Everton will be looking to seal their progress to the next round of the Europa League when they take on Wolfsburg in Germany on Thursday evening.
Europa League Preview: VfL Wolfsburg v Everton
By Eoin Leeson
The Toffees go into the game on the back of a hard fought win over West Ham at Goodison Park on Saturday. Romelu Lukaku powered home what looked to be an offside goal to open the scoring before Mauro Zarate equalised after his shot took a cruel deflection off Phil Jagielka.
Leon Osman scored a beautiful winner on his 400th appearance when he finished a superb delivery from Samuel Eto’o. West Ham made the game a difficult, gritty one and it could be like that on Thursday.
Anyone who thinks the match is a forgone conclusion because we beat Wolfsburg 4-1 is mistaken. The win over the Hammers extended our unbeaten run to seven matches and it was great to see players like Osman, Eto’o and Tony Hibbert, at left back, roll back the clock with some exemplary performances.
Another big positive was the return of our Belgian flyer Kevin Mirallas. I for one can’t wait until he has a few matches under his belt and is back to his brilliant best. Lukaku notched another goal and hopefully this is the goal that triggers his inevitable scoring spree. It was one of the most satisfying wins of the season so far and we’re now up to 9th.
Thursday’s encounter sees us go up against a revitalised Wolfsburg side in a winner takes all clash at the small, compact, atmospheric Volkswagen Arena.
Die Wolves have won an impressive nine matches since we last played them and are second in the Bundesliga. The match will be our toughest test in the group with the winner sealing their place in the round of 32.
However, a draw is enough for us to qualify and a loss could actually do it too if Lille and Krasnodar draw. The 4-1 scoreline in the September win over Wolfsburg was harsh on the German side although we were tremendous. Wolfsburg were poor but that said, Tim Howard had a busy night and could be in for another frantic 90 minutes between the sticks against a much improved side playing really well.
They had won seven matches in a row before being beaten 3-2 by Schalke at the weekend in a game where they still looked strong.
Wolfsburg are an open minded team that usually play in a 4-2-3-1 formation. This sometimes leaves them vulnerable at the back but their defence is very strong and is quite capable of coping.
Naldo and Ricardo Rodriguez have been top players this season with Kevin De Bruyne an integral part of the team in midfield. The squad is gelling well and if the strikers start chipping in with more goals they could have a successful season. The match up between our attack and their defence should be an interesting one as will the midfield duel but our now solid defence shouldn’t leak many goals against the German outfit.
Steven Naismith, Gareth Barry, Leighton Baines, Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar, Bryan Oviedo, John Stones and Antolin Alcaraz have all remained on Merseyside with injury so Hibbert is expected to continue at left back. Arouna Kone has however travelled with the squad.
Rodriguez, Vieirinha and Josuha Guilavogui are all doubts for Wolfsburg.
WOLFSBURG LIKELY LINE UP: Benaglio, Trasch, Naldo, Knoche, Schafer, Malanda, Gustavo, De Bruyne, Hunt, Perisic, Olic (4-2-3-1)
EVERTON LIKELY LINE UP: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, McCarthy, Osman, Mirallas, Barkley, Eto’o, Lukaku (4-2-2-2)
It’s been an excellent, unbeaten campaign so far and it’s important that we get a result on Thursday so players can be rested for the last group game against Krasnodar.
PREDICTION: VFL Wolfsburg 1-1 Everton.