Unlucky in penalties for a second straight year in the Carabao Cup, new boys Wolverhampton turn their focus back to securing a second straight season in the top flight Saturday when they host Southampton at Molineux.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Wolverhampton (2-3-1) have not conceded a goal in six Carabao Cup matches totaling 600 minutes under Nuno Espirito Santo since he took over the team last term. Wolves were eliminated by Manchester City in the round of 16 on penalties after a scoreless 120 minutes in 2017-18, and with the rule change to go directly to penalties after 90 minutes this term, they endured a similar fate Tuesday at home versus Leicester City after a 0-0 deadlock.
Despite the outcome, Nuno is pleased the two Carabao Cup matches showed his side have the depth to withstand the rigours of the Premier League. Even with making nine changes from the side that produced a point in Wolverhampton’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United last weekend, it continues to be apparent with each passing match Wolves are unlike most promoted teams simply fighting for survival the following season.
“Today was proof and evidence that we have a good squad,” Nuno told his club’s official website after his team technically extended their unbeaten run to six matches (3-3-0) in all competitions. “It shows me I have a squad ready to go all season.
“Most important is the way we played, the boys did it the same way, changes didn’t mean anything. We kept the same style, the same ideas and the same philosophy. It doesn’t matter what competition, we wanted to win, I’m sad because we didn’t but proud of the players.”
Saturday’s point gave Wolves draws against both Manchester sides in the young season. Joao Moutinho’s goal eight minutes after the restart stood as the equaliser for Wolverhampton, who had a 319-minute shutout streak in all competitions snapped with Fred’s goal on 18 minutes for United.
“We are not looking for the opponent we are going to play. We will try to play our game, it doesn’t matter if we are home or away, we will try to do our best,” striker Leo Bonatini said. “We will respect everyone, but respect means to try to play our game and focus on what we need to do.”
Southampton (1-2-3) claimed their lone victory away from St Mary’s, but their trip last weekend was one to forget as the Saints were humbled 3-0 by Liverpool at Anfield. The match was done and dusted by halftime since the Saints conceded all three goals in the opening half – the first an own goal by defender Wesley Hoedt in the 10th minute – but manager Mark Hughes tried to glean some positives from the underwhelming performance.
“This is the first defeat in four games, so we’ve been doing ok,” Hughes told Southampton’s official website. “Obviously, coming to places like this, you’ve got to give yourself a chance to stay in the game and create opportunities when you’re on an even keel with the opposition, but we weren’t able to do that.
“The quality we faced today is at a really high level and we caught them unfortunately at a point in the season where they’re at the top of their form. They’re playing exceptionally well and beating everybody. We’re just one of many at the beginning of the season.”
It can be argued getting their Merseyside trips out of the way early is a good thing for Southampton – they shipped five goals in the losses to Everton and Liverpool – and posted a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park on Sept. 1.
Southampton’s third-round Carabao Cup tie versus Everton was pushed back to next week since both Merseyside teams were drawn to host matches, which creates a logistical nightmare given the close proximity of Anfield and Goodison Park. The match will be played next Tuesday, after the fourth-round draw is conducted.
The good news for Hughes is he will have the services of leading goal-scorer Danny Ings for this match after he sat out versus Liverpool per league loan rules. Ings and midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg have accounted for five of Southampton’s six league goals.
Southampton did the double over Wolves the last time the sides were in the Premier League together back in the 2003-04 season. Wolverhampton posted a 2-0 victory at St Mary’s in the second round of last season’s Carabao Cup on goals by the since-departed Danny Baath and Donovan Wilson.
Wolves did the double in the last league matchups in the Championship in 2008-09.
Per Ladbrokes, Wolves are solid 4/5 favourites to continue their upwardly mobile start, while Southampton are 15/4 underdogs. The odds of the sides splitting the points check in at 12/5.
Oddsmakers appear slightly torn on what kind of win Wolverhampton will achieve, offering 21/10 on more than 2.5 goals and 27/10 on under 2.5 goals. The odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw also appear to be preferred option at 3/1, especially compared to a Saints win with less than 2.5 goals (15/2) or over 2.5 (8/1).
Mexico international Raul Jimenez leads the way for first goal-scorers at 4/1, edging out Bonatini (9/2). Diogo Jota, Helder Castro and recent returnee Ivan Cavaleiro — who has yet to feature in a Premier League match after making his season debut versus Spurs midweek — are all 6/1. Ings is Southampton’s top option to make it 1-0 for the visitors at 7/1.
Jimenez also tops the options among any time goal-scorers at 6/4, with Bonatini second at 9/5. Wolves supersub Adama Traore is lurking just behind the top five options among his teammates at 5/2, and at 13/5, Ings edges out Charlie Austin (14/5) as Southampton’s top scoring threat.
While a 3-0 loss at Anfield is not an incredibly unexpected scoreline for Southampton given the chasm of expectations between Liverpool and Mark Hughes’ side, it was the meek capitulation of the Saints that stuck out in this contest. Southampton had season lows of one shot on target and seven shots overall. Their 43 percent possession looks halfway decent only because Liverpool did not trouble themselves to get out of second gear the final 45 minutes with the match in the bag.
Going back to last season when Hughes came on board to help Southampton avoid the drop, this was the kind of performance that sets off alarm bells among supporters. Much like Newcastle, the Saints can take solace in knowing if they must battle to avoid relegation, they are going to be scrapping for 18th place because Huddersfield Town are bereft of offence and Cardiff City lack quality to string together results.
That said, there was no excuse for Southampton to fall off in quality so dramatically without Ings, whose return will undoubtedly be heralded by Hughes. Yes, the Saints were unlucky with Hoedt’s own goal, but it was also one of two Liverpool goals that came off set pieces.
If anything, Wolverhampton’s loss to Leicester City sharpened their edge for this match. Wolves should be excited for this challenge — no side in the Premier League awes them, as evidenced by taking points from both Manchester sides. No victory for a promoted side comes easy, but if Nuno’s side shows as much graft as it did at Old Trafford last weekend, it could look that easy.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: WOLVERHAMPTON 2, Southampton 1.