Everton v Wolfsburg: Attacks on top in Toffees' Euro return
Everton are finally back in continental competition, and they take on a Wolfsburg side struggling for form but featuring top-class players. Kevin Hatchard's expecting goals at Goodison...
"Both teams have strong defences on paper, but that just isn't currently being demonstrated on the pitch."
Everton v Wolfsburg
Thursday September 18, 20:05
Live on ITV 4
Not only did Everton boss Roberto Martinez fill the boots of his predecessor David Moyes, he strutted around in them with a Spanish style that carried the Toffees back into Europe after a four-year absence. It's the second season running that the affable tactician has led a side into this competition, but of course he was no longer around to lead Wigan last year.
Although Everton have eye-catching attacking players like bulldozing striker Romelu Lukaku, it was a strong defensive unit which underpinned last season's success. The Merseysiders shipped just 39 goals in the Premier League last term, the division's third-best record. This term the defence has looked more vulnerable - Everton have kept just one clean sheet, conceding six against Chelsea and two each in their games against Leicester City and Arsenal.
Martinez must make a decision about his centre-back pairing, with Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka and rising star John Stones battling for two spots. Stones replaced Distin for the weekend's 2-0 victory at West Brom, and may keep his place. Veteran striker Samuel Eto'o is back to fitness, but Lukaku will still be given the nod as the lone striker.
After a fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga and some astute summer signings, pre-season optimism was in plentiful supply at the Volkswagen Arena, but Wolfsburg have made a stuttering start. Although they battled well in a 2-1 defeat at Bayern Munich (Junior Malanda should've equalised but produced an early contender for Miss of the Season), the subsequent draws against Eintracht Frankfurt and Hoffenheim were far from impressive.
The most perplexing thing is Wolfsburg's defensive record - Ricardo Rodriguez, Sebastian Jung, Robin Knoche and Naldo are all excellent individuals, but the unit is yet to keep a Bundesliga clean sheet this term. What hasn't helped is the poor form of Brazilian international midfielder Luis Gustavo - coach Dieter Hecking has suggested the holding player hasn't yet recovered physically or mentally from the World Cup. When Luis Gustavo is on form, he is an excellent screen for the back four.
Gustavo and former Chelsea winger Kevin de Bruyne have both shaken off knocks and are expected to start, while Croatian wideman Ivan Perisic is still out with a shoulder problem. 35-year-old warhorse Ivica Olic continues to impress up front (he says cutting out Coke and eating fruit in the evenings are his fitness secrets), and he is likely to keep out former Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner.
There'll be a raucous atmosphere at Goodison Park, and Everton's home record last season was generally very good. However, it's worth noting that the Toffees have only won one of their last five home games, and I just can't get excited about a price of [2.12] for the home win. Wolfsburg aren't playing particularly well, but they have plenty of quality players and are a tough side to beat.
Over 2.5 Goals
I'm expecting a match played at a high tempo, with plenty of fluid attacking play. Both defences are strong on paper, but that isn't translating to the pitch. The two sides have kept just one clean sheet each this term, and Wolfsburg aren't the type of team who can just sit in and aim for a draw. I think the odds of [1.95] on offer for Over 2.5 Goals are pretty generous, and you may also be tempted by backing Yes in the Both Teams to Score market at [1.75].
Back Over 2.5 Goals at [1.95]
Check out the latest Betfair Sports Update where Dan Thomas joins Timeform Radio's Paul Jacobs to discuss Spurs and Everton in the Europa League and the Scottish Referendum markets on Betfair...
2014/15 Europa League P/L (1pt per bet)
Points Staked: 11
Points Returned: 15.41
P/L: +4.41 points