2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

There are two important things Jurgen Klopp has yet to do at Liverpool – lift a trophy and defeat Manchester United in Premier League play. While the Reds still have three opportunities to do the former, they have arguably the best chance during his tenure to do the latter Sunday when the table-topping Reds host Jose Mourinho’s inconsistent side.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Since arriving at Merseyside in October 2015, Klopp has one win in seven lifetime matches (1-4-2) against Manchester United – a 2-0 victory in the first leg of Liverpool’s round of 16 tie in the 2016 Europa League. That was one of two continental runners-up finishes for Liverpool (13-3-0), the other coming last spring in the Champions League.

There was also a runners-up finish in the 2016 League Cup, and the absence of silverware alongside the five European championships, 18 league titles, seven FA Cups and eight League Cups since lifting the 2012 League Cup has been the one thing that has frustrated supporters.

United (7-5-4), in turn, have done a good job flustering Klopp in league play with three draws and two defeats. Liverpool have failed to score in Klopp’s three matches at Anfield versus United, suffering a 1-0 defeat to Louis van Gaal in 2016 before being held to scoreless draws by Mourinho in the last two meetings.

“In the league, I don’t remember bad results too much, to be honest, but I don’t feel we always got the right result for the performance we had,” Klopp said at his Friday news conference when asked about the overall interest in the match between the two football titans. “Last year, they had a very, very good start in the home game against us and then we more or less took over but couldn’t get the game back, so it was a draw.

Before, I don’t even remember it, but I don’t think we won a lot, so we’ll try to change that at least. It will be a very intense game and we need to be ready for that.”

Liverpool are enjoying their best Premier League start in club history and emerged as the last of the unbeatens after defending champions Manchester City lost to Chelsea last weekend. That defeat, coupled with the Reds’ 4-0 thrashing of Bournemouth, put Klopp’s side atop the Premier League table for the first time since Sept. 22.

To continue ruling the roost, Liverpool will have to show plenty of resiliency after scraping into the Champions League knockout round for a second straight year. The Reds finished runners-up in Group C after a nervy 1-0 victory over Napoli on Tuesday – a triumph and advancement preserved by Alisson’s point-blank save on Arkadiusz Milik in stoppage time.

The save by the Brasil international shows how Liverpool have come full circle in their footballing, from a swashbuckling side willing to win matches by outscoring opponents as late as last season’s Champions League semifinals to one who can deliver this type of grind-out 1-0 result with a rock-strong defence anchored by Alisson and towering centre back Virgil Van Dijk.

The combined £125 million in transfer fees for the pair have been worth every penny as Liverpool are contenders to lift their first Premier League trophy and win their first title since 1990. But the primary goal in this match is to put another three points on top of the 16 that already exist between themselves and United.

“You know what you’re going to face,” Van Dijk told Sky Sports when asked about playing United. “We have pretty good pace as well, so we don’t need to be scared of anything. But obviously we need to be aware of their danger; they have good players, especially up front.

“We need to be ready for that. But we need to play our game and make sure we are on top of them and make sure they are put under pressure.”

Klopp will have to reshuffle parts of his back four since centre backs Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are sidelined with injuries. Gomez’s versatility will be sorely missed – he also played right back – but Dejan Lovren is still a quality partner for Van Dijk. Right back Trent Alexander-Arnold is also expected to miss out with an ankle injury, with Nathaniel Clyne likely starting in his place.

In his attacking six, it is unknown if Klopp will stick to his regular 4-3-3 in which Mohamed Salah – the offensive hero against Napoli with his first-half goal – Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are across the front line, or use a 4-2-3-1 he has preferred of late in domestic play in which Salah is up front and Mane, Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri are behind him.

Salah is in blistering form with six goals in his last seven matches across all competitions, but the Egypt international, Mane and Firmino have failed to breach United’s defence for a goal in 855 minutes playing together.

While there are few as good as setting up a defence to negate an opponent’s offence as Mourinho, this United team has lurched in quality from match to match all term and arrive at Anfield on a low ebb of that range. Manchester United squandered a chance to finish atop Group H in the Champions League, turning in an insipid performance at Valencia in a 2-1 defeat Wednesday.

Mourinho rotated a good portion of his side for this contest – he made eight changes from the side that beat Fulham 4-1 last weekend as United were already through to the Champions League round of 16 – but the back four continued to be problematic as they conceded on 17 minutes and again right after halftime as defender Phil Jones had a brutal own goal in which his sliding back pass rolled right past keeper Sergio Romero.

Marcus Rashford had a late consolation goal, but with group leaders Juventus suffering a stunning loss at home to last-place Young Boys, United’s performance against a team currently 15th in Spain’s La Liga was too poor for Mourinho to not lose his cool post-match.

“I didn’t learn anything from this game. Nothing that happened surprised me,” he fumed. “I thought we were too passive in the first half. But I think fundamentally this, we wasted the first half playing too comfortable and not enough with the intensity.”

Midfielder Paul Pogba did play the full 90 minutes in his first start in three matches, but he showed Mourinho little reason to be included in the starting XI for this match. Antonio Valencia’s performance at right back also left little to be desired, and it is very possible two of Diogo Dalot’s first three starts at that spot will come against fellow Big Six opponents after the first one came against Arsenal earlier this month.

Up front, Mourinho is hoping Anthony Martial will be available after sitting out the last two matches due to injury. The France international has been United’s best performer in league play with a team-high seven goals despite logging just 787 minutes. By comparison, Romelo Lukaku – the only other player with more than three goals in league play – has six in 1,094 minutes.

Rashford, though, has been in a fine patch of form with two goals and four assists in his last four matches in all competitions. He also powered United to a win over Liverpool in the most recent meeting last term, bagging a brace in the first 24 minutes of a 2-1 win at Old Trafford.

United are unbeaten in their last eight in league play (5-3-0) against Liverpool since a 3-0 defeat at home March 6, 2014. They are also 12-6-8 at Anfield in the Premier League era and 2-2-0 since a 1-0 defeat Sept. 1, 2013, on a fourth-minute goal by Daniel Sturridge.

Sturridge also recorded Liverpool’s last home goal against Manchester United in a 2-1 loss March 22, 2015, with their home drought versus United at 291 minutes in league play.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Liverpool are healthy 4/7 favourites to claim all three points and remain atop the Premier League table, while United are 11/2 underdogs to regroup from their setback in Spain and begin their charge to challenge for a top-five spot. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 16/5.

Though it would surprise no one to see Mourinho set up United in a defensive stance, oddsmakers do not appear overly convinced it will slow Liverpool down much as there are 8/11 odds for more than 2.5 goals scored compared to 11/10 odds to finish under that threshold. There is even money for one side to post a shutout compared to 3/4 odds for both teams scoring.

Liverpool own the first six slots for potential first-goal scorers, with Salah leading the way at 10/3. Understudies Daniel Sturridge (7/2) and Divock Origi (4/1) complete the top three, followed by Firmino (9/2), Mane (5/1) and Xherdan Shaqiri (13/2). While Lukaku is United’s top option, it is a clear fall-off for oddsmakers at 17/2. Martial is a 9/1 option, while Pogba and Rashford are both 11/1 — just behind James Milner (10/1).

For any-time goal-scorers, both Salah (10/11) and Sturridge (20/21) are better than even money selections. Origi is 11/10, followed by Firmino (5/4), Mane (7/5) and Shaqiri (15/8). Lukaku and Martial are United’s top options once more at 13/5 and 11/4, respectively, while Rashford and Pogba again slot behind Milner, this time at 10/3 compared to 3/1 for the Merseyside’s dependable penalty-taker.

PREDICTION

The debate for Klopp between using a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 will rage right up to kickoff, but Liverpool have a chance to go for the jugular here in terms of showing their superiority over Manchester United. Thus, the expectation in this space is Klopp will go all out to turn the screws on Mourinho. That means putting a well-rested Shaqiri into the first XI and testing Shaw and Dalot on the flanks early and often through the Swiss international and Mane.

With Liverpool’s back four mainly defined by who is not available for Klopp, the midfield presents selection headaches of the good kind because the Liverpool gaffer can mix and match to his wants. It was telling Klopp trusted Fabinho enough to start him in the Merseyside derby, and that was with Everton having a far better playmaker in Gylfi Sigurdsson than any one United can offer in the middle of the park if Mourinho drops Pogba to the bench as expected.

The only potential midfielder who would be a surprise inclusion into the first XI would be Adam Lallana, otherwise, the expectation is to see Fabinho and Giorginio Wijnaldum reprise their partnership as the defensive midfield pairing.

Given how Mourinho plays pragmatically, the lineup above is arguably the most defensive route he can take and a formation that can morph into a 5-4-1 with Lukaku as the lone striker. Would it surprise anyone if he did start Pogba? Not really, but after a vanilla performance against Valencia mid-week, there is little to believe Mourinho would give him a second chance.

Given Martial’s injury issues, the expectation is he will start on the bench behind Lingard, who has been solid since picking up his play of late. Rashford right now is the best thing United have going offensively, and he must challenge Andrew Robertson at every opportunity to at least try and stretch Liverpool’s back four.

With no trophies since his arrival, this is a de facto cup final for Klopp and Liverpool. Win this match, and win it impressively, and it serves notice to Manchester City there is most certainly a title race for the final five months. Nothing less will suffice in this instance, and given United’s poor form, nothing less should suffice.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 2, Manchester United 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)

Not invincible but still certainly imposing, the hunted are the hunters Saturday when reigning champions and second-place Manchester City host Everton at the Etihad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Citizens (13-2-1) had little time to wallow after their first loss domestically last weekend – a 2-0 setback at Chelsea that ended a seven-match winning streak in league play – as they needed a result Wednesday against Hoffenheim to wrap up the top spot in Group E of the Champions League.

Pep Guardiola’s team got that result – a 2-1 victory at home over the German side – but not without some effort as Leroy Sane continued his blistering form with a brace on either side of halftime to negate a first-half penalty by Andrej Kramaric.

Sane’s first was a world-class free kick in first-half stoppage time, and just after the hour, the Germany international finished a 1-2 with Raheem Sterling for his fifth goal in six matches across all competitions.

Manchester City have a limited field of potential opponents in the round of 16 in February, with the toughest of the four they can draw Friday being notoriously stubborn out and Spanish side Atletico Madrid. Other possible matchups could be against 2018 semifinalists and Serie A side AS Roma, German outfit Schalke 04 and Dutch club Ajax.

“Incredible. Today finished group stage in best way,” Guardiola said post-match as City returned to the Champions League knockout rounds for the sixth straight year. “Best 16 teams in Europe. We try to arrive in February in the best condition with players fit.

“Big compliment for this group because every group is tough, and we did it so well.”

As Sane stole the headlines, teenager Phil Foden caught the eye of many as he was given a rare start by Guardiola. The 18-year-old looked composed on the ball and was the focal point of bright, positive play throughout the match in the midfield as England’s pipeline of youth is proving deeper than the 23 who powered the Three Lions to the World Cup semifinals in the summer.

“In general over 90 minutes, Phil was outstanding,” Guardiola beamed. “I never had doubts. The quality he has with the ball. Looks skinny but really strong. Huge talent. England has a diamond. Against German teams it is so demanding, but he played like a man.”

Foden, though, still has to fight to even stay on the bench for City in Premier League play, and City discovered they have a fight on their hands to repeat as champions. This is the first time since Sept. 29 the Citizens are entering play not atop the table as Liverpool moved one point ahead of them.

Guardiola rotated a good portion of his side midweek, some out of protection as midfielder Fernandinho was one yellow card away from being forced to sit out the first-leg round of 16 tie. Sergio Aguero also had that problem but was also not 100 percent due to an adductor injury.

City are also still without winger Kevin De Bruyne, who is close to a return, but fellow playmaker David Silva could be out until at least the new year with a hamstring injury. Kyle Walker played the second half at right back after John Stones played 45 minutes out of position there with Nicolas Otamendi getting the call in central defence.

The squad rotation figures to continue as the fixtures come thick and fast between now and the new year, with City’s next midweek clash a Carabao Cup quarterfinal matchup at Leicester City on Tuesday.

Everton (6-6-4) are seventh in the table and are coming off back-to-back draws following their 2-2 stalemate Monday against Watford in the “Silva Derby.” Lucas Digne’s free kick in the 96th minute bent around the wall and inside the left post, giving the Toffees a share of the points in the first match between the teams since current coach Marco Silva was sacked by Watford in January.

Richarlison, who reunited with Silva in the summer from Watford, scored the other goal for Everton. The Toffees, though, were second-best for large stretches of the match and watched Gylfi Sigurdsson have a 67th minute penalty stopped by Ben Foster before Digne rescued them with his first goal since joining the club.

“He is settling in really fast,” Silva told the club’s official website about Digne, who leads the Premier League with 128 crosses from his left back spot. “In my opinion, when you are a really good football player – and he is – when you are a really focused player – and he is – it is easy to understand (why Digne has swiftly adapted to Premier League football).

“He comes to USM Finch Farm every day to work really hard and he is a very good professional, with high quality. He is playing so well, improving every time, not just in our defensive process … he is a really important player in our offensive process as well from Barcelona this summer.”

With yet another road contest against one of the Big Six, the talk involving Everton inevitably returns once more to the Toffees in search of that culture-changing road victory to kick onto the next level.

The winless drought at Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Emirates, Wembley/White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and the Etihad has reached 32 matches (0-10-22) after their heartbreaking Merseyside Derby loss to Liverpool a fortnight ago. Bryan Oviedo’s 86th-minute winner at Old Trafford on Dec. 4, 2013, remains the last such victorious moment on one of these grounds for the Toffees.

This is already Everton’s fifth match at the six sites this term, and while they have taken only one point from the previous four, it is clear Silva has at least got the Toffees to believe they can get a result in these contests since they have given as good as they’ve gotten in those matches. Additionally, one of those 10 draws came in last season’s corresponding fixture, though it can be argued catching City on the second match day of the season was beneficial to Everton’s cause.

The Toffees are winless in their last eight trips (0-4-4) to the blue side of Manchester since a 2-1 victory Dec. 20, 2010, in which Tim Cahill and Leighton Baines scored in the first 19 minutes. Everton then held out with 10 men for the final half-hour after a red card to Victor Anichebe and conceding an own goal through Phil Jagielka.

A 10-man City held Everton to a 1-1 draw last term as Sterling equalised eight minutes from time. Wayne Rooney had given the Toffees – who also finished with 10 men after Morgan Schneiderlin picked up his second yellow on 88 minutes – a lead late in the first half. Walker had gotten his marching orders before intermission for two yellow cards in a three-minute span.

Sterling’s goals in both matchups last season are his only two in 10 career matchups with Everton.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet 365, City are strong 2/9 favourites to pick up three points in the first match of the weekend and keep the heat on Liverpool. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 13/2, and Everton are 12/1 longshots to deal the Citizens back-to-back losses in league play for the first time since defeats to Chelsea and Leicester City on Dec. 3 and 10, 2016.

Oddsmakers are expecting goals, with 4/11 odds on the teams combining to score more than 2.5 goals compared to 11/5 odds for a defensive struggle to break out at the Etihad. There are 3/4 odds for both teams to score at least one goal, while there is even money on a clean sheet in either direction. City have not been held without a goal in back-to-back league matches since a draw at Norwich City and loss to Manchester United on March 12 and 20, 2016.

With the possibility of Aguero returning to lead the line, the former Argentina international has been installed as the frontrunner to open the scoring at 12/5. Gabriel Jesus is a 3/1 pick, while Sterling (9/2), Riyad Mahrez (5/1) and Sane (6/1) round out the top five. Despite his fine recent form, Richarlison is joint-11th on the list for first-goal honours with teammate Cenk Tosun at 12/1. Sigurdsson, Everton’s designed penalty taker, is listed at 18/1.

Aguero (4/9), Jesus (4/7) and Sterling (20/21) are all expected to score in this match per the odds for an any-time goal, while Mahrez (21/20) and Sane (13/10) are just off that standard. Brahim Diaz, Felix Nmecha and Bernardo Silva are lumped together at 15/8, while Foden and Gundogan are 11/4.

Richarlison and Tosun are again joint-top picks for Everton at 3/1, followed by Dominic Calvert-Lewin (7/2) and Theo Walcott (4/1), with Sigurdsson a step back at 9/2.

PREDICTION

To put City’s Premier League dominance prior to last weekend’s loss to Chelsea, consider the Citizens had trailed for all of 12 minutes through 15 matches, and that was on a goal by Wolverhampton that VAR would have disallowed. Even with the loss to Chelsea, Man City have still trailed more in their six Champions League matches than they have in 16 league contests.

The tweak by Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri to use Eden Hazard as a false No. 9 in his 4-3-3 formation versus City will undoubtedly spring copycat versions up and down England (and Wales for you Cardiff City readers), yet how many have the personnel to pull off such a shift? That brings us to the second half of this “revelation” … are City opponents willing to risk ceding possession so quickly by hoofing the ball up the pitch and letting their speedsters on the wings or in the middle give chase?

Is it a better plan than sitting in two low banks and hoping to catch out City on the counter stringing two or three passes to get through the middle of the pitch? It’s a debate that will be pondered across opposing locker rooms, but again, not many teams have that kind of personnel.

Everton do not have that type of personnel unless Silva is willing to move Richarlison back to the left wing spot where he started the season and play Dominic Calvert-Lewin over Tosun to lead the line in his 4-2-3-1 set-up. The Toffees, though, have also been credible enough against the Big Six this season that Silva will not gimmick his way through these 90 minutes. That is a testament to the culture change he has made, even if some of the recent results have been one point instead of three.

What is good about this Everton side is they are willing to throw a punch against the big boys. It can be argued the only match of the four against the perennials where the Toffees struggled was at Old Trafford, and even that was a 2-1 loss in which it was more spurning quality scoring chances than being run off the pitch by Manchester United.

They scrapped hard with Chelsea to nick a point at Stamford Bridge and were arguably seconds from a point at Anfield before the crossbar conspired against Jordan Pickford. It may very well be the case City — even short-handed City — are an entirely different animal at this point in time and do run Everton out of the Etihad. But it feels more likely Everton will at least make Guardiola’s side earn their three points.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 3, Everton 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)

A pair of sides looking to consolidate their top-half status collide at Molineux on Saturday when Wolverhampton host Bournemouth.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Promoted Wolves (6-4-6) have clawed their way into 10th place in the table on the strength of back-to-back 2-1 wins, the more recent one coming at St James’ Park versus Newcastle United last weekend.

Playing with a man advantage from the 57th minute, Wolverhampton left it late to reap the dividends of numerical superiority. Matt Doherty’s close-range header on the save of a shot by Diogo Jota in the fourth minute of stoppage time proved to be the match-winner.

“It was good. It is probably the best way to win,” defender Ryan Bennett told the club’s official website. “You don’t want to win like that, but when you get that feeling of scoring so late it’s the best feeling you can have in football.”

Jota, who scored Wolves’ first goal on 17 minutes and for the second straight match, was a menace throughout the match and the reason Newcastle were reduced to 10 men in the second half. He dispossessed DeAndre Yedlin, forcing the American international to foul him from behind on a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

Ireland international Doherty has two goals in Wolves’ last three matches, while centre-forward Raul Jimenez, who was denied by the crossbar in the second half versus Newcastle, has two goals and an assist in his last six contests.

There has been the talk Wolves will make his loan from Benfica permanent this summer at a reported price tag of £30 million, but the Mexico international is more concerned with the present and keeping Wolves up.

“It’s too early. I have to do the things I’m doing, help the team to get good results,” Jimenez told the Express & Star. “At the end of the season we’ll see what happens. I try to play well and help the team, it’s going well for me and also the team.

“It’s exciting for me, I’m doing things well and that’s the reason I’m an important part of the team. I’ll try and keep doing the same things to help us keep winning.”

While Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo has no injury or personnel concerns ahead of this match as Wolverhampton seek three consecutive victories for the first time in the Premier League, two of his back three are walking a very fine line. Both Bennett and centre back Connor Coady have four yellow cards, which means any booking for either player over their next three contests will result in a one-match ban.

Jota is in a similar predicament as all three picked up their fourth cautions in the win over Newcastle. Midfielder Ruben Neves has already served a one-match ban for five yellow cards.

Bournemouth (7-2-7) are one point better than Wolverhampton and eighth in the table on 23 points, but their inability to stand up to the Big Six again cost them a chance at making some headway on potential European play next season.

The Cherries seemed content to try and nick a point off Liverpool without injured striker Callum Wilson, but those plans came undone by Mo Salah in the 25th minute as his controversial goal – to Cherries boss Eddie Howe at least – opened the floodgates that also included an own goal by defender Steve Cook.

“It was a difficult match and a tough score-line to take,” Howe admitted to the club”s official website. “The first goal had a massive bearing on the game because I thought our shape had been good and Liverpool hadn’t opened us up at that point. The first goal shouldn’t have stood.”

Howe’s protestations aside, the loss drew another red line under Bournemouth’s inability to kick on to that next gear. The Cherries are 0-0-5 against the Big Six – they face Tottenham Hotspur on Boxing Day – and have been outscored 13-3 in those contests.

Having Wilson available in this contest will be vital considering the forward has factored on eight of Bournemouth’s last 11 goals in league play via scoring or assisting. His eight goals in league play are tied for fourth and two behind leader Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal.

Bournemouth will be without injured midfielders Lewis Cook and Dan Gosling, while left back Adam Smith is a long-term injury absence following knee surgery last month.

This is the first top-flight matchup between the sides, who have not met since Bournemouth did the double in the Championship in 2014-15 with a pair of 2-1 victories. The Cherries are 6-2-3 all-time against Wolverhampton and unbeaten in the last five (3-2-0) since a 3-1 defeat at Molineux in 1989 while in Division Two.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Wolves are solid 19/20 favourites to record their unprecedented third consecutive Premier League victory, while Bournemouth are 10/3 underdogs to snap out of their recent funk and post a fourth road win this term. The odds of the teams sharing the points checks in at 13/5.

Oddsmakers are not sure if the offences will stick or twist in this contest as there are 10/11 odds on both sides of the 2.5-goal threshold. There is more expectation both teams will score at 3/4 odds compared to even money for at least one side posting a clean sheet.

The home side has the top three options for opening the scoring, with Jimenez the frontrunner at 9/2, ahead of Wolves reserve striker Leo Bonatini (5/1) and Jota (11/2). Wilson headlines the Bournemouth list at 6/1, with pair of Wolves wingers — Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro both right on his heels at 13/2. Veteran Cherries striker Jermain Defoe is a 7/1 pick to make it 0-1, while Wolves speedster Adama Traore is a 15/2 option.

Jimenez also leads the line for any-time goal-scorers at 11/8, followed by Bonatini (6/4) and Jota (7/4). Wilson is a 15/8 option for the Cherries, with Cavaleiro and Costa again in tandem — this time at 21/10. Defoe (9/4) and fellow Bournemouth forward Joshua King (11/4) bracket Traore (12/5), while Wolves starlet Morgan Gibbs-White is also an 11/4 option.

PREDICTION

Bournemouth have been the epitome of a flat-track bully — they are a minus-10 with three goals scored in five matches against the Big Six but a plus-9 with a whopping 22 goals in their 11 matches against the rest of the Premier League. Yet this is a match that could play into Wolverhampton’s wheelhouse given the technical ability of the Cherries that will be more about a football matchup than the blood-and-thunder physical sides sometimes prefer.

To that end, Wilson’s availability is a huge question mark dangling over the Cherries at the moment. He has been one of the best strikers in the top flight this term, period, showing as much playmaking and interplay with his attacking midfielders as he has finishing. His nine goals in 17 matches across all competitions recalls his rate of 23 in 50 for Coventry City in 2013-14 — the production rate that resulted in him being Bournemouth’s record signing.

He will have his hands full with Wolves’ back three, but Wilson will also have the support of a Bournemouth midfield that can push and pull their Wolves’ counterparts through the middle. While Wolverhampton have had the luck of the green to a degree in their last two wins, their work rate cannot be questioned as they have taken the fight to teams and shown an ability to battle back after taking a punch.

This match has the feel of a late Wolves goal somehow factoring into this match, whether it results in a draw or a win for the hosts at Molineux is the question. The Cherries have failed to score in only two of their eight league road matches — their clunker at Burnley and at a Chelsea team who limited Howe’s side to 32 percent possession. Wolverhampton will cede more than that, and the result should be a finely balanced match decided late.

PREDICTION: Wolverhampton 2, Bournemouth 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)
Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)

Their ticket to the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year punched in dramatic and emphatic fashion, Tottenham Hotspur try to come down off their high and stay in the thick of the Premier League race as their hectic December fixture list continues Saturday at Wembley versus Burnley.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

It could very well go down as the greatest draw in Spurs history, regardless of the strength of the Barcelona side they faced Tuesday at the Nou Camp. Mauricio Pochettino’s team – and specifically untested right back Kyle Walker-Peters – shook off a seventh-minute goal by Barca’s Ousmane Dembele to scrape out a gritty 1-1 draw courtesy of Lucas Moura’s goal three minutes from time.

The result, coupled with Inter Milan surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by group-bottom PSV Eindhoven, allowed the Lilywhites passage to the Champions League round of 16 as Group B runners-up.

For the moment, no one is worried about potential opponents Juventus, Bayern Munich or even reigning three-times champions Real Madrid ahead of Friday’s draw for their February fate after the staggering amount of energy Spurs expended to claim seven points from their final three group play matches to simply be included.

“It’s a massive achievement for the Club,” Pochettino said post-match. “It’s so important to be in the next stage of the Champions League. It’s a massive boost for everyone. Now we keep going. We were a little unlucky in how we conceded the first goal after seven minutes and that changed our strategy a little and we started to play in two different stadiums – here at the Nou Camp and in Milan.

“In the second half we found a way to link play better in our possession and started to create chances. We deserved to go through. We’ve made the impossible, possible and it’s important to show everyone if you believe, everything in football is possible. That emotion is so important and we need to protect that and use it in the right way, trying to push with everyone involved and the belief that we can improve and do better.”

To say Spurs left it late in their five-week scramble would be a huge understatement since both match-winners versus PSV and Inter and Moura’s equaliser Tuesday came on 80 minutes or later. For Moura, his seventh goal this term in all competitions was also a personal redemption after the nightmare he endured at the Nou Camp in his last visit with PSG in March 2017 when Barcelona stunned the French side with three goals after the 88th minute to advance with a 6-5 aggregate win in the round of 16.

“It was a very important goal and I’m so happy to score here in the Nou Camp in the Champions League and help my team-mates to qualify,” the Brasil international told Spurs’ official website. “It was an amazing moment. The last time here was really sad for me and this is really different.

“In the second half we did very well. We had many chances to score. We could win. It was a deserved result. … It was a very happy night for me, an amazing moment.”

Now, though, it is time for Spurs (12-0-4) to turn their attention back to domestic play. Thanks to derby rivals Chelsea, who knocked off previously unbeaten and reigning champions Manchester City last weekend, Pochettino’s side is just six points back of new leaders Liverpool and part of a three-time race.

“To qualify for the next stage of the Champions League is an amazing thing for the club, it means a lot for the fans and the players,” Pochettino said. “But now we are thinking about Burnley, a tough game on Saturday, and we need to create an amazing atmosphere at Wembley because it’s an important three points.

“We need to be ready because the competition doesn’t wait for you, it doesn’t stop, and it’s so important to be in our best condition to compete. We need to take the game in the same way as Barcelona with the same motivation. If we want to be consistent, it’s a game where we need to give our best and compete in our best way.”

Pochettino will likely again lean on the 21-year-old Walker-Peters since first-choice right back Kieran Trippier is still sidelined with a groin injury and understudy Serge Aurier just returned to training after suffering a groin injury in last weekend’s win over Leicester City. It would also not be surprising to see Moura and Erik Lamela in the starting XI given the amount of energy Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen expended at the Nou Camp.

Burnley (3-3-10) moved above the drop last weekend with a crucial 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion that ended a three-match losing streak and eight-match winless spell (0-2-6) overall.

Jack Tarkowski was able to re-direct Jack Cork’s 40th-minute cross for the lone goal, and the Clarets’ defence that had gone missing for so long this term finally showed its teeth as it followed up the solid effort in their 3-1 loss to Liverpool with their first clean sheet at home since routing Bournemouth 4-0 on Sept. 22.

“We know there is a strength to the unity of the side and recently we haven’t got over the line in games where we could have done,” Clarets boss Sean Dyche said post-match. “Others have rightly gone against us because we haven’t performed. But slowly and surely we are remodelling our game and in three of the last four we’ve looked more like ourselves.”

Dyche has some injury concerns to deal with as attacking midfielder Steven Defour and right wing Johann Berg Gudmundsson will be late decisions due to calf and hamstring injuries, respectively. Aaron Lennon would likely replace Gudmundsson on the flank while Dyche has multiple options for Defour, including dropping Ashley Barnes into the playmaking role and pairing together strikers Chris Wood and Sam Vokes.

Having finally ended their winless run, Dyche feels a weight has been lifted off his side and will be able to play freely at Wembley.

“We go down there with a bit more freedom, the expectation changes,” he noted to Sky Sports. “Last week against Brighton when there is really heavy expectation for us to get a result. “It changes when you go to places like Tottenham. That gives us just that little bit of freedom to take the game on and hopefully deliver a very good performance, because we will need it.”

The Clarets nicked a point off Spurs in their trip to Wembley last term, with Wood’s 92nd minute canceling out a goal by Dele Alli just before the hour. Burnley are winless in eight (0-3-5) in all competitions versus Spurs since their long Premier League win in eight tries (1-2-5) – a 4-2 victory at Turf Moor in 2010.

Kane had a hat trick in the most recent meeting, a 3-0 win for Spurs on Dec. 23.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Spurs are whopping 2/11 favourites to avoid a letdown and claim all three points, while Burnley are 18/1 underdogs to post back-to-back wins. The odds of the teams splitting the points are a somewhat 7/1 longshot.

Even with Burnley’s improved defensive play the last two matches, oddsmakers are confident the Lilywhites have the class to carry most, if not all, of the 2.5 goal threshold. The odds are 4/9 of clearing that mark compared to 7/4 for staying under that amount. There are also 4/6 odds of there being at least one clean sheet compared to 11/10 odds both teams put up at least a “1” on the Wembley scoreboard.

Unsurprisingly, Kane leads the line for first goal-scorer options at 2/1, comfortably ahead of understudy Llorente (7/2). Son and Moura are both 4/1 options, followed by Dele Alli (5/1), Lamela (11/2) and Eriksen (6/1). There are another three Lilywhites before finding the first Burnley player as Wood, Barnes and Matej Vydra are all 14/1 picks to make it 0-1.

Kane is a staggering 2/5 pick to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Llorente is also better than even money at 4/5. Son and Moura are also in that group at 10/11, while Alli is just off that standard at 6/5. The playmakers Lamela (13/10) and Eriksen (6/4) are also strong options. For the Clarets, Barnes, Wood, and Vydra are 15/4 options, and Sam Vokes is another tick back at 9/2.

PREDICTION

I get the desire to want this to be a competitive match. Burnley look to have finally turned a corner in terms of getting a disappointing season to kick on, and Spurs expended a staggering amount of energy and fight to get that point at Barcelona and are not 100 percent on the back line and so on and so forth.

Sometimes, though, a good offence is a better defence, and that is the case for the Lilywhites. Burnley will be disciplined and will be difficult to break down their two banks of four, but what they are not going to have is a noticeable amount of possession with the ball.

Dyche can claim his side will be adventurous in this match, but that is an “I’ll believe it when I see it” claim for the Clarets, especially if their most creative player (Defour) and best crosser (Gudmundsson) are struggling to be match fit.

For all the hue and cry of Spurs not signing anyone this past summer (note: this space was among those skeptical), the 25 players Pochettino has on his roster are all players who can contribute. Moura and Son are interchangeable, as are Lamela and Eriksen, and there is little drop-off to the expected starting pair in this match at the Premier League level. And having Alli in support in the middle makes them better.

There may be some concern in rebuilding Walker-Peters’ confidence after that man vs. boy goal by Dembele at the Nou Camp, but that is a concern for another day since he must play given the injuries to Trippier and Aurier. The 21-year-old will play until one or both of them are healthy, and will be an important piece of the holiday fixtures.

It will likely take a half for Tottenham to run through their gears, but as long as they maintain possession of the ball, there will be little for Burnley to do but harass and try to hit on the counter. And that will lead to a lack of opportunities that will allow Spurs to stay in the title hunt.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2, Burnley 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)

Huddersfield Town’s bid to climb out of the bottom three got significantly harder this week ahead of their potential six-point belter Saturday at John Smith’s Stadium versus Newcastle United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Terriers (2-4-10) are at the top of the drop on 10 points, one better than both Southampton and Fulham. They have a Premier League-low 10 goals, and one of their primary sources of offence and playmaking – midfielder Aaron Mooy – has been ruled out until at least February with a torn MCL in his right knee suffered in last weekend’s loss to Arsenal.

It is a doubly cruel blow for the Australia international, who will also be unable to represent his country at the Asian Games in January. Mooy is the only midfielder or forward on Huddersfield with more than one goal in all competitions – his brace powering a 2-0 win at Wolverhampton on Nov. 25.

“I’m gutted to be missing an important time for Club and Country,” Mooy told the club’s official website. “We’ve got a lot of fixtures over the Christmas period at Huddersfield Town, but I back the team to continue our good performances and get the results that we’re targeting.

“I’m also sad that this injury will rule me out of the Asian Cup. I’d like to wish the Socceroos all the best as they head to the UAE; I’ll be supporting them from afar. The hard work on my recovery has already started and I’m looking forward to being back out on the pitch.”

The news also is not good in defence either as talisman and defender Tommy Smith is sidelined until at least the turn of the calendar year with a hamstring tear suffered in the loss to Arsenal. After using Smith at right back in a 4-2-3-1 set-up versus Arsenal, Huddersfield boss will likely have to revert to a three-man defence as he has done most of this term.

“The news on both Aaron and Tommy is not something we wanted, but injuries are part of football; we have to deal with it, manage it and carry on into this important December period,” Wagner said. “Aaron and Tommy are both strong characters and will work very hard in their recovery. We look forward to having them back.

“For now, this creates opportunities for others. I’ve said all along that we will need everyone in the squad to contribute and now we should see the benefits of having such a competitive squad.”

Wagner will be without one of Mooy’s potential midfield replacements as Abdelhamid Sabiri is sidelined until February following surgery to repair a broken collarbone suffered against Bournemouth. Huddersfield also have short-term injury concerns for this match with midfielder Jonathan Hogg (groin) and left back Terrence Kongolo (knee) facing late fitness tests.

Huddersfield – trying to avoid a fourth loss on the bounce — will also be without striker Steve Mounie, who is serving the last of his three-match ban for a straight red card given in their 2-1 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Dec. 1. The Terriers still have yet to get a goal from a striker this term.

Newcastle United (3-4-9) are in far better health than Huddersfield Town, but Rafa Benitez is trying to revive the club’s spirits after a hard-luck 2-1 loss to Wolverhampton at home last weekend as they are just three points better than the Terriers.

Ayoze Perez’s header on 23 minutes canceled out a Wolves goal six minutes prior, but the Magpies had to play the final 33 minutes down a man after DeAndre Yedlin was given a straight red card for a foul as the last man on a scoring opportunity.

Benitez’s side defended bravely in their bid to nick a point, but it came cruelly undone in the fourth minute of stoppage time when Matt Doherty had an uncontested header from close range on the rebound of a shot by Diogo Jota turned out by Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka.

Benitez was incensed at referee Mike Dean’s decision to eject the American international, who will miss this match due to the red card, and the Spaniard became the latest Premier League gaffer to feel VAR cannot come fast enough in the top flight.

“I saw the replay (of the elbow) and we need VAR right now,” he fumed to the Times, equally livid Dean missed what he thought was a penalty on Wolves after Perez had his nose bloodied in an aerial duel with Willy Boly. “I was praising the referee and they (the FA) fined me, so imagine how I feel now. You can see the two incidents in the video. It was unbelievable.

“You cannot believe this type of situation can happen in the Premier League. It was an elbow in the face, he was bleeding. It was so obvious.”

Benitez does at least have an in-form striker in Salomon Rondon. Though the Venezuela international was denied a fourth goal in five matches when his free kick thumped the crossbar, his graft in tracking to the outfield to recycle the ball resulted in him getting an assist with the cross for Perez’s goal.

Javier Manquillo will likely deputise at right back for the suspended Yedlin. Centre back Fabian Schar is also available for selection after serving a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation.

Both teams recorded 1-0 victories on their home grounds last term, with Mooy’s goal on 50 minutes the difference in West Yorkshire in Huddersfield’s first top-flight home contest since 1971.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Huddersfield Town are slight 13/8 favourites to claim all three points, while Newcastle are 21/10 underdogs. Oddsmakers are also giving 21/10 odds to the teams splitting the points.

Given the sides’ defensive set-ups, oddsmakers are heavily leaning on the teams failing to reach 2.5 goals with 8/15 odds. There are 6/4 odds on the clubs having an offensive outburst to get over that threshold. There are even money odds for both teams to score a goal compared to 3/4 odds for at least one clean sheet.

With Mounie out again, Laurent Depoitre is the top option to score the first goal of the game with 11/2 odds, followed by Huddersfield teammate Collin Quaner (6/1). Isaac Mbenza is a 7/1 pick for the hosts, as are by Newcastle’s tandem of the in-form Rondon and fellow forward Joselu.

Depoitre also leads the line for an any-time goal in this match with 21/10 odds, followed by Quaner (9/4). The aforementioned trio of Mbenza, Rondon and Joselu are all 11/4 to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Perez and Huddersfield’s duo of Adama Diakhaby and Elias Kachunga all listed at 3/1.

PREDICTION

This is a really tough spot for the Terriers, who are clearly not dealing from a position of strength offensively without Mooy and Mounie, and potentially without Hogg as well. The pressure to pull the strings in the middle will fall upon Alex Pritchard to help Depoitre, who likely will operate as a long striker. On the flank, Florent Hadergjonaj will have to try and go forward to help pin Newcastle left back Paul Dummett in his own half of the pitch.

This match may be as simple as the Magpies pumping balls into the box to see what kind of damage Rondon can do against Huddersfield’s back three, especially if Kongolo is unable to play in this contest. It has taken almost half the season, but the Venezuela international is getting the type of results that are making Newcastle supporters slightly forget they let a similar striker in Aleksander Mitrovic go to Fulham this summer.

Not having Yedlin is a blow, but the return of Schar provides a stability to the central defence that was lacking somewhat last week. That was most evident in the breakdown on Wolves’ first goal with Federico Fernandez and Jamaal Lascelles. The good news is Benitez can use Manquillo for the first 45 minutes to figure out if he needs to replace him for the second 45.

This is not a matchup for those seeking goals, though Wagner and Benitez are both cagey enough to turn this into a chess match. But the lack of bodies who can create goals for the Terriers is going to loom large against a Magpies side that does their best work on the road.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Huddersfield Town 0, Newcastle United 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS

Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

The past and present for both Marco Silva and Richarlison collide as the current Everton manager and star forward face Watford for the first time since Silva’s acrimonious departure during last season and Richarlison’s contentious move to Goodison Park over the summer.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Watford (6-2-7) looked to be on their way to a promising season under Silva last tern, claiming 15 points from their first eight matches while climbing as high as fourth following a 2-1 victory over Arsenal on Oct. 14. At Everton (6-5-4), the Toffees were coming apart at the seams as Ronald Koeman was unable to follow up on a promising seventh-place finish from 2016-17 – Everton endured a disastrous Europa League adventure and their defence was porous.

Nine days after the Hornets reached their highest position in the table, Everton fired Koeman after a 5-2 hiding at home by Arsenal that dropped them to their worst spot – the top of the drop. Everton actively pursued Silva, incurring the ire of Watford owner Gino Pozzo, who rejected the Merseyside club’s overtures on multiple occasions even as they raised their offer to £12 million.

Watford eventually sacked Silva in January after the club had fallen off their torrid start and were in 10th place after a 2-0 defeat to Leicester City, replacing him with current boss Javi Gracia. Pozzo cited Everton’s interest in Silva as a primary reason for the backslide and filed a complaint with the Premier League.

To no one’s surprise, Silva was named Everton manager on May 31 shortly after they parted ways with caretaker boss Sam Allardyce, who did guide them to an eighth-place finish. Over the summer, Everton then reunited Silva with the 21-year-old Richarlison in July for £35 million – a figure inflated by the animosity between the sides and one that could also reach £50 million with add-ons.

“It is not the first time in my life and for sure it will not be the last,” Silva told the Watford Observer about facing his former side. “I look forward to the match, a tough match for sure, and it will be good to see some of the players who worked with me, some good friends as well I have in the club.”

Everton have claimed points in four of their last five matches after playing Newcastle United to a 1-1 draw midweek. Richarlison scored the equaliser on 38 minutes for his seventh goal – two more than he had at Watford all of last term while netting those goals in their first 12 matches – but offence has been a concern for the Toffees, who have just two goals in their last four matches.

The struggles prompted a post-match query to Silva if Everton would pursue a forward in the January transfer window, a question he deftly sidestepped.

“I understand your question, but how many clubs are trying to find one striker to score more than 20 goals, or 25 goals, or 30 goals,” he mused. “I think it’s a question at the moment for all the managers in the Premier League.

“I am happy with the players we have. Of course we are doing our homework. We know what we want to do as well.”

For the second straight season, Watford have faded to a degree after a strong start and have just two wins in their last 11 league matches (2-2-7) after claiming the maximum 12 points from their first four contests. The Hornets have dropped three on the bounce but gave Manchester City all they could handle midweek before losing 2-1 at Vicarage Road.

Abdoulaye Doucoure gave Watford hopes of nicking a point from the reigning champions with a goal on 85 minutes, but the Hornets were unable to find an equaliser despite throwing everyone forward – even keeper Ben Foster. For his part, Foster does not think there is any on-pitch animus towards Silva among his teammates, but did note there is a different atmosphere.

“I am sure it will have an impact from the club’s point of view in general,” Foster said. “But it is not something me personally or any of the players out on the pitch on Monday night will be thinking too much about.

“We will just be focusing on the job as usual, go about the game as we normally do and try to get the three points and hopefully we can put on a good display.”

Like Everton, Watford have endured their troubles generating offence with just two goals in their last five contests. They have not gotten a goal from a striker since Isaac Success completed the scoring in their 3-0 victory over Huddersfield Town on Oct. 20.

Watford had their second appeal of the straight red card given to defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue denied Sunday, meaning he will sit out this match and the Hornets’ next contest at home versus Cardiff City on Saturday. Capoue was sent off following his collision with Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho on Dec. 1, but the team felt the three-match ban was too severe and filed a second appeal citing Rule K of the Rules of the FA.

“The Rule K arbitration proceedings which #watfordfc commenced against The FA have now been concluded & the outcome is the original 3-game ban has been upheld,” the team said in a statement released via Twitter. “We remain extremely disappointed at the process & this decision but now consider the matter closed.”

Nathaniel Chalobah will likely get his second consecutive start alongside Doucoure in the defensive midfield of Gracia’s 4-2-2-2 set-up.

The home team won both matches last term, with Everton engineering a fightback from two down in the final 23 minutes for a 3-2 win in the corresponding fixture as Oumar Niasse and Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored before Leighton Baines converted a penalty on 91 minutes.

Richarlison and Christian Kabasele scored for Watford, who have taken just one point from their five Premier League matches at Goodison Park while shipping 12 goals.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Everton are solid 4/5 favourites to pick up all three points and extend Watford’s recent run of misery in this first Silva derby, while the Hornets are 4/1 underdogs. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 11/4.

Oddsmakers are torn on the proficiency of the sides’ offences, with 10/11 odds in both directions regarding the 2.5 goals threshold. There is a slight lean for both teams to score at 4/5 odds, slightly better than the 19/20 offered for at least one clean sheet.

Richarlison and Tosun lead the line for potential first-goal scorers at 9/2, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin a surprising third choice at 11/2 ahead of Theo Walcott (6/1), Gylfi Sigurdsson (7/1) and a trio of Toffees at 8/1 — Bernard, Ademola Lookman, and Kieran Dowell. Deeney is also in that group at 8/1 for Watford’s top option, with a trio of his mates — Success, Gray and Stefano Okaka all at 9/1.

Tosun and Richarlison are also joint-favourites for an any-time goal at 11/8, with Calvert-Lewin (7/4), Walcott (15/8) and Sigurdsson (9/4) rounding out the top five. Deeney is again the best of the bunch for the Hornets at 13/5, with Success, Gray and Okaka all behind him at 3/1.

PREDICTION

Since the animosity that fuels this intriguing match is consigned largely to the executive boards of these two sides, it is hard to imagine it will be an ill-tempered affair, but one never truly knows. But there is one thing clear about this contest: Everton need a win here ahead of their mini two-match gauntlet at Manchester City and home to Spurs since those contests could go a long way to determining if the Toffees do indeed have European ambitions.

The expectation is Silva will return to the customary 4-2-3-1 in which Richarlison leads the line after slotting him on the wing to give Cenk Tosun some run up front versus Newcastle. Theo Walcott will likely return on the right flank, and the only other question mark is whether Kurt Zouma will get a second consecutive start with Michael Keane expected to be restored to the first XI.

Watford will miss Capoue, but there were positives to be had from their late flourish versus Manchester City. How the Hornets carry that into this match will be key to halting their recent slide. It also means their left side tandem of Jose Holebas and Roberto Pereyra have to provide menace on the offensive side to get Gracia’s team to kick on.

While the Toffees have not been in a purple patch themselves offensively, they have been effective on defence with three clean sheets in their last eight league contests while allowing more than one goal just once in that stretch. This time, that airtight quality gets them three points and a nice fillip ahead of their trip to the Etihad to face Manchester City.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Everton 2, Watford 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)
Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)
Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)

New boys Wolverhampton have proved they can punch above their weight class, but the challenge for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side Sunday at St James’ Park versus Newcastle United is maintaining that level of play against their peers.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The “Other 14” clubs of the Premier League have gone a combined 3-5-51 against the Big Six through the first 15 matches of the season, and Wolves (5-4-6) have claimed one of those victories and three of those draws. They picked up a vital three points midweek, rallying to defeat Chelsea 2-1 on goals by Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota four minutes apart in the second half.

The victory ended a six-match winless drought in league play during which they claimed just one point, and it was all the more impressive considering they played without their best midfielder Ruben Neves – who returns for this contest after serving a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation.

“We knew it was going to be hard coming into the season,” defender Ryan Bennett told Wolves’ official website. “Obviously with the teams which are in this league there were always going to be points when things would be tough. But it’s about how you get through them, and we managed to do that the other night against Chelsea, so it’s nice to be back on track.

“The aim is to get three points, that’s how we go into every game. We found it tough in the last couple of games, against Huddersfield and Cardiff, but with a good result at Chelsea we want to take that into the game at Newcastle, which is going to be a tough place to go. But it’s a game we look at to try and get all three points.”

The win over Chelsea showed the potential Wolverhampton have – many consider them to be one of the best promoted sides of the Premier League era – but their November struggles that included losses to relegation-threatened Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City also showed just what kind of grind the top flight is according to the defender.

“You look at the sort of dip we just had, and it makes you realise how hard it is in this league, but we’ve got a pretty good perspective of where we’ve come from and how hard it is, but we’ll be trying to achieve that top ten finish and we’ll see what happens.”

Nuno made three changes to the starting XI that lost to Cardiff City, but the insertion of teenager Morgan Gibbs-White in the midfield for his first Premier League start to replace the suspended Neves proved influential. Gibbs-White, who captained England to the U-17 World Cup title last year, has logged 734 minutes since winning that tournament – the most of any player in the starting XI from that win over Spain.

Nuno has yet to start Gibbs-White and Neves together, only bringing the starlet off the bench thus far.

While Wolves have shown the technical ability and talent to play with the top sides, Newcastle United (3-4-8) get by on graft and the guile of manager Rafa Benitez. The Magpies have yet to nick a point from the Big Six – losing all five of those matches by one goal – but came out of Merseyside with a credible 1-1 draw midweek versus Everton.

Salomon Rondon continued his fine form with a goal in the 19th minute, his third in four matches, but Newcastle conceded before halftime. Christian Atsu had a gilt-edged chance in the closing minutes inside the penalty area but saw his low shot parried by Toffees keeper Jordan Pickford.

The draw marked the fifth time in six matches (3-2-1) Newcastle gained at least a point as they have finally kicked on from their dismal start that was top-loaded. One of Benitez’s challenges now is to carry that road form into consistent play at home – the Magpies were denied a third consecutive win at St James’ last time out with a 3-0 defeat to West Ham United last weekend.

“We have to be a team that is compact, well organised and difficult to break down,” Benitez noted in his Friday news conference. “That is the main thing if you want to win games or get results.”

Benitez will be forced into one change for this contest since centre back Fabian Schar picked up his fifth yellow card in the draw versus Everton and will serve his one-match ban. It is a somewhat dubious achievement considering the Switzerland international has played only six league matches and accrued his five cautions in 484 minutes.

On the positive side, winger Matt Ritchie will return after serving his yellow card ban, and Paul Dummett should be available at left back after resuming training following a hamstring injury. Further up the left side, Kenedy is also expected to be available after missing out midweek with a toe injury.

The improved player availability means Benitez may be able to go to his traditional four at the back after using a 5-4-1 set-up versus the Toffees. The Magpies manager singled out talisman Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey for their patience and veteran leadership as the two have struggled for first-team playing time in recent contests.

“They know they have to wait and keep pushing to get back in the team,” Benitez said when asked about them. “I think they understand that a team that was winning and in the position they were needed support behind the scenes and they were doing that.”

The teams have not met since playing in the Championship in the 2016-17 season. The road team won both matches, and Newcastle recorded a 2-0 victory in the third round of the League Cup.

Wolves have never beaten Newcastle in Premier League play, though the sides have split the points in four of their six top-flight meetings. Neither team have recorded a clean sheet in those matches.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Wolves are slight favourites to bring all three points back to Molineux with 17/10 odds, rating slightly better than the Magpies (19/10). The draw is the longshot of the trio at 11/4.

Oddsmakers are not expecting the sides to ring up the goals, as there are 4/7 odds the total will stay under 2.5 compared to 11/8 odds to cross over that threshold. There are also 3/4 odds there will be at least one clean sheet compared to an even money pick for both teams to score.

Despite making the trip to St James’ Park, Wolves have the top three options for first-goal scoring honours — Jimenez (11/2) and Jota (13/2) flanking Leo Bonatini (6/1). Newcastle’s top two picks are exactly who you would expect — Rondon and Joselu — and both are 7/1 picks. Magpies playmaker Ayoze Perez has 15/2 odds while Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Yoshinori Muto are all a step back at 8/1.

Jimenez also leads the line to score over the course of the match at 21/10, followed by Bonatini (9/4) and Jota (5/2). Rondon and Joselu are both 11/4, while Perez, Cavaleiro, Costa and Muto are all 3/1 picks to bag a goal.

PREDICTION

This is a very curious match of tactics and managers and managers’ tactics. Newcastle United appear to be as close to full strength as they have been in weeks as Kenedy and Dummett are available. Whether Benitez restores Shelvey to the starting XI is yet to be seen after he did so with Lascelles last match, but there are options, and when Benitez has options, he’s at his best.

There is something about Wolverhampton that smarter people than myself have noted of late, claiming the reason Wolves have fared so well against the higher-placed teams is because there is more technical football being played. That is also a backhanded dig that Wolves do not have the cynicism or desire to get down and dirty and apply the graft to get those points against their peers. Results lend credence to this argument, but this is a match where Newcastle could play either way and test Wolves to see how they either stick or twist.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Newcastle United 1, Wolverhampton 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)
Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)
Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)