Sorely needing a first Premier League victory and some confidence ahead of their first proper European match in 61 years, Wolverhampton look for a breakthrough at Molineux on Saturday versus Chelsea.
(Potential Starting XIs)
Wolves (0-3-1) are just above the drop in 17th and are one of two top-flight clubs without a victory along with Watford. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have not played all that badly, but they are no longer a promoted club sneaking up on teams with their understated quality and Portuguese-tinged cohesion, and their level of play on Thursday nights on the continent has yet to follow them to England on the weekends.
Nuno’s team went into the break on a down note, losing 3-2 at Everton on Sept. 1 as it fought back from a pair of one-goal deficits before conceding a third to Richarlison on 80 minutes. Defender Willy Boly, a fixture of Wolves’ back three during their rise in the Championship, will serve a one-match suspension after succumbing to the red mist in the final minutes and picking up a needless second booking.
That means summer signing and Real Madrid loanee Jesus Vallejo will likely get his first Premier League start next alongside Connor Coady and Ryan Bennett. Nuno gave the 22-year-old a pair of starts during Wolverhampton’s Europa League qualifying trek.
“As a footballer we know him, we had a lot of information – then we try to get information on his character. And we are delighted that he’s joined us, he’s a fantastic player,” Nuno told Birmingham live about Vallejo earlier this season.
Another player looking for minutes is Adama Traore, who has impressed early with four assists deputising for injured wide back Matt Doherty. The 23-year-old is expected to continue in Nuno’s first XI with Doherty missing out on Ireland’s Euro qualifiers due to injury.
“I want to defend and everything is important, but I played all my life as a winger, so those things I like to do as well,” Traore told the Express & Star. “This new position, I have to work in a defensive shape as well, but I’m working on every aspect. I feel I am improving almost every day.”
Wolves had 10 players on international duty during the break, with Boly getting his first call-up with the Ivory Coast and the Portuguese quartet of Joao Moutinho, Rui Patricio, Ruben Neves, and Diogo Jota all recalled to the UEFA Nations League-winning side for Euro qualifiers. Leander Dendoncker represented Belgium while fellow midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White featured for England’s Under-21 side.
In-form striker Raul Jimenez toiled for Mexico in friendlies versus the U.S. and Argentina, and Romain Saiss played for Morocco.
Wolves will begin their Europa League group stage at home Thursday versus Portuguese side Braga.Chelsea (1-2-1) went into the break unbeaten in three, but a first victory as coach at Stamford Bridge again eluded Frank Lampard after Sheffield United rallied from two down to nick a point in the 89th minute when Blues defender Kurt Zouma knocked the ball into his own net.
Lampard is trying to stress the importance of protecting a lead, yet it has mainly falling on deaf ears as the Pensioners have already thrown away four points and nearly made it six after getting a late winner against promoted Norwich City. Chelsea have yet to record a clean sheet, which has offset the excitement centre-forward Tammy Abraham has provided with braces in back-to-back contests.
“We switched off in a game we were comfortably seeing out at 2-0 up,” Lampard told The Times after the draw versus Sheffield United. “I was clear at half-time with the players: ‘This could be 3-0 and, okay, that’s nice. Or it has the potential to go to 2-2.'”
Help may be on the way to stabilise the back line with centre back Antonio Rudiger expected to be available for the first time after recovering from a knee injury. There is also expected to be a change at left back, where incumbent Emerson suffered an injury during qualifying for Italy and could result in Marcos Alonso getting his first Premier League start of the term.
With Chelsea on a short turnaround ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League opener at home versus Valencia, U.S. international Christian Pulisic could find himself coming off the bench for this contest as Lampard ponders his rotation patterns for twice-weekly football over the next month.
Wolves took four points from the two matches last season, winning 2-1 at Molineux on goals by Jimenez and Jota four minutes apart in the second half. Chelsea, though, are 9-1-2 versus Wolves in the Premier League era and have left the Midlands victors in four of six meetings in all competitions.
Odds and Ends, per Ladbrokes
To Win: Wolves 15/8; Draw 23/10; Chelsea 7/5
Both Teams to Score: Yes 4/6; No 21/20
Over/Under 2.5 Goals: Over 20/23; Under 5/6
First Goal Scorer Wolves: Jimenez 4/1; Jota 9/2; Cutrone 5/1; Neto 11/2; Gibbs-White 8/1
First Goal Scorer Chelsea: Abraham 4/1; Batshuayi, Giroud 9/2; Mount, Pedro 13/2
Anytime Goal Scorer Wolves: Jimenez 13/8; Jota 15/8; Cutrone 2/1; Neto 21/10; Gibbs-White 3/1
Anytime Goal Scorer Chelsea: Abraham 6/4; Giroud, Batshuyai 9/5; Mount, Pedro 5/2
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 2, Chelsea 2.
PREDICTED HALFTIME SCORE: Wolverhampton 1, Chelsea 1.
PREDICTED FIRST GOAL-SCORER: Willian
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS
Liverpool (4-0-0) vs. Newcastle United (1-1-2)
Manchester United (1-2-1) vs. Leicester City (2-2-0)
Norwich City (1-0-3) vs. Manchester City (3-1-0)
Watford (0-1-3) vs. Arsenal (2-1-1)
(Nuno Espirito Santo photo courtesy Wolves official Twitter account)