Enjoying their best form of the season, Wolverhampton look to strengthen their grip on seventh place in the table Saturday when they face would should be a close to full-strength Bournemouth side at Dean Court.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Wolves (11-6-9) are two points clear of the pack to be the “best of the rest” behind the Big Six in the Premier League. The spot has the potential to reward them with a spot in the Europa League qualifying rounds, but Nuno Espirito Santo’s side are also trying to earn that spot through the FA Cup.
Wolverhampton will make their first quarterfinal appearance in England’s oldest tournament since 2003 next month, drawing Manchester United at home after winning 1-0 at Championship side Bristol City last Saturday. Ivan Cavaleiro finished a cross from Matt Doherty in the 28th minute that stood as the match-winner as Wolves ran their unbeaten streak in all competitions to seven matches (5-2-0).
“Matt doesn’t stop running, it’s incredible,” Nuno told The Times. “The players with more years in the club, they (Doherty and Connor Coady) know what Wolves have been through and they are now in a good moment and the credit is to them.”
These are heady days indeed for the promoted side, who are one point shy of the 40 that almost mathematically guarantees survival. Wolverhampton, though, are also thinking beyond the end of this season as Doherty, Coady, and most recently Roman Saiss have signed long-term deals to stay at Molineux in a bid to break the Big Six ceiling – perhaps as soon as next season.
“I’m very happy to sign a new deal with this club. It was very important for me because since the new owners bought the club, I’m here to have a big part in this project,” Saiss told the club’s official website. “I came here to try to help the club get into the Premier League, we achieved that, and now we have to continue in this way, to help the club to grow every year to become a very big club in England. I’m very happy to have a part in this big project.
“I’ve been here three years now, so everything is good for me and my family. We like living in England, we like living here, playing at this club, in this stadium, with these fans, so everything is fantastic and is good for me.”
As Wolves lock up their nucleus, supporters are also hoping the club will make striker Raul Jimenez’s loan from Benfica permanent. The Mexico international has a club-high 11 goals in all competitions and scored in the reverse fixture – a 2-0 Wolves win at Molineux on Dec. 15.
Bournemouth (10-3-13) are also a side with designs on that seventh spot and can close within three points with a victory. But what is separating the sides is success against the Big Six – the Cherries have taken just three points in eight matches (1-0-7) with a minus-14 goal difference, while Wolves have claimed nine (2-3-3) with a minus-3.
That discrepancy in form was again evident for Bournemouth before the FA Cup break as they were short-handed and outclassed 3-0 by Liverpool at Anfield a fortnight ago. Playing without top scorer Callum Wilson and midfielders Junior Stanislas and David Brooks due to injuries, coach Eddie Howe watched his side keep all 10 men behind the ball at times. The scoreline reflected the dominance as Bournemouth finished with two shots on target.
“We did it okay until the first goal, which was from a second-phase set-play. The second goal was from a giveaway by us and the third goal was from their throw-in,” Howe told the Bournemouth Echo. “I’m frustrated with the goals and how they manufactured them. I thought our commitment and mentality was good.
“Sometimes it’s very easy to react to a result in a negative way but at 3-0 down in the early stages of the second half, that was a real examination and we never stopped fighting.
“Everyone gave their all and that’s all I can ask.”
Howe is hoping Wilson – who leads Bournemouth with 11 goals in all competitions – will be available after a three-match absence, but it appears more likely he will miss one more contest. Stanislas should be fit for selection after missing the Liverpool match with a thigh bruise while Brooks is likely to miss the next two matches with the ankle injury suffered in last month’s 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea.
Nathaniel Clyne is expected to return at right back after being ineligible to face his parent club, and not a moment too soon for the Bournemouth gaffer. The Cherries have posted two clean sheets in Clyne’s four starts since his January signing.
“He hasn’t needed a transitional period, he has gone straight in and performed at a really high level. We are delighted with him,” Howe said. “We were very grateful to our recruitment team for identifying Nathaniel and were really pleased we were able to conclude the deal. There were other clubs who were interested as well, so I’m delighted he chose us.”
Wolves are making their first trip to Dean Court since a 2-1 loss in the Championship in 2014-15. Wolverhampton’s lone road win in five matches at Bournemouth came in the 1948 FA Cup.
These have been the type of games that have been maddening for Wolves supporters in the sense that previous such matches were ones Wolverhampton could have taken points and essentially been unassailable in seventh the final third of the season.
Conversely, these are the matches Bournemouth have excelled in being a flat-track bully. Those wins, however, have come when firing on all cylinders and 100 percent healthy on the offensive end. Without Wilson and Brooks, it becomes a far more dodgy situation for the Cherries. The other good news is Bournemouth have been far better at home, where they have gone unbeaten in four and claimed 24 of their 33 points (7-3-3).
This is a fairly well-balanced contest, and Wolves were able to give some players a rest while reaching the FA Cup quarterfinals last weekend. Wolverhampton have taken 10 points from their last five league matches outside Molineux, and their consistency — all the more impressive as a promoted side — make them more likely to claim at least one point.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Bournemouth 1, Wolverhampton 1.
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 27 PREVIEWS:
West Ham (9-6-11) vs. Fulham (4-5-17)
Newcastle United (6-7-13) vs. Huddersfield Town (2-5-19)
Manchester United (15-6-5) vs. Liverpool (20-5-1)