WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS 1
Everton continued their stuttering start to the season with a 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers that saw the Toffees start the game well but crumple under the visitors’ incessant second-half pressure, leaving David Moyes’ team with just one point from the first two games of the Premier League season.
Moyes made four changes to the side that lost at Blackburn Rovers a week prior, but stuck with a 4-2-3-1 formation, and it was the position of one of the incoming players, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, which raised the most eyebrows around Goodison Park. The Russian, naturally left footed, spent most of last season on the right of midfield with his South African teammate Steven Pienaar taking the left flank and excelling. But for the visit of Wolves, the roles were reversed, depriving Everton of the almost telepathic link Pienaar has established with full-back Leighton Baines. That partnership was Everton’s most consistent attacking force last season, making the decision to tamper with a successful pairing one Moyes may regret in the face of two points dropped – neither Baines and Bilyaletdinov nor Pienaar and Tony Hibbert on the opposite side worked with anywhere the near the cohesion of the tried and tested Baines-Pienaar combination.
Without the dynamic outlet on the left provided by Pienaar and Baines, much of Everton’s play went through the middle of the field and Mikel Arteta, but Wolves’ packed five-man midfield saw Everton pushed into intricate passes around the edge of the opposing penalty box. When the ball was occasionally worked wide Everton’s crosses were either comfortably blocked by the Midlanders’ back line, or the ball was worked back towards the congested central zone, although with just Jermaine Beckford up front Everton’s reluctance to take an aerial route might be understandable. The Wolves midfield cut off any other option for Phil Jagielka when the centre-back had possession, but a lack of movement ahead of the England man only compounded the paucity of choices on offer. In this respect, for the opening stages of the first-half, Everton played squarely into Wolves’ hands.
When Everton did bring the ball down and trust in their own ability, Wolves looked unable to cope. The last 20 minutes of the first-half saw the Blues move the ball around with purpose and pull Wolves’ massed defence open, but it took a bizarre decision from referee Lee Mason to create an opening for Tim Cahill to score. Mason somehow decided the foul on Arteta, at least a yard inside the box, was actually outside the area, but from the resulting free-kick Cahill was allowed to smash the ball home. Everton could not build on the lead, however, and the second-half saw a much improved Wolves’ performance, as they offered a great deal more threat going forward and Everton’s faith in their collective talent disappeared again, with no player taking control of the game and letting the visitors dominate proceedings.
If Everton are to get out of this current misery, they need more performances like Saturday’s first-half than the second. Wolves bullied Everton through the second period and Everton seemingly forgot their technical superiority and allowed themselves to be dragged into a slugfest, but it is brains and not brawn that will serve Everton best this season.
2 Hibbert – 6 Jagielka – 15 Distin – 3 Baines
6 Arteta – 5 Heitinga
20 Pienaar – 17 Cahill – 7 Bilyaletdinov
71 – 8 Saha on for 16 Beckford
82 – 25 Fellaini on for 5 Heitinga
77 – 21 Osman on for 7 Bilyaletdinov