Saturday sees us take our worrying form into battle against Mick McCarthy’s Wolves in a potentially pivotal match which can hopefully see us start our climb up the table.
Last time out?
On a warm summer day at the end of last season we blitzed Wolves with 3 goals in a crazy spell at the end of the first half. Osman bamboozled Wolves two banks of 4 using the space between the lines to interchange superbly with fellow attacking mids Billy & Magaye as our 4-2-3-1 triumphed against Wolves rigid 4-4-2. We completed just 164 of our 280 passes – our lowest figure of the season and also our lowest pass completion of the season at 59%. Wolves made more than double the successful passes we did, but crucially we had the incision and used the space better. Wolves main threat was from crosses – they peppered our box with 31 in total – expect more of the same on Saturday.
Wolves principal attacking focus is down the flanks where Karl Henry will look to quickly distribute to (most probably) Hunt and Jarvis who play as inverted wingers cutting inside on their better feet. Wolves make more crosses (27) per game on their travels than any other side in the league and as the attack matrix (right) shows they focus down the left. Alarm bells will be ringing then to the loyal readers of the blog given the issues which have been highlighted on here about our susceptibility to defending crosses particularly down our right side where 80% of the goals we have shipped this season have come from. The below visual shows the composition of team passing in the top flight this season broken down into % – as you can see only Stoke can match Wolves in terms of crossing.
Most crosses have come from the boot of key-man Jamie O’Hara who has blossomed in Wolves switch from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 this campaign. The former Spurs man averages most passes (62), more successful crosses and more chances created per game than any of his teammates. Ward and Stearman will most likely line-up in the fullback berths on Saturday and will be the key source to feed the wide players so pressing them would be advisable – so 4-2-3-1 would be our most likely formation as it was at Molineux in the 3-0 win at the end of last season.
Our visitors concede 18 shots per game on their travels – the 4th highest in the league. In comparison, we concede the fewest shot in the league at home (9). Wolves can also be quite slow out of the blocks – only Bolton (13) have conceded more goals than Wolves (11) in the first half of games this season.
One of the key stats is that Wolves concede more fouls on their travels than any side in the division. As noted in recent posts, Drenthe is adept at winning free kicks and with Cahill & Fellaini both back for this fixture Baines has a decent chance of registering his first assist of the campaign. Roger Johnson’s passing is clearly a weakness; so far this season he has registered just 66% pass completion – almost Stoke territory – and as a result Moyes will not be asking anyone to waste energy in pressing the former Birmingham man.
I wouldn’t expect anything too different in terms of approach from the Blues. Moyes will look to a 4-2-3-1 with Cahill and Fellaini presumably coming in for Coleman and Neville in the Blues midfield with Distin coming in for Heitinga at the back.
Offensively I think we can get joy from both flanks. Wolves like to get their fullbacks forward and often Henry will drop in between his centre halves and form a back three when Wolves are in possession. Quick breaks using Baines and Drenthe on either flank could be crucial.
Just as important will be our ability to shutdown Wolves left flank. Hibbert is clearly targeted by opponents but we need to mitigate the risk as best we can and if Drenthe does start in front of him the onus is going to be on us defending our 18 yard box to the aerial threat posed by McCarthy’s men.
Wolves have one clean sheet on the road and we have none at home so it’s unlikely this will end 0-0 – it’s been 38 games since we were involved in a no score draw. My head says 1-1 but I’m going for us to sneak it 2-1.
Howard Kendall will be joining Evertonian authors James Corbett and Steve Johnson to sign copies of their fantastic books ‘Everton – The School of Science ‘ and ‘Everton: The Official Complete Record’ this Saturday at Waterstones Bold Street at 11am . Its the perfect gift for every Blue and a chance to have it signed by one of the great Everton players and managers.