentant for venting against the awful stuff we have had to endure.
If Carlo Ancelotti is remotely interested in getting all Evertonians on side, he made a huge step in the right direction last night. He knocked the apologists' claims that "we can't be expected to open up and play with these players" clean out of the park.
Spoiling tactics are never forced on a manager; they are a choice. If you can get forward in numbers when you have no strikers, you can deffo get forward in numbers to support them when they are playing.
Harmony has descended upon Evertonia tonight. A contentment, but be very assured: A return to spoiling tactics against inferior teams will have it all kicking off again, big-time!
Nobody has the right to expect Everton to win, but every Evertonian is entitled to expect to see his team at least try to win.
Like I say, every game represents a fresh start
27 Posted 13/01/2021 at 18:25:24
What I have a hard time with is statements like “I want that man out of my club tonight” before we'd even kicked off, and similar nonsense spouted by a minority of people who seem to expect Everton 2020 to morph into Everton 1984 in half a season.
28 Posted 13/01/2021 at 18:45:56
There is more than enough there in the results to temper some fair criticism but some are just having a slag for the sake of it. Time's up on the weak shit, if you think this team sucks right now and it challenges your Everton identity have a long look in the mirror or right off with you.
29 Posted 13/01/2021 at 19:07:30
Well done, Darren. I missed your post where you gave Ancelotti credit for last night's win.
I would like to read that. Where can I find the post?
30 Posted 13/01/2021 at 19:23:45
All in all, Ancelotti has been proven right. Gordon looks talented but too raw and not ready. And using Godfrey in place of Nkounkou has clearly given us a defensive stability we badly needed. He has given faith to Iwobi and that has been rewarded in a greatly improved player. One who a few called 'worst ever signing' now looks a very decent player.
Ancelotti has improved us, and he has made us a club that can win despite our problems rather than a club that seems to uses our problems as an excuse.
Carlo has never given excuses. He has been a breath of fresh air. And this goes against what people against him.claim
Those against him claimed he was only ever successful because he only managed successful team. But he's taken over a dreadful side of mismatched composition and made it a functional unit that wins more than it doesn't.
He ain't perfect, there's no such thing - but he's certainly the best we've had in the premier League era.
31 Posted 13/01/2021 at 19:27:23
I have had a few verbal tussles with Darren and no doubt will have many more as the season progresses but, if you look at the other post on last night's game, you will see that, shortly after the game, Darren gave fulsome praise to Ancelotti and the team. I can't remember the number of his post but, if you scroll down, you will see it.
32 Posted 13/01/2021 at 19:31:06
33 Posted 13/01/2021 at 19:33:11
I have just read it now.
Well done Darren, good post giving credit to Ancelotti
Bet your night shift flew by after that win.
All credit to you
34 Posted 13/01/2021 at 19:43:15
Carlo is a terrific manager, he's doing a good job at a basketcase of a club and things are finally looking positive, let's get behind him.
I agree also with someone's comments above that we do get on his case if we perform badly – as we should; we are Everton FC!
35 Posted 13/01/2021 at 19:46:24
I know who said it. I also know the guy was on the live forum praying for the final whistle as we got into the final stages.
Evertonian Dislikes manager...Nothing new there. Evertonian loves club...nothing new there either.
It doesnt work that way mate. You don't look in the mirror and do one if you don't belief you are seeing "your" Everton. If everyone who disliked a manager deserted this club. The last six would have emptied the place.
Managers and players come and go... Your club is for life.
I saw something I hadnt seen before last night. A glimmer of hope, but you are being a little bit previous here. By claiming Anchelotti has proven his critics wrong. You sound like the guy who jumped in the queue to be paid out because his horse was in the frame as they come to the end of the first circuit of the Grand National He's proved nothing yet.
I'd rather concentrate on what he can do. If he doesnt win the cup. That wont be his fault because there are better teams in it. If he doesnt get top four, that wont be his fault either, for the same reasons.
But if he resorts to spoiling tactics against inferior opposition again. The only people he will have proven wrong is those who have trusted him.
36 Posted 13/01/2021 at 20:39:43
The manager is refreshingly humble. Evertonians celebrate the club's success and grieve our defeats but we must always be critical of whatever we think could improve us – even after a great win – it's our right.
37 Posted 13/01/2021 at 20:46:34
Our problems, however, come with clubs who don't play so open and come with a game plan and here we often lack the creativity and yes tactics to open them up. Moyes was/is a past master at this game and we see it in well-drilled lower league opposition.
The knee jerk reactions when you see the same underperforming players picked every game is understandable but, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing.
38 Posted 13/01/2021 at 22:45:39
I think the difference comes when we can't differentiate between individual game performances (players and manager) and bigger picture. Emotional reaction versus seeing progress and improvement over time.
I didn't get caught up in the hysteria following the draw at Burnley. I saw something in the performance that I thought would see a turn in form. I'm no crystal ball gazer and could have got it wrong, but I saw through the result to see a performance that could get results if we kept playing. Admittedly it took Delph to go off and force a change in that particular match, but I could see something. We have done pretty well since in the main. The manager and players collectively deserve credit for that. League positions don't lie.
All along, I have maintained I don't look at or take much notice of the table until after Christmas. When people were wailing in November, I said I'd wait to see where we are come January, as I always have done. Just as the first 40 posts on the live forum often declare defeat on the announcement of a team they don't agree with; the game isn't finished until it's over and likewise the season.
Our realistic target this season was Europa League qualification. We remain very much in touch and on target with that. Arguably we may surpass that but let's not get carried away just as we shouldn't despair over every misplaced pass in the moment of a 90-minute match that represents a small percentage of a season.
No-one has the right to expect Everton to win. But then no-one has the expectation that the manager should win every game.
The players and the manager are very much on track to achieve our target of European football next season. Achieve that and we raise the bar and expectation even more and rightly so. Fail to do so, then rightly criticise. But the season ends in May, not after every good or every poor result.
39 Posted 19/01/2021 at 20:37:30
I thought the comments were misguided also. Great result against Wolves, but Sigurdsson in particular was a complete non-entity in that formation. I think we won despite this. Not a masterstroke by the manager.
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