A pair of sides looking to consolidate their top-half status collide at Molineux on Saturday when Wolverhampton host Bournemouth.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Promoted Wolves (6-4-6) have clawed their way into 10th place in the table on the strength of back-to-back 2-1 wins, the more recent one coming at St James’ Park versus Newcastle United last weekend.
Playing with a man advantage from the 57th minute, Wolverhampton left it late to reap the dividends of numerical superiority. Matt Doherty’s close-range header on the save of a shot by Diogo Jota in the fourth minute of stoppage time proved to be the match-winner.
“It was good. It is probably the best way to win,” defender Ryan Bennett told the club’s official website. “You don’t want to win like that, but when you get that feeling of scoring so late it’s the best feeling you can have in football.”
Jota, who scored Wolves’ first goal on 17 minutes and for the second straight match, was a menace throughout the match and the reason Newcastle were reduced to 10 men in the second half. He dispossessed DeAndre Yedlin, forcing the American international to foul him from behind on a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
Ireland international Doherty has two goals in Wolves’ last three matches, while centre-forward Raul Jimenez, who was denied by the crossbar in the second half versus Newcastle, has two goals and an assist in his last six contests.
There has been the talk Wolves will make his loan from Benfica permanent this summer at a reported price tag of £30 million, but the Mexico international is more concerned with the present and keeping Wolves up.
“It’s too early. I have to do the things I’m doing, help the team to get good results,” Jimenez told the Express & Star. “At the end of the season we’ll see what happens. I try to play well and help the team, it’s going well for me and also the team.
“It’s exciting for me, I’m doing things well and that’s the reason I’m an important part of the team. I’ll try and keep doing the same things to help us keep winning.”
While Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo has no injury or personnel concerns ahead of this match as Wolverhampton seek three consecutive victories for the first time in the Premier League, two of his back three are walking a very fine line. Both Bennett and centre back Connor Coady have four yellow cards, which means any booking for either player over their next three contests will result in a one-match ban.
Jota is in a similar predicament as all three picked up their fourth cautions in the win over Newcastle. Midfielder Ruben Neves has already served a one-match ban for five yellow cards.
Bournemouth (7-2-7) are one point better than Wolverhampton and eighth in the table on 23 points, but their inability to stand up to the Big Six again cost them a chance at making some headway on potential European play next season.
The Cherries seemed content to try and nick a point off Liverpool without injured striker Callum Wilson, but those plans came undone by Mo Salah in the 25th minute as his controversial goal – to Cherries boss Eddie Howe at least – opened the floodgates that also included an own goal by defender Steve Cook.
“It was a difficult match and a tough score-line to take,” Howe admitted to the club”s official website. “The first goal had a massive bearing on the game because I thought our shape had been good and Liverpool hadn’t opened us up at that point. The first goal shouldn’t have stood.”
Howe’s protestations aside, the loss drew another red line under Bournemouth’s inability to kick on to that next gear. The Cherries are 0-0-5 against the Big Six – they face Tottenham Hotspur on Boxing Day – and have been outscored 13-3 in those contests.
Having Wilson available in this contest will be vital considering the forward has factored on eight of Bournemouth’s last 11 goals in league play via scoring or assisting. His eight goals in league play are tied for fourth and two behind leader Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal.
Bournemouth will be without injured midfielders Lewis Cook and Dan Gosling, while left back Adam Smith is a long-term injury absence following knee surgery last month.
This is the first top-flight matchup between the sides, who have not met since Bournemouth did the double in the Championship in 2014-15 with a pair of 2-1 victories. The Cherries are 6-2-3 all-time against Wolverhampton and unbeaten in the last five (3-2-0) since a 3-1 defeat at Molineux in 1989 while in Division Two.
Per Bet365, Wolves are solid 19/20 favourites to record their unprecedented third consecutive Premier League victory, while Bournemouth are 10/3 underdogs to snap out of their recent funk and post a fourth road win this term. The odds of the teams sharing the points checks in at 13/5.
Oddsmakers are not sure if the offences will stick or twist in this contest as there are 10/11 odds on both sides of the 2.5-goal threshold. There is more expectation both teams will score at 3/4 odds compared to even money for at least one side posting a clean sheet.
The home side has the top three options for opening the scoring, with Jimenez the frontrunner at 9/2, ahead of Wolves reserve striker Leo Bonatini (5/1) and Jota (11/2). Wilson headlines the Bournemouth list at 6/1, with pair of Wolves wingers — Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro both right on his heels at 13/2. Veteran Cherries striker Jermain Defoe is a 7/1 pick to make it 0-1, while Wolves speedster Adama Traore is a 15/2 option.
Jimenez also leads the line for any-time goal-scorers at 11/8, followed by Bonatini (6/4) and Jota (7/4). Wilson is a 15/8 option for the Cherries, with Cavaleiro and Costa again in tandem — this time at 21/10. Defoe (9/4) and fellow Bournemouth forward Joshua King (11/4) bracket Traore (12/5), while Wolves starlet Morgan Gibbs-White is also an 11/4 option.
Bournemouth have been the epitome of a flat-track bully — they are a minus-10 with three goals scored in five matches against the Big Six but a plus-9 with a whopping 22 goals in their 11 matches against the rest of the Premier League. Yet this is a match that could play into Wolverhampton’s wheelhouse given the technical ability of the Cherries that will be more about a football matchup than the blood-and-thunder physical sides sometimes prefer.
To that end, Wilson’s availability is a huge question mark dangling over the Cherries at the moment. He has been one of the best strikers in the top flight this term, period, showing as much playmaking and interplay with his attacking midfielders as he has finishing. His nine goals in 17 matches across all competitions recalls his rate of 23 in 50 for Coventry City in 2013-14 — the production rate that resulted in him being Bournemouth’s record signing.
He will have his hands full with Wolves’ back three, but Wilson will also have the support of a Bournemouth midfield that can push and pull their Wolves’ counterparts through the middle. While Wolverhampton have had the luck of the green to a degree in their last two wins, their work rate cannot be questioned as they have taken the fight to teams and shown an ability to battle back after taking a punch.
This match has the feel of a late Wolves goal somehow factoring into this match, whether it results in a draw or a win for the hosts at Molineux is the question. The Cherries have failed to score in only two of their eight league road matches — their clunker at Burnley and at a Chelsea team who limited Howe’s side to 32 percent possession. Wolverhampton will cede more than that, and the result should be a finely balanced match decided late.
PREDICTION: Wolverhampton 2, Bournemouth 2.
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:
Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)
Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)