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)

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 11 Preview — Wolverhampton (4-3-3) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3)

Coming off a needed palette-cleansing victory in the Carabao Cup, Tottenham Hotspur look to begin the business of closing the distance between themselves and leaders Manchester City on Saturday when they face struggling Wolverhampton at Molineux.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3) had a pair of matches to forget, first being held to a 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven in Champions League play that all but scuttled their hopes for advancing to the knockout round despite having three matches remaining. The hangover continued Monday at Wembley Stadium, where the Lilywhites never fully recovered from a sixth-minute goal scored by Riyad Mahrez as they fell 1-0 to the reigning champions.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino’s lineup deserved some scrutiny, most notably in the form of selecting Moussa Sissoko for the left wing in Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 set-up when a creative tandem of Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela was there in the offering. It was Lamela, though, who was left to rue his scuffed chance during the final quarter-hour, the ball taking a slight skip on the worn Wembley pitch before he sent his shot for the upper left corner well over the bar.

The loss dropped Spurs five points behind City, but for all intents and purposes, it feels like 50 given the chasm in quality the Citizens enjoyed for a good portion of the match before Spurs desperately chased – and nearly caught – an equaliser late. While it would be easy to use playing at Wembley for a second straight season as an excuse since the re-opening of White Hart Lane has now been pushed back to January, defender Toby Alderweireld said his team cannot lament what has been.

“We never used Wembley as an excuse and we will not do that now,” Alderweireld told Sky Sports. “But it has affected us. I am grateful to play at Wembley, it is a very historical place, but it is not the same feeling as White Hart Lane. There we had a special home feeling.

“But in that way, we did very well to be successful at Wembley. But I know the club is doing everything in their power to play as quickly as possible in our stadium.”

That is what made Wednesday’s 3-1 victory at West Ham United to reach the Carabao Cup quarterfinals so vital to getting rid of the negative vibes. Heung-Min Son had a brace on either side of halftime for his first two goals of the season, and the relief was palpable for the South Korea international as he celebrated the goal with Pochettino.

“You feel sorry when a player works hard and does not get rewarded and Sonny has been ready to work more and more to change his situation,” the gaffer told The Times. “I never usually celebrate the goal but was a little worried for him.”

Fernnado Llorente helped Spurs see out the match with a goal shortly after West Ham pulled within 2-1, and the spoils of the win included another London derby in the round of eight, this time against Arsenal and Pochettino’s old friend and new Gunners manager Unai Emery.

As the preparations continue to eventually move back to White Hart Lane, Spurs did lock up an important piece of the side’s nucleus to play there for years to come by extending Alli’s contract through 2024. He joins striker Harry Kane and keeper Hugo Lloris as the only players with a wage packet of at least £100,000 per week, and it may also put to rest the rumours of Pochettino taking the Real Madrid job that opened up following the sacking of Julen Lopetegui.

“He’s a massive part of wanting to be at this club,” Alli said of Pochettino. “The fans are amazing, the chairman, everyone, the whole club is amazing. But as players, you work with the gaffer, you want to have a good relationship with the manager and we all feel like we’ve got that here.

“We all love the way we work. The style of play, we all want to be a part of it. He’s done a lot for me so far and hopefully he can keep helping me to improve.”

After an impressive start to the season in which they lost just one of their first eight matches, new boys Wolverhampton have come back down to earth some with back-to-back losses. The Wolves (4-3-3) continue to struggle offensively – their nine goals are the fewest of any club in the top half of the table – and have gone 214 minutes without a tally following their 1-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.

“We’ve got a tough week ahead in training, improving on Brighton because we need to get back to winning ways,” centre back and talisman Conor Coady told the Birmingham Mail. “It’s been an OK start for us, we’ve won a couple but we’ve been beat the last two games which isn’t a nice feeling at all.”

Coach Nuno Espirito Santo may attempt further changes for the second straight contest after finally altering his starting XI for the first time last weekend. Adama Traore, however, failed to make much of an impact as right wing back Matt Doherty had the side’s two best chances at AMEX Stadium.

Traore, though, is likely to get a second bite at the apple since left winger Diogo Jota has been ruled out of this match with a thigh injury. Whether he stays on his preferred right side or goes left for a second consecutive contest with Helder Costa on the right remains to be seen.

Coady is hoping the prime-time kickoff will give a boost to the team through their supporters as Wolves have claimed eight points through their first five home contests (2-2-1) in the top flight.

“What it does do is get you looking forward to a game under the lights,” Coady told the club’s official website. “There’s nothing better than a game under the lights, it’s brilliant, especially here at Molineux, because the crowd are electric at the best of times.”

Wolves do not have any injuries of note, while Spurs continue to be without central defender Jan Vertonghen. With Eriksen and Alli playing 83 and 63 minutes, respectively, versus West Ham, Sissoko and Lamela are likely to be restored to Pochettino’s first XI.

This will be the first meeting between the clubs since Wolves were last in the top flight in 2011-12. Tottenham are unbeaten in the last four matchups (2-2-0) and are 4-2-2 against them in the Premier League era. Wolverhampton’s lone win in four tries against the Lilywhites at Molienux was a 1-0 victory in 2010.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are clear favourites to return to London with three points, currently getting 13/10 odds, while Wolverhampton are a 2/1 pick to regroup and consolidate their top-half status. The odds of the teams sharing the points are 9/4.

Tottenham are an 11/4 pick to win this game with more than 2.5 goals scored, while there are 4/1 odds for both a Spurs win with less than 2.5 goals and a Wolves victory with more than 2.5. There are 16/5 odds on a draw ending in 0-0 or 1-1, and Wolverhampton offer an 11/2 return on a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline.

Unsurprisingly, Kane leads the way for the first-goal options at 16/5, with understudy Llorente second at 5/1. Wolves centre forward Raul Jimenez is the top pick for the hosts at 6/1, with Spurs forwards Son and Lucas Moura at 7/1. Leo Bonatini squeezes in between that trio at 13/2, while Lamela offers an 8/1 return to make it 0-1.

Kane is slighty worse than even money to put one past Rui Patricio at 23/20, with Llorente at 15/8 and Jimenez getting 2/1 odds for Wolves. Moura and Son are again paired together, this time with 5/2 odds, while Eriksen and Alli lurk further down the toteboard at 10/3 and 7/2, respectively. Wolverhampton’s trio of Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Ruben Neves all have 3/1 odds to score at Molineux.

PREDICTION

Though injuries did force his hand some, this space is still aggravated Pochettino didn’t “go for it” against City and put his more creative playmakers together in a bid to unlock City’s defence. Yes, there are a million different ways Guardiola’s team can beat a side, but there were periods of play when the Lilywhites were the better side and arguably deserved the equaliser Lamela fluffed his lines on, and that makes the Sissoko decision all the more agitating.

Pochettino’s rotation all but insures Sissoko will get another start in this match, though at the next international break, the Argentine will have the opportunity to reset everything in terms of personnel selection and try to climb back into the Premier League race.

While Jota’s injury forces Nuno into that Traore insertion for the second straight match, one has to wonder if Wolverhampton have been found out to a degree offensively in terms of style. Wolves were more unlucky than anything else in losing at Brighton — Glenn Murray’s goal was one that can be attributed to the nous of a 35-yard-old goal-scorer — and they did have seven shots on target.

But with the expectation Wolves will not see much of the ball versus Tottenham — Nuno’s team had 40 percent possession or less in both of their previous matches against “Big Six” sides — scoring chances could be few and far between, and when Spurs get flowing, they can be irresistible.

Wolverhampton have punched above their weight in getting draws against both Manchester sides and have the potential to nick another point in this contest. But Spurs are cagey enough where they can find a way to get space between the middle four and Wolverhampton’s back three, and that could be the difference against a side struggling to put the ball in the back of the net.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 0, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 11 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (7-1-2) vs. Liverpool (8-2-0)
Bournemouth (6-2-2) vs. Manchester United (5-2-3)
Newcastle United (0-3-7) vs. Watford (6-1-3)
Chelsea (7-3-0) vs. Crystal Palace (2-2-6)

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 9 — Wolverhampton (4-3-1) vs. Watford (4-1-3)

A pair of clubs out to prove they have staying power collide at Molineux on Saturday when new boys Wolverhampton look to continue their surprising form against a Watford side hoping the international break provided an opportunity to regroup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Hornets (4-1-3) were the talk of the Premier League ahead of the first international break, winning their first four league matches and first five overall. But Javy Gracia’s side staggered into this most recent recess, taking just one point from their previous four contests and getting bounced from the Carabao Cup.

Wolves (4-3-1), meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last eight matches (5-3-0) in all competitions and have greatly aided their bid to stay up by taking points from both Manchester sides in the early going. Wolverhampton have conceded just two goals during their unbeaten run and have shown a flair for coming on late – 10 of their 11 goals in all competitions have come after the interval.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, though, is unlike most promoted clubs as Wolves have quality throughout their lineup thanks to its heavy Portuguese tilt. Instead of simply pining for survival, seventh-place Wolverhampton could join a select group of promoted teams who finish in the top half of the table, a feat achieved last term by Newcastle United. The Magpies were just the fourth club to accomplish the feat since 2000, with the high-water mark achieved by eighth-place Reading in 2006-07.

“Wolves are an ambitious project and I want this kind of ambition, this kind of project. The club, the team, the staff wants to go on to the next level and I came to help this situation,” midfielder Joao Moutinho told Wolverhampton’s official website. “It is unbelievable what they did and how good they played last year, and I think with the new players it can help the team to achieve more things.

“We need to continue to do the good work because the most important thing is to think we can stay good, but we need to work more and more to improve, because we know the next game is very difficult.”

Before the break, Wolverhampton accomplished a Premier League first with an unchanged starting XI through their first eight matches. That chemistry is apparent considering eight different players have scored in league play and striker Raul Jimenez is the only Wolves player with more than one goal.

“In Portugal many people didn’t understand our move,” winger Diogo Jota said. Not just me but (Ruben) Neves as well, but we are here now and the people that said things now understand. Of course it was a risk because it wasn’t a shortcut to reach the Premier League, but in the end it was a good move.

“Nuno brought a new identity to the club, even for me the system is different. Before last season I never played in the system with five at the back, but he brought a way to live football which is completely different.”

Wolves’ six goals shipped are fourth-fewest in the league, trailing only co-leaders Manchester City (3), Chelsea (3) and Liverpool (5).

While Watford were unlucky at times in their second quartet of league matches, there was no argument they were given a thrashing before the break as Bournemouth stormed to a 4-0 victory at Vicarage Road a fortnight ago. The Hornets were already down one when Christian Kabasele picked up his second yellow on 32 minutes, resulting in a penalty Joshua King converted.

But there was little fight to Watford after switching to a back three to compensate for Kabasele’s departure as the Cherries scored right before and right after intermission. That left Gracia and his players to stew for two weeks, deliberating tweaks to tactics and personnel for Watford’s 4-2-2-2 formation.

“A lot of the boys are away on international duty and I think the break might do us good,” striker Andre Gray told the club’s official website. “Sometimes you just need to take your mind off it and start again. I think everybody will be ready to come back next week, get their heads down and start again. We need to put it right.”

Some of those players representing their countries put their best boots forward as Roberto Pereyra scored his first goal for Argentina and Nathaniel Chalobah became the first Watford player to represent England since 1987 in earning his first cap.

Kabasele’s absence to serve his red-card ban further thins a back line already without injured right back Daryl Janmaat. Adrian Mariappa likely will take Kabasele’s place in central defence, while Kiko Femenia should retain his spot deputising for Janmaat.

This is the first Premier League match between the teams, who have not met since a 2-2 draw at Molineux in the Championship during the 2014-15 season. Both clubs have 13 wins in the all-time series while splitting the points in the remaining 18 matchups. Watford have just one win in their last 17 trips (1-11-5) to Wolverhampton.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, oddsmakers are respecting both the form and quality of Wolves, installing them as 3/4 favourites to claim all three points. Watford are 19/5 longshots to end their winless drought, and there are 5/2 odds for the sides to split the points.

There are 2/1 odds for Wolverhampton to win with a total of more than 2.5 goals, but the hosts’ defence makes a victory and under 2.5 goals a near-equal pick at 27/10 odds. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw is the next-most likely option according to oddsmakers at 16/5, while Watford offer an 8/1 return on either total with a victory.

Jimenez leads the line for potential first goal-scorers at 4/1, followed by Wolves teammates Leo Bonatini (5/1), Jota, Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro (6/1) and Adam Traore (7/1). Oddsmakers are not showing much love for Watford’s offence as top options Troy Deeney and Andre Gray are 9/1, well back of the no goal-scorer choice (7/1).

Jimenez (6/4) and Bonatini (15/8) are the only players on either team with better than 2/1 odds to score at any point during the match, with Jota just off it at 21/10 while Costa and Cavaleiro are joint 9/4. Deeney is rated slightly higher than Gray for the Hornets, checking in at 16/5 over Gray’s 10/3.

PREDICTION

Well, the first flavor of the month in the Premier League is facing the current flavor of the month. Yet unlike Watford, it currently appears Wolverhampton does have that staying power the Hornets were hoping to find coming out of the previous international break.

The primary reason why is defence. Of course, few promoted teams stumble upon getting a No. 1 keeper who also is the No. 1 for their national team, and in addition to having Rui Patricio between the sticks, there is the added chemistry value of Wolves doubling as the de facto Portugal squad. Since the idle mind is the devil’s playground, one could also wonder if such a heavy contingent of Portuguese players is also turning this into an audition for Nuno to be the national coach if Portugal falters at the Euros.

But that is still a while away. Back to the present, and on the other side, Watford needed this break as much as they did not need the first one. The Hornets will be down two defenders in the injured Janmaat and suspended Kabasele, which puts additional pressure on holding midfielders Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure to keep the spine steady.

The Hornets have gone nearly three full matches without a goal in league play — Gray’s marker in the second minute of their draw at Fulham stands as their most recent one — and he’s also the only Watford player to score in the last four league contests. The hope is Pereyra’s performances with Argentina during the break will translate into a renewed aggressiveness from the early part of the season when he formed a menacing tandem with Jose Holebas on the left.

One of the interesting things about Wolverhampton is how little faze them. They have led for just 123 minutes all season — they have actually been behind (136 minutes) more than they have been ahead — which is a testament to a solid defence and picking their spots to counter. Watford may be more competitive in this match than they were struggling into the break, but Wolverhampton’s form and track record at home versus the Hornets is too much to turn from.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: WOLVERHAMPTON 2, Watford 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 9 PREVIEWS:

Chelsea (6-2-0) vs. Manchester United (4-1-3)
Manchester City (6-2-0) vs. Burnley (2-2-4)
West Ham United (2-1-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6-0-2)
Arsenal (6-0-2) vs. Leicester City (4-0-4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 7 — Wolverhampton (2-3-1) vs. Southampton (1-2-3)

Unlucky in penalties for a second straight year in the Carabao Cup, new boys Wolverhampton turn their focus back to securing a second straight season in the top flight Saturday when they host Southampton at Molineux.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Wolverhampton (2-3-1) have not conceded a goal in six Carabao Cup matches totaling 600 minutes under Nuno Espirito Santo since he took over the team last term. Wolves were eliminated by Manchester City in the round of 16 on penalties after a scoreless 120 minutes in 2017-18, and with the rule change to go directly to penalties after 90 minutes this term, they endured a similar fate Tuesday at home versus Leicester City after a 0-0 deadlock.

Despite the outcome, Nuno is pleased the two Carabao Cup matches showed his side have the depth to withstand the rigours of the Premier League. Even with making nine changes from the side that produced a point in Wolverhampton’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United last weekend, it continues to be apparent with each passing match Wolves are unlike most promoted teams simply fighting for survival the following season.

“Today was proof and evidence that we have a good squad,” Nuno told his club’s official website after his team technically extended their unbeaten run to six matches (3-3-0) in all competitions. “It shows me I have a squad ready to go all season.

“Most important is the way we played, the boys did it the same way, changes didn’t mean anything. We kept the same style, the same ideas and the same philosophy. It doesn’t matter what competition, we wanted to win, I’m sad because we didn’t but proud of the players.”

Saturday’s point gave Wolves draws against both Manchester sides in the young season. Joao Moutinho’s goal eight minutes after the restart stood as the equaliser for Wolverhampton, who had a 319-minute shutout streak in all competitions snapped with Fred’s goal on 18 minutes for United.

“We are not looking for the opponent we are going to play. We will try to play our game, it doesn’t matter if we are home or away, we will try to do our best,” striker Leo Bonatini said. “We will respect everyone, but respect means to try to play our game and focus on what we need to do.”

Southampton (1-2-3) claimed their lone victory away from St Mary’s, but their trip last weekend was one to forget as the Saints were humbled 3-0 by Liverpool at Anfield. The match was done and dusted by halftime since the Saints conceded all three goals in the opening half – the first an own goal by defender Wesley Hoedt in the 10th minute – but manager Mark Hughes tried to glean some positives from the underwhelming performance.

“This is the first defeat in four games, so we’ve been doing ok,” Hughes told Southampton’s official website. “Obviously, coming to places like this, you’ve got to give yourself a chance to stay in the game and create opportunities when you’re on an even keel with the opposition, but we weren’t able to do that.

“The quality we faced today is at a really high level and we caught them unfortunately at a point in the season where they’re at the top of their form. They’re playing exceptionally well and beating everybody. We’re just one of many at the beginning of the season.”

It can be argued getting their Merseyside trips out of the way early is a good thing for Southampton – they shipped five goals in the losses to Everton and Liverpool – and posted a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park on Sept. 1.

Southampton’s third-round Carabao Cup tie versus Everton was pushed back to next week since both Merseyside teams were drawn to host matches, which creates a logistical nightmare given the close proximity of Anfield and Goodison Park. The match will be played next Tuesday, after the fourth-round draw is conducted.

The good news for Hughes is he will have the services of leading goal-scorer Danny Ings for this match after he sat out versus Liverpool per league loan rules. Ings and midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg have accounted for five of Southampton’s six league goals.

Southampton did the double over Wolves the last time the sides were in the Premier League together back in the 2003-04 season. Wolverhampton posted a 2-0 victory at St Mary’s in the second round of last season’s Carabao Cup on goals by the since-departed Danny Baath and Donovan Wilson.

Wolves did the double in the last league matchups in the Championship in 2008-09.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Wolves are solid 4/5 favourites to continue their upwardly mobile start, while Southampton are 15/4 underdogs. The odds of the sides splitting the points check in at 12/5.

Oddsmakers appear slightly torn on what kind of win Wolverhampton will achieve, offering 21/10 on more than 2.5 goals and 27/10 on under 2.5 goals. The odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw also appear to be preferred option at 3/1, especially compared to a Saints win with less than 2.5 goals (15/2) or over 2.5 (8/1).

Mexico international Raul Jimenez leads the way for first goal-scorers at 4/1, edging out Bonatini (9/2). Diogo Jota, Helder Castro and recent returnee Ivan Cavaleiro — who has yet to feature in a Premier League match after making his season debut versus Spurs midweek — are all 6/1. Ings is Southampton’s top option to make it 1-0 for the visitors at 7/1.

Jimenez also tops the options among any time goal-scorers at 6/4, with Bonatini second at 9/5. Wolves supersub Adama Traore is lurking just behind the top five options among his teammates at 5/2, and at 13/5, Ings edges out Charlie Austin (14/5) as Southampton’s top scoring threat.

PREDICTION

While a 3-0 loss at Anfield is not an incredibly unexpected scoreline for Southampton given the chasm of expectations between Liverpool and Mark Hughes’ side, it was the meek capitulation of the Saints that stuck out in this contest. Southampton had season lows of one shot on target and seven shots overall. Their 43 percent possession looks halfway decent only because Liverpool did not trouble themselves to get out of second gear the final 45 minutes with the match in the bag.

Going back to last season when Hughes came on board to help Southampton avoid the drop, this was the kind of performance that sets off alarm bells among supporters. Much like Newcastle, the Saints can take solace in knowing if they must battle to avoid relegation, they are going to be scrapping for 18th place because Huddersfield Town are bereft of offence and Cardiff City lack quality to string together results.

That said, there was no excuse for Southampton to fall off in quality so dramatically without Ings, whose return will undoubtedly be heralded by Hughes. Yes, the Saints were unlucky with Hoedt’s own goal, but it was also one of two Liverpool goals that came off set pieces.

If anything, Wolverhampton’s loss to Leicester City sharpened their edge for this match. Wolves should be excited for this challenge — no side in the Premier League awes them, as evidenced by taking points from both Manchester sides. No victory for a promoted side comes easy, but if Nuno’s side shows as much graft as it did at Old Trafford last weekend, it could look that easy.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: WOLVERHAMPTON 2, Southampton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 7 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (1-1-4) vs. Manchester United (3-1-2)
Arsenal (4-0-2) vs. Watford (4-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-2-4) vs. Leicester City (3-0-3)
Chelsea (5-1-0) vs. Liverpool (6-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)

It is a case of protégé versus mentor Saturday when Nuno Espirito Santo brings promoted and in-form Wolverhampton to Old Trafford to face Jose Mourinho and an equally sharp Manchester United squad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

 

 

Nuno was the second-string goalkeeper at FC Porto, where Mourinho’s coaching star took off with a UEFA Cup title in 2003 and Champions League title the following season. During his time as a player, the coaching bug bit Nuno, who made it a point to soak up the managerial style of “The Special One” while also serving as his eyes and ears in the locker room for his gaffer.

The 44-year-old had three coaching stops – Rio Ave, Valencia and his old club Porto. While he enjoyed success with both Rio Ave and Valencia, his one season at Porto was devoid of silverware and he was fired despite a runners-up finish. Nuno then took over Wolverhampton last season, guiding them to promotion from the Championship in style as they clinched a move up with four matches to spare and the league title two matches later.

Nuno explained Mourinho’s influence on him to Soccer AM earlier this month, explaining that, “In that moment, what we had, the group of players we had, the way Mourinho manages and made us believe that it was possible to do what we did as a squad. We won everything, and it was absolutely fantastic.

“You take from everyone. When you have such success it’s because you do things right. Of course you learn a lot as a player when you pay attention to managers when they speak to you.”

When Manchester United (3-0-2) were struggling last month and many thought Mourinho was going through his customary third-season troubles that would result in him leaving Old Trafford, Nuno was quickly put up among his potential replacements, reports he quickly shot down by telling The Express, “I completely ignore it.”

Wolverhampton (2-2-1) are unlike almost any promoted team previously in the Premier League era because of their unusually high talent level. Part of that is by design – super agent Jorge Mendes, who counts both Nuno and Mourinho among his clients along with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo – was essentially a de facto advisor to the club following Nuno’s hiring and has been able to steer many Portuguese players to the club in that span.

The most important player may have come with Wolves promotion as Portugal No. 1 keeper Rui Patricio signed after a fan attack due to unrest with the club dealings at Sporting FC. Patricio has posted back-to-back clean sheets and conceded only five goals, one of which was an own goal.

Wolves, though, took the match to Burnley last time out, winning 1-0 on Raul Jimenez’s goal just after the hour mark. Wolverhampton finished with 30 shots, putting seven of them on frame, but Nuno is calling on his team to be better finishers ahead of this high-profile clash.

“It’s hard to build the way we build and stay organised in the shape,” the manager said post-match. “It could have been a different result but how we played is more important at this stage of the season. The scoreline could have been more. The way we create those chances requires the last touch, but things will come if we stay organised and are more clinical.”

With no injuries to report, Wolverhampton are expected to maintain the starting XI that has served Nuno throughout the club’s first five league matches.

United, meanwhile, are finally starting to resemble a top-tier side. Whether that is good enough to hang with the likes of reigning champions Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea is yet to be determined, but there is definitely progress being made.

Mourinho’s charges are looking for a fourth win on the bounce in all competitions after opening Champions League group play with an impressive 3-0 road win over Swiss side Young Boys on Wednesday. Paul Pogba put in arguably his finest performance since his £90 million signing last season, recording a first-half brace before assisting on Anthony Martial’s first goal of the season.

“Yeah, I am happy,” Pogba told MUTV. “Very happy to score, very happy to help my team and very happy with the result as well. We had the result that we all wanted. It was a very good start for us and we have to carry on like this.”

“He was solid, class, giving the team the pace that we need sometimes,” Mourinho said of his midfielder. “To increase the pace, keep the possession and just keep control of the tempo. Of course he scored a very good goal and the penalty showed personality, because when you miss a penalty you have doubts about taking the next one, but there were no doubts for him.”

Martial got the nod over Alexis Sanchez in part to playing the match on an artificial pitch, which was why Antonio Valencia did not make the trip. It is uncertain if Martial would get a second straight start, but at the very worst he will move up the pecking order since Marcus Rashford will serve the second of his three-match ban for a violent conduct red card given against Burnley.

Mourinho also will not have the services of midfielder Nemanja Matic, who was sent off late against Watford for his second booking. Marouane Fellaini, who appeared as a substitute late versus Young Boys, would likely slide into that spot between Pogba and Fred.

Valencia may have to fight off Diogo Dalot for his spot at right back after the 19-year-old and former Porto starlet made his long-awaited United debut Wednesday. Luke Shaw was restored to his left back spot after missing the win over Watford due to a concussion suffered while playing for England.

This is the first top-flight meeting between the clubs since United rolled to a 5-0 victory at Molineux in the 2011-12 season to complete a double in which they won by a combined 9-1. Wolves have yet to win at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, losing four league matches and two League Cup ties by a combined 14-4 scoreline.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are heavy 4/7 favourites, with Wolverhampton 5/1 underdogs to continue their fast start and steal away three points from Old Trafford. The odds of the teams sharing the points are 3/1.

United are also 7/5 favourites to pick up a win with the final tally being over 2.5 goals, and a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline for the hosts returns 14/5 odds. A draw under 2.5 goals is listed with 4/1 odds, while a Wolves victory over 2.5 goals gets a healthy 9/1 return. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory or Wolverhampton is listed at 11/1 odds.

For first goal-scorers, Lukaku leads the line at 7/2 odds, while a relatively well-rested Sanchez edges out Anthony Martial at 5/1, with the French youngster at 11/2. Given Pogba’s mid-week effort, there may be value at 6/1 considering he is United’s penalty taker.

Jimenez is Wolverhampton’s top option to make it 1-0 at 8/1, with Leo Bonatini behind the no goal-scoring option at 10/1.

Lukaku is also the favourite to score at any point over the 90 minutes, just below even-money odds at 23/20. Sanchez and Martial are joint-second at 9/5, followed by Pogba (21/10), then Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata (23/10). Jimenez is again the top option for Wolves at 13/5, though lurking for them at 4/1 is reserve Adama Traore.

PREDICTION

Crisis? What crisis? There has been a collective exhale throughout the red side of Manchester as United have looked the parts of title contenders the past three matches with professional wins in each contest. They put together their most complete effort in Bern against Young Boys, the challenge is now to kick on to that next level which puts them behind early frontrunners City, Liverpool and Chelsea to begin building for that final step.

Wolverhampton, or “Portugal Lite” for the snarky among us, has already shown all the makings of a side that will be mid-table at worst and lurking outsiders for a European spot if they can also kick on to a higher level. All the talk of protege versus mentor with Nuno versus Mourinho aside, this will be Wolves’ first measuring-stick match since their only other match against a top-five side was against Everton while having a man advantage for the final 50 minutes in a 2-2 season-opening draw.

Nuno hopefully took an important lesson from United’s victory over Watford in which the Hornets afforded Mourinho’s team far too much respect in the opening 45 minutes, and the Red Devils dutifully made them pay with those two first-half goals in quick-fire succession. Wolves are not going to have the majority of possession as they did last weekend versus Burnley — they will be fortunate to get near one-half of the 31 shots attemped versus the Clarets — which makes Patricio the man of the moment.

If the Portugal No. 1 matches his Iberian counterpart De Gea save for save (there may be no keeper in the Premier League more underappreciated than the Spaniard for the quality of saves he makes when called upon), Wolverhampton may be able to escape the Theatre of Dreams with a point. Otherwise, this is a game were United should begin flexing their muscle to start a climb up the table.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER UNITED 3, Wolverhampton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)
Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)