2018-19 EPL Match Day 15 Preview — Wolverhampton (4-4-6) vs. Chelsea (9-4-1)

Having successfully dealt with their first case of adversity under Maurizio Sarri, Chelsea look to keep their hold on third place Wednesday when they face a scuffling Wolverhampton side at Molineux.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Pensioners (9-4-1) followed up their 4-0 thrashing of PAOK in Europa League play with an efficient 2-0 win over Fulham on Sunday in a west London derby. Pedro scored four minutes into the match and Ruben Loftus-Cheek added the second eight minutes from time as Chelsea looked far better than the side who were torn apart by fellow London side Tottenham Hotspur.

The match was partial redemption for midfielder N’Golo Kante, who was singled out for stinging criticism by Sarri during the week. Asked to play a different role than the one that brought him Premier League stardom with both Leicester City and Chelsea as well as with World Cup-winning France, Kante registered his second assist of the season on Pedro’s goal and won some plaudits from his boss.

“I think he played very well. He defended very well. He needs to improve a little more tactically but that’s natural,” Sarri said post-match of Kante. “For the national team he usually plays with two midfielders. Last season sometimes with a two and sometimes with three, but in a central position, so it’s normal that he needs to improve.

“Today he was better when the ball was on the other side of the pitch, I remember only one mistake in the first half. With the ball on the other side he has to stay close to Jorginho otherwise for us it’s a big problem. Jorginho is well able to make passes through the opponents but he’s not so good in the defensive phase with open spaces.”

Loftus-Cheek scored his second league goal, which was also the seventh by a Chelsea player off the bench. He was preferred to Ross Barkley as Matteo Kovacic’s understudy at left midfield, a sign Sarri could be expanding his substitution patterns with the busy December schedule underway.

“In the last few weeks he solved me problems,” Sarri said about the England international. “I was really very happy after the Europa League match because I think that was his best performance from a tactical point of view. Today I felt Kovacic was a bit tired and I put him on without problems. I was sure about his impact on the match.”

With a match at champions Manchester City looming next weekend, it would not be surprising to see Sarri overturn a good portion of his starting XI for this game similar to how he has for Europa League contests. His usual pattern is to swap out the entire back four and midfield three, and for this match, Willian will likely replace Pedro on the right wing after not playing versus Fulham.

As Chelsea have moved on from their lone loss in any competition, the defeats are piling up for Wolverhampton (4-4-6). The promoted side – considered by some to be the best in the Premier League era – have dropped five of their last six matches following a 2-1 defeat at fellow new boys Cardiff City on Friday.

Matt Doherty staked Wolves to a lead in the 18th minute, but after conceding an equaliser in the 65th minute, one could see the fear and doubt creeping into Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, and Junior Hoilett took full advantage with an inch-perfect strike to the upper 90 on 77 minutes.

Wolverhampton’s blistering start has kept them above the relegation fray – they are seven points above the drop – but the players know they must start turning around things quickly.

“We’re obviously worried,” Doherty told the club’s official website. “Coming into the season we had high hopes and we’re a good team. We should be winning here (at Cardiff) and beating Huddersfield at home, but we’re not doing that and it’s not good enough. Ever since the manager came in we’re not really used to losing games.

“Even at the start of the Premier League we haven’t been used to losing games and the run we’re on now is uncharted territory for a lot of us who have been here the last year-and-a-half. It’s going to test our character, test our heads and see if we have to dig deep down to get ourselves out of it.”

Nuno will be forced into one change as influential midfielder Ruben Neves must sit after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season in the loss to Cardiff. Neves had not missed a minute of the first 14 matches, and with Wolves already without other injured top midfielder Jonny, Romain Saiss and potentially teenager Morgan Gibbs-White may be pressed into larger roles for this contest.

Wolves’ lone Premier League win in eight tries (1-0-7) was a 1-0 triumph at Molineux on Jan. 5, 2011, on an own goal by Chelsea defender Jose Bosingwa. The Pensioners ended Wolverhampton’s FA Cup run in the most recent matchup in 2017, a 2-0 road victory in the fifth round on goals by Pedro and Diego Costa.

Chelsea have outscored Wolves 29-4 in their eight league meetings.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Chelsea are solid 4/5 favourites to win a third straight match in all competitions, while Wolves are 4/1 underdogs to end their woes and pick up a needed three points. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 11/4.

Oddsmakers are torn on the number of goals, with 10/11 odds for both over and under 2.5 goals. There are 4/5 odds for both teams to find the back of the net, slightly better than the 19/20 odds for at least one clean sheet in either direction.

Eden Hazard leads the line for first goal-scorer options at 4/1, followed by his striker tandem of Giroud (9/2) and Morata (5/1). Willian gets fourth billing at 7/1, with Wolverhampton central striker Raul Jimenez rounding out the top five at 15/2. Fellow Wolves forward Leo Bonatini and Chelsea winger Pedro are both 8/1 options while Diogo Jota and William Moses follow at 9/1.

Hazard also leads the line for any-time goal-scorers at 5/4, again trailed by Giroud (7/5) and Morata (8/5). Willian is 9/4 to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Jimenez again completing the first five at 5/2. Both Bonatini and Pedro are paired together at 13/5, while Jota and Moses are likewise at 3/1. Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley are both 10/3 options to score, followed by Cesc Fabregas and the Wolves duo of Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa at 15/4.

PREDICTION

Sometimes, a second-tier competition is a good thing. In the case of Chelsea, the Europa League has given Sarri a rhythm of choosing among his best 25 players to mix and match for this contest, and given Wolverhampton’s current poor form, it makes sense for the Pensioners to continue their pattern of wholesale changes for a midweek match.

The expectation is the back four and midfield three will be a complete swap, with Barkley and Loftus-Cheek flanking Fabregas. The intrigue revolves around the front three — Willian likely gets the start at right wing — but whether Sarri will start Hazard or potentially Moses on the left is worth pondering. The centre-forward position will likely remain the status quo for this match — Giroud starts, Morata comes off the bench — but a swap is most likely come the weekend.

The other good thing about squad rotation in this match is there is no real excuse for Chelsea to look past this match for Manchester City. The bulk of players who should be playing in this match are fighting for playing time and first-team minutes — they will be focused on the task at hand with the hope of a tangible reward going forward.

Loftus-Cheek has bought into this, which is why talk around him leaving in the January window has quieted down at the moment.

Little about this match breaks well for Wolverhampton, who were also given an extremely difficult third-round FA Cup draw at home versus Liverpool. For this match, missing Jonny was already bad enough, but Neves being a spectator as well will create huge problems for Wolves going forward — providing they even get the ball enough to do so.

One wants to believe Doherty’s comments about not being used to losing games were ones of defiance, but even leading up to Cardiff’s equaliser, there was a sense of building dread as Wolverhampton tried to protect that lead. When Wolves failed that task, it felt like a matter of time before the Bluebirds found a second — and they did.

Nuno has to walk a fine line because Wolves have a winnable match this weekend at St James’ Park versus Newcastle. A lopsided loss versus Chelsea could be potentially devastating, but the want to save some players in a bid to pick up points also makes sense here. This could be where Morgan Gibbs-White and Leander Dendocker get their first Premier League starts and Wolverhampton just roll with the punches and regroup for the Magpies.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 0, Chelsea 3.

OTHER EPL Match Day 15 Previews:
Bournemouth (6-2-6) vs. Huddersfield Town (2-4-8)
Watford (6-2-6) vs. Manchester City (12-2-0)
Burnley (2-3-9) vs. Liverpool (11-3-0)
Manchester United (6-4-4) vs. Arsenal (9-3-2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 10 Preview — Brighton and Hove Albion (3-2-4) vs. Wolverhampton (4-3-2)

Wolverhampton will put their resilience to the test Saturday at AMEX Stadium, where the promoted side face a challenging bounce-back match against a Brighton and Hove Albion side looking to win their third league contest on the bounce.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Wolves (4-3-2) had a six-match unbeaten streak in league play come to an abrupt end with a 2-0 home loss to Watford last weekend. The two goals by the Hornets came 58 seconds apart in the first half, marking the first time in nine matches across all competitions they had conceded more than one in a contest.

“It’s the second goal that killed us really,” centre back and talisman Conor Coady told the Wolves’ official website. “It’s not like us – we usually manage the game pretty well, but they say that you’re always vulnerable when you’ve just scored or just conceded, and so it proved today.

“At 1-0 you’re always in the game, but at 2-0 down it becomes a struggle. Watford are a good side and they can hold on to a two-goal lead.”

Losses were few and far in between for Wolverhampton in the Championship last season when they lost just seven times in 46 matches en route to topping the table and earning direct promotion to the top flight. Wolves did not lose back-to-back games in league play all last term and were 5-1-0 in matches coming off a defeat in 2017-18.

“The manager needs a reaction,” Coady added. “We’ve been beaten – we don’t like it but it happens. We’ve got Brighton away next weekend and that now becomes a huge game for us – we’ve got to put a lot of things right.”

One area in need of a reaction is Wolves’ offence, who have generated just nine goals in as many league matches. Centre-forward Raul Jimenez has factored on five of Wolverhampton’s 11 overall goals on the season and is the only player with more than one in league play.

Still, with everyone healthy, it seems unlikely Nuno Espirito Santo will stray from the starting XI he has used since opening day. Looking further down the road, though, it appears Wolverhampton will throw themselves into the fray during the January transfer window, with Portugal international and Inter Milan midfielder Joao Mario reportedly their top target.

Mario is represented by agent and Wolverhampton team advisor Jorge Mendes, who has steered many of his Portuguese clients to Molineux in creating what has been almost a pseudo-national side in the Premier League.

Brighton and Hove Albion (3-2-4) had only one chance to win three straight league matches as a promoted side last term and fell short with a 2-0 defeat at Everton in March. The Seagulls have a second opportunity to create that first such streak in the top flight after recording 1-0 victories over West Ham United and Newcastle United.

Last weekend’s triumph at St James’ Park came courtesy of Beram Kayal just before the half-hour. The Israel international’s shot took a deflection and beat Karl Dubravka as Brighton shook off the early loss of veteran striker Glenn Murray to a concussion and ended a 17-match winless streak on the road (0-5-12) in league play dating to a 1-0 victory at Swansea City on Nov. 4.

“I always let my football do the talking and then take my chance when it comes to me – that’s always my aim, I’m not one to try to make too much noise,” said Kayal, who has been part of manager Chris Hughton’s last three starting lineups, to the club’s official website. “People around the club know about the tough time I’ve had with injuries, it was a test of myself and my character.

“We have a good chance to continue this good form back at the Amex on Saturday – we always say that the next game is the most important for Brighton and that’s the case this weekend.”

Like Wolves, offence has been a struggle at times for the Seagulls, who have tallied 10 goals in league play. Murray has five of those goals, though whether he resumes his quest for his 100th career marker after that nasty clash of heads with Newcastle defender Federico Fernandez is yet to be determined.

The teams have not met since both were in the Championship in the 2016-17 season, when Brighton did the double en route to promotion. The Seagulls have taken points in seven of the last eight meetings (3-4-1) between the sides and have a 14-10-6 all-time record versus Wolverhampton.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Wolverhampton are semi-solid favourites at 29/20, while a draw returns 2/1 odds. Brighton holding serve at home has slightly longer odds at 21/10. A Wolves victory with fewer than 2.5 goals leads the options for outcomes at 17/5, just ahead of a win with more than 2.5 goals (18/5). The odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw check in at 5/2, while a Seagulls victory by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline are 9/2. A high-scoring win for the hosts is a noticeable longshot at 24/5 odds.

Jimenez leads the line for first goal-scorers at 5/1, with Brighton’s Florian Andone and Jurgen Locadia at 11/2. They are the only three options ahead of no-goal scorer, while Wolves reserve forward Leo Bonatini rounds out the top five selections at 13/2.

At 21/10, Jimenez narrowly edges out Andone and Locadia (11/5) as the any-time goal-scoring favourites. Bonatini is right behind the Brighton pair at 12/5 and Pascal Gross has 14/5 odds, and the absence of Murray on the toteboard is noticeable when considering the Brighton options.

PREDICTION

Staying power for someone other than the “Big Six” appears to be the most daunting challenge within the Premier League. Wolverhampton are finding out that first-hand after their surprising loss to Watford last weekend. It is not that Wolves lost a match, it was that they seemed bereft of ideas once they fell behind.

Wolverhampton’s midfield had an off day as both Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho were often second-best to their Watford counterparts, and Nuno made rumblings that there could indeed finally be a change in his starting XI for the first time this season. But who would they be?

There was a point Adama Traore could have been in line to replace Helder Costa on the right, and Ivan Cavaleiro could possibly play an hour leading the line before giving way to Jimenez, but Nuno’s substitution patterns do not offer a clue as to who could be swapped out in the middle of his four-man midfield without sacrificing real quality.

Brighton are not necessarily as in great form as much as they have done what they are supposed to do to stay above the relegation fray and beat the teams they are supposed to beat in West Ham and Newcastle the last two matches. They did offer a challenge in losses to Spurs and Manchester City before that, but they were also never in a position to claim a point from those contests.

The likelihood of not having Murray is a huge blow, most notably since he accounts for 50 percent of Brighton’s Premier League goals on the season. The expected return of Pascal Gross for this game will soften some of that blow, but the playmakers behind Gross and Solly March — Kayal, Jose Izquerido, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and potentially Anthony Knockaert — also must raise their play to help alleviate Brighton’s shortcomings offensively without their line leader.

Goals are always more difficult to come by after promotion, and all three sides Wolverhampton, Fulham and Cardiff City have lived up (or down) to that saying. The Cottagers may have the most goals among the new boys with 11, but they have come at a high price by shipping 25 — such is the ruthlessness of the Premier League. The sooner Nuno and the Wolves figure out the required switch in either tactics or personnel or a combination of the two, the sooner they can get back to gaining points towards staying up.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Brighton and Hove Albion 0, Wolverhampton 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 10 PREVIEWS:

Southampton (1-3-5) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-7)
Burnley (2-2-5) vs. Chelsea (6-3-0)
Manchester United (4-2-3) vs. Everton (4-3-2)
Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) vs. Manchester City (7-2-0)

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 3 Preview — Wolverhampton (0-1-1) vs. Manchester City (2-0-0)

Depth has its privileges. And its rewards.

As the absence of injured superstar Kevin De Bruyne barely registered, the Manchester City juggernaut looks to roll on Saturday when they face new boys Wolverhampton at Molineux.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

De Bruyne is sidelined until December with a torn LCL suffered in training. On most sides, losing the runner-up to the PFA Player of the Year award would be a devastating blow. For Manchester City, however, it simply meant next superstar up.

Enter David Silva. The midfielder nicknamed “Merlin” missed a significant portion of Manchester City’s historic 2017-18 season to be with his wife and son Mateo, who was born several months premature.

With both in attendance last Saturday, Silva made his season debut and 250th Premier League match for City a memorable one with a beautifully-taken free kick goal and the Citizens ran riot in a 6-1 thrashing of Huddersfield Town.

“He scored an amazing goal for him, so his son will never forget the first time he saw his father play football,” manager Pep Guardiola said of Silva post-match. “It was a big moment for us because last season it was a tough moment for his family, and fortunately, he fought a lot the little boy, and he’s here, so a special day for them, for us, for David.”

Silva’s return also showed both the versatility and flexibility Guardiola can utilise on a match-to-match basis. The 4-2-3-1 formation against Arsenal morphed into a three-man back in which City had so much possession that outside defenders Aymeric Laporte and John Stones freely ranged forward in support of wide backs Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva.

Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho formed the defensive base in the midfield, allowing David Silva the run of the attacking third behind Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. It paid off handsomely as Aguero recorded his 13th Premier League hat trick – two off Alan Shearer’s all-time record – and Jesus opened his scoring account for the season.

“Last season, we did it once or twice but not much more,” Guardiola said about using the South American internationals together. “We decided to play with two strikers to have more of a presence in the box, knowing we have Mendy arriving. He is clever – he can see the pass in front of the ‘keeper or the penalty spot, or the 18-yard box. He is a clever guy, arriving there.”

Aguero and Jesus have 17 goals between them in the eight league matches they have started together.

Guardiola has another injury issue to address since No. 2 keeper Claudio Bravo suffered a ruptured Achilles during training this week. City already loaned out Angus Gunn to Southampton, leaving local product Daniel Grimshaw as the back-up since Aro Muric is not expected to be recalled from his loan to Dutch side NAC Breda.

Wolverhampton (0-1-1) have not looked out of their depth in their first two Premier League matches since 2012, but the Wolves failed to get the rub of the green in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at Leicester City.

Joao Moutinho and Raul Jimenez thumped the woodwork in the opening 20 minutes, and their luck went from bad to worse before the half-hour when Matt Doherty headed into his own net after a cross took a deflection off the head of teammate Conor Coady.

Leicester City’s second took a deflection off Coady’s boot as James Maddison’s shot skipped past Rui Patricio and inside the right post just before halftime. Doherty was forced off in the second half after a brutal challenge by Jamie Vardy that resulted in a straight red card for the Foxes striker, and Wolverhampton hit the woodwork a third time as they failed to find a way past Kasper Schmeichel.

“We played really well but it’s just what happens,” Doherty told the Express & Star. “The league is ruthless and we need to come to terms with that. The bad luck was unbelievable, we hit the woodwork three times and had some good chances. It’s relentless, every game is losable. It could easily have been six points from six but it’s one.”

Something that would help Wolves would be scoring first. They have yet to lead since their return to the top flight – despite playing 74 minutes up a man over their first two contests — and doing so against the reigning champions is a tall order despite manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s hopes.

“In football, when you’re the team that punishes first, then you can control situations better,” he explained to the club’s official website. “I’m proud of the boys because we are playing the way we want. The team has things to improve and we’ll do it.”

If Santo does make a change to his first XI, it could be winger Adama Traore making his first start after a credible 45-minute effort in his debut replacing Helder Costa.

Wolves nearly dealt City their first loss last season when they pushed the eventual Carabao Cup champions to penalties in the fourth round at the Etihad. Bravo emerged as the hero by stopping two spot kicks after a scoreless 120 minutes.

Since the result is considered a draw, City had a four-match winning streak against Wolves end, but they are 6-2-2 against them in the Premier League era. The losses came at Molineux in 2003 and 2010.

PUNTER’S NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are overwhelming favourites at 1/4 odds, and Wolverhampton are 11/1 long shots to pull off a shock scoreline. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 19/4.

Correct score odds are providing intriguing possibilities, with 0-2 the front runner at 11/2 followed by 0-1 and 0-3 at 7/1. A 1-2 final trails closely behind those three at 8/1, and a 1-3 finish has a 10/1 return.

Aguero is better than even money to at least add another goal to his recent haul at 4/7, and Jesus is even money. The Argentina international has 23/10 odds to score the first goal, making him the clubhouse leader, and Jesus is 7/2. Jimenez is the top Wolverhampton option and ninth overall at 11/1.

Raheem Sterling (5/4), Leroy Sane (3/2) and Riyad Mahrez (13/10) also are strongly tipped to score goals at Molineux. For the hosts, Jimenez is a 3/1 option to score during the match, and Diogo Jota is close behind at 7/2.

PREDICTION

The path of least resistance for Guardiola would be to stick to a lineup for back-to-back weeks, but everyone knows that is not his style, and as a result, it would not be surprising to see one or two changes to his starting XI. Sterling will likely get a runout in this game after being the odd man out for attacking subs versus Huddersfield Town.

The difference in this match being another Manchester City rout or Wolverhampton turning it into a contest is how efficient Wolves are on the counter. There can’t be lost-cause chases that stretch the lines, and the midfield pairing of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Navas must hold possession at times in addition to making smart passes.

City also will not take Wolves for granted because Guardiola is sure to remind his players this side took a largely first-string Citizens team to penalties last season at the Etihad before Bravo saved their blushes in spot kicks. The ruthlessness that disappeared in pockets last term for City will be apparent at Molineux.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 1, Manchester City 4

Other Match Day 3 previews:

Arsenal (0-0-2) vs. West Ham United (0-0-2)
Fulham (0-0-2) vs. Burnley (0-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-1-1) vs. Chelsea (2-0-0)
Manchester United (1-0-1) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-0-0)