Looking for a desperately needed three points to keep them above the bottom three, Burnley attempt to avoid a fifth consecutive loss on the spin Saturday when they host Wolverhampton at Turf Moor.
The Clarets (8-6-17) may have needed the international break more than anyone as they enter this contest in 17th place, behind Southampton on goal difference and just two points clear of Cardiff City – who have a match in hand on Sean Dyche’s side. Burnley’s defence, which have struggled for consistency all term, have shipped 11 goals during this skid that has them teetering on the edge of relegation.
“It’s easy to forget we only had 12 points at 19 games,” Dyche said Thursday ahead of his 300th match in charge of Burnley. “We’ve now got 30, so that’s a pretty healthy return. Now, we’ve got to continue to build on that. Since Christmas the actual form has been good. The last run has been tough, obviously. But if you mix that altogether, you’d certainly take the return in points.
“But we’ve got to get more. That’s just what it tells you on the league table.”
Dyche does have nearly all of his players at his disposal, with winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson questionable due to a calf injury that forced the Iceland international to miss his club’s 4-0 loss to World Cup champion France in a Euro qualifier.
The Clarets are 5-2-8 at Turf Moor in league play, having already eclipsed their total for losses last term when they claimed 26 points from their 19 matches. They have yielded two or more goals in eight of their 15 home contests while posting just three clean sheets.
Wolverhampton (12-8-10) are where Burnley were last term – in seventh place and eyeing a potential Europa League berth. The promoted side went into the international break on the high of reaching the FA Cup semifinals, with their now famous 2-1 upset of Manchester United on March 16 at Molineux ensuring their first trip to Wembley for England’s oldest trophy since 1998.
Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota scored second-half goals six minutes apart for Wolves, who could claim a Europa League spot by winning the trophy or if Manchester City do. For Jimenez, it was his club-best 15th goal in all competitions, and the Mexico international has become a cult figure at Molineux by wildly exceeding the expectations placed on him following his arrival on loan from Benfica.
Jimenez also scored a go-ahead penalty for El Tri during the international break, sparking them to a 3-1 victory over Chile. Goalkeeper Rui Patricio helped Portugal pick up two points in their first two Euro 2020 qualifiers while Leander Dendoncker played the full 90 minutes for Belgium in wins over Russia and Cyprus.
Though the euphoria of reaching Wembley continues to echo around Molineux, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo wants his club to regain their focus on the task at hand.
“From the beginning, we knew how important the FA Cup is; what it means for us, what it means for the club and what it means for football,” he told the club’s official website. “It’s the oldest competition there is, and we are very proud that we are able to compete in a semi-final.
“We go game-by-game, so we cannot allow ourselves to get distracted and not allow ourselves to not do our things right. It helps (having the focus of a semi-final and league targets), but it doesn’t change. We do what we did before and the routine, philosophy is clear, and we just have to continue playing.”
Jimenez has 12 goals and six assists in league play and is trying to become the first player to factor in 20 goals for a promoted side since Troy Deeney had 13 goals and seven assists for Watford in 2015-16.
Jimenez’s goal just after the hour separated the clubs in the reverse fixture at Molineux in September. Wolverhampton have won all three top-flight matches between the sides, having done the double in 2009-10.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Burnley 1, Wolverhampton 1.
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(Raul Jimenez photo courtesy Michael Regan/Getty Images)