Welcome back to Goodison Park and I hope you had an enjoyable Christmas with your loved ones.
We’re delighted to be back in action, especially in front of our supporters, after an unprecedented mid-season break for the World Cup.
It goes without saying, the final week leading into that domestic break was far from what we were hoping for. The league defeat at Bournemouth, in particular, is one that ranks because there is a fine line in this league.
There was an opportunity with that game to ensure the look of the league table and the feeling that would come with it was good, but we didn’t take that.
The players need to know – and they do – that they did not reach the levels we expect and we needed to use that collective frustration as fuel to get better over this period.
It was a chance for individuals to work on their own personal condition, because we have to be fit and ready for the busy schedule we have ahead of us. Then, as we’ve got back up to full numbers, we’ve worked on our game, how we want to play and where we want to improve.
I’ve been very pleased with the manner in which the group has responded on the training pitch – the players have come with a positive attitude and there is a genuine determination amongst us to get better and to understand the small details and differences that will help we achieve the results we want going forward.
For all of this good work, we are well aware of what really matters: winning matches and climbing the league table.
That starts today.
Such is the competitive nature of this league, every game feels significant but, of course, it feels like there is an added importance on today because we’re coming off the back of a long break.
Preparations have gone very well. It’s been nice to have everyone back together this week, with Jordan Pickford and Conor Coady, who is ineligible to play today, the last to join us after being away with England.
It’s almost been a mini pre-season for us, including a couple of behind-closed-doors matches against Premier League opposition.
We feel ready and everyone knows the importance of hitting the ground running today.
We welcome Julen Lopetegui and the staff and players of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Wolves are a high-quality team and Julen is a manager with incredible pedigree, having won domestic and European titles during his career as a player and manager.
With this being his first game in the Premier League, it makes them slightly more difficult to analyze but they clearly have talent throughout their squad and we must be ready in terms of our fight and our quality of play.
We’ve shown what we’re capable of in moments and individual games this season but we must be more consistent, for sure.
There is no doubt in my mind of the progress we have made together, particularly since the summer, but we must recognize the process is ongoing and there is still plenty of hard work ahead for us.
That starts, as always, with the work we can do with the current squad but we are also keen to continue our work in the transfer market.
We were relatively busy in the summer window in terms of trying to evolve the shape of the team but it was never going to be a case of fixing everything at once. We’ve brought some really good players into the squad and now we’re looking at what comes next, especially in terms of our attacking options at the top end of the pitch.
Right now our focus is solely on today’s game and I can’t wait to get going again.
I’ve certainly missed the atmosphere of Goodison and, while I know how tough Boxing Day games can be, my message to the players, as always, is to ignite the fans, and to you, please get behind us as you do.
There is no place in football like Goodison at its best.
enjoy the game,