Monday night football, under the Molineux lights and it was Bruno Lage’s men who extended their unbeaten Premier League run to five matches. In truth, the game was won in the first half with an utterly dominant display. Everton boss Benitez changed formation at half time but it ended up being too little too late.
The first half stats tell a story of their own. Wolves peppered Pickford’s goal with 8 shots compared to Everton’s 3 (they failed to hit the target with any them). In the 1st half, Wolves had 68% possession and 87% pass success compared to Everton’s 74% pass success. Another stat that really stood out for me from the first half was Wolves’ 86% tackle success. It was those tackles that allowed them to get a real stranglehold over Everton and was opitimized by the defensive work of Neves and Moutinho in the Wolves engine room. Not only were the midfield pair never far from the scene when Everton tried to break, they also pulled the strings in possession in a first half where Everton were not able to get close to them.
Everton started the match in a compact 4.4.2 formation whereas Wolves were 3.4.3 in possession (which became 5.4.1 out of possession). Wolves built up with a 3+2 shape (their 3 CB’s with Moutinho and Neves always available to receive). Everton in their 4.4.2 had a real problem. Their 2 strikers were unable to manage the 3 Wolves centre backs and with Neves and Moutinho in front, it effectively became a 5v2 build up. The times when Everton didn’t jump to support their strikersin the press, Moutinho or Neves had all the space and time they wanted to pick and find passes. On occasions where Everton jumped from their midfield, Wolves found countless passes to Trincao and Hwang who occupied the pockets (made available through the height and width of wing backs Semedo and Ait-Nouri). Raul was also dropping into midfield and the Everton centre backs didn’t want to go with him into that space. In effect, 4 Everton defenders were being occupied by the width of the wolves wing backs. With all that in mind, it’s unsurprising it took Everton a full 12 minutes before they managed any meaningful possession and even less surprising that Just 3 minutes later Wolves had the ball in the net through Hwang (which was marginally ruled out by VAR for offside). This time Allan had decided to jump to try and get closer to Moutinho. The clever Raul dropped into midfield with neither Everton centre back interested in pursuing him. It was a culmination of everything that Everton had failed to deal with in the opening exchanges and a sign of things to come for the rest of the 1st half as Wolves continued to dominate.
After 25 minutes of play, Wolves had 76% possession. Every time Everton regained the ball, Wolves 3 towering centre backs dominated the long balls to Richarlison. On the rare occasions Everton were able to find a pass, Moutinho or Neves were quickly around the ball, making tackles or picking up 2nd balls. The screw was tightening through Wolves’ relentless attacking play and almost instantaneous recovery of possession. Wolves continued to mix up their attacks; finding passes between the lines but also not afraid to play longer (which actually created them even more space in midfield).
It would be just shy of the 30 minute mark when Wolves found their breakthrough. Kilman grabbing his first Premier League goal to condemn Everton to their 7th set piece goal conceded in just 10 matches. It was quite APT that there were 8 Everton defenders in the box compared to just 5 Wolves players. Much like the Everton backline in open play, it appeared no one wanted to engage or get close to the ball or man. Kilman wanted it more than the rest and Wolves deservedly had their lead. 1 swiftly became 2 before the break. A glaring error from Godfrey left Raul to latch on to his under hit back pass to find the second. The pass was poor but I can’t help but think Wolves constant pressure during the 1st half was a determining factor for the error.
Everton would come out fighting in the 2nd half, and it was a tactical change to a 188.8.131.52 and the introduction of Delph into the midfield that allowed it. All the things that made Wolves dominant in the 1st half were no longer happening. The extra midfielder in front of the Everton backline made passes into the pockets difficult. Whenever those passes got through, Everton defenders were now aggressively jumping to get tight to the Wolves forwards. Everton were also much higher as a team; jumping to press goalkeeper Sa for the 1st time in the match. Pressing higher, twinned the introduction of Delph and change of system allowed Everton to recover a lot more 2nd balls. It was now Delph and Allan that were maintaining attacks for Everton and Wolves struggling to get out. The 2nd half stats couldn’t have been further from the 1st half ones. Everton managed 11 shots (5 on target) compared to just 2 from Wolves (neither on target). 2nd half possession was just 55% in favour of Wolves. Everton’s tackle success rose to 68% whilst Wolves dropped to 45%. It’s not surprising that Everton won the 2nd half 0-1. Benitez had noticed the problem and made tactical changes accordingly, the only problem was it all happened too late.
In a game of 2 distinct halves, the only consistent remained the defensive workrate of Moutinho and Neves. It was Neves who got back to block the first shot of the 2nd half from Gray and then quite fittingly to end the match, Moutinho to win the last 2nd ball in the 90+5th minute to help see Wolves over the line.