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.
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.
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:
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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)