Everton FC are back in Europe – and their campaign begins with a difficult tie against a side most observers know.
This isn’t how the Europa League was meant to be.
FK Qarabag, Rio Ave and Apollon Limassol could be awaiting the Blues on Thursday evening, but instead they meet Wolfsburg – a strong Bundesliga side filled with recognisable players, a number of whom played at the World Cup.
Here are the three to watch ahead of the Germans’ visit to Goodison Park.
Kevin de Bruyne
The 23-year-old is the typical product of Chelsea’s gluttonous transfer policy: a good player brought to Stamford Bridge, loaned out elsewhere and then sold.
There should be a real feeling in west London of the one that got away about the Belgian attacker, even with the depth Chelsea have in that position. After moving to Werder Bremen on loan in the 2012/13 season and impressing massively, Jose Mourinho brought him back to Chelsea, only to sell him to Wolfsburg in January 2014.
He has flourished since moving there, scoring three goals and making six assists in 16 appearances last season.
Able to play anywhere behind the striker – there is a feeling he is best central, but has played more on the left-hand side this season – De Bruyne is fast, intelligent and creative. In his first three Bundesliga games this season, he’s created 13 chances, completed seven dribbles and taken eight shots.
The true creative hub of the side, expect him to move into space and be given the ball at every possible opportunity – especially as Dieter Hecking’s side will look to counter attack.
One of the most sought-after full backs in European football, Wolfsburg pulled off their biggest transfer coup of the summer by keeping the wolves from the door for the Swiss star.
Rodriguez is the archetypal modern full back, marauding on the left-hand side and influencing the game at both ends of the pitch.
His star shone brightly at the World Cup, but this came as no surprise to those who watched him at the Volkswagen Arena. His delivery from out wide is super but he isn’t merely a good crosser of the ball but can involve himself in short, intricate passing.
Five goals and nine assists – plus 76 chances created and 88 successful dribbles – demonstrates how good he was last season; this season, he has been less prolific and failed to register a goal, but that is partly because of Wolfsburg’s slow start to the season.
The 22-year-old’s excellent set-pieces attribute to some of that creativity, and will be a threat anywhere near the box.
With Brazilian international Luiz Gustavo a doubt through injury, the 23-year-old will be tasked with holding together the midfield – a tricky task given how Wolfsburg’s front four like to attack.
Even if Luiz Gustavo is passed fit, Guilavogui is one to take note of. He was prominent in St Etienne’s ascension back amongst the top sides in France, a contribution which earned him a move to Atletico Madrid last summer.
After Atletico sent him back on loan St Etienne last season, the Frenchman now looks to solidify himself at Wolfsburg on a season-long deal.
A tough-tackling midfielder – he’s made an average of 2.7 per game in the Bundesliga this season – he has the energy and exuberance to close down players quickly. At six foot three, he also wins his headers in midfield, and can drop deep to combat any aerial attacking threat.
He won’t offer much in an attacking sense – but he won’t have to. With movement ahead, he will sit deep and look to end any Everton attacks at the earliest possible opportunity.
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