Following an eight-day lay-off for Wolves, we hosted Everton back at Molineux on a windy Monday evening. After the overall feeling of disappointment from the Leeds result, Wolves rectified the lack of intensity with an onslaught of attacking movement, partnered with some of the classiest individual performances to date. This resulted in a 2-1 victory over Rafa Benitez’s men, taking a fourth win from five games, firing us up the table into seventh spot.
Once again, with the injury to Marcal, Rayan Ait-Nouri had another opportunity to make the left wing-back position his own, and Trincao was chosen ahead of Adama Traore. Additionally, Ruben Neves entered the fray, replacing Leander Dendoncker after his below par performance against Leeds. A first half of dominance was to come, demonstrating fluidity and threat in attacking portions of the pitch, possibly a product of the high line that Lage opted for. The midfield two oozed class from the first minute, highlighting shades of season 18/19, Neves in particular paying homage to a prime Andrea Pirlo, and not just by his hair. Balance has well and truly been restored with Ait-Nouri’s return, if anyone doubted the Algerian before, best believe they’re hiding now. Another top class display from the 20 year-old, combining progressive runs with stubborn defensive work, utilised perfectly by Bruno Lage, with Semedo to transform our back five into a midfield four within seconds. Hwang and Francisco ran relentlessly during the first 45 minutes, pressing effectively and forcing countless mistakes from the Everton back line. The link up between the front three was sublime, every backheel found a man in old gold, with enough of them to create a five-minute compilation quite comfortably.
However, there is an evident reason as to why there was a stark difference in performance when comparing Everton to Leeds. That difference being pressure, Benitez’s Everton looked like Wolves last season, sitting back, and waiting on a mistake, but built off the foundations of stability and compactness. Compare this to the ‘all guns blazing’ approach that Bielsa drills into his Leeds side, it’s evident that Lage is yet to discover a method to combat a relentless press. Therefore, Everton played into our hands last night, allowing our technically gifted players to place their stamp on the game, pegging the Toffees back for 45 minutes. Despite this, credit must be given to Lage, as Wolves finally look like a team that can break opposition defences, after three great performances to start the season and no goals to show for it, we truly have our tails up now.
Hwang Hee-Chan was denied his fifth goal of the season after a tight VAR call after 15 minutes, but a dominant Wolves remained on top. Ait-Nouri was the one chosen to deliver the corner shortly afterward, and the influential decision to change the style of delivery paid dividends as Kilman netted his first for the Wanderers. No one deserved it more than the player of the season so far (arguably). Five minutes later, a back pass from Godfrey was pounced on by Jimenez, who sumptuously dinked the England number 1, Jordan Pickford, placing Bruno’s men into a commanding position going into half time. The second half saw Iwobi grab an equaliser for Everton following an initial block from Godfrey’s effort, though it wouldn’t be enough to stop Wolves taking all three points.
Man of the match – Raul Jimenez
Possibly the hardest game to choose a man of the match from this season, every player gave 100% and no one made any noticeable errors apart from Sa’s heart attack moment in the second half. He won’t get the plaudits but I thought Romain Saiss was brilliant, when others shy away from 50/50’s, he will fight for the badge every week, without fail. A special mention should go to Ait-Nouri, who was immense too, really cementing his spot in the starting eleven for weeks to come. But my man of the match is Raul Jimenez, his work rate off the ball, delicious link-up play and his first goal back at Molineux is too much to be overlooked. The perfect number 9 performance, Si Senor still has it.
It’s impossible to expect any side to sustain the press displayed in the first half, which is why energy levels fell during the second half. Players became tired, and Everton managed to find spaces and opportunities that weren’t available for the first 45 minutes. To battle this problem, the substitutions from Lage must come earlier, making the first change after 79 minutes was too late, and against better sides, we would have been punished. But the first half tactics were perfect and provided a safe cushion. Overall, a cracking night under the lights, more of the same, please.
Sam Beeken is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him here