For just the second time in league play, Wolverhampton will have a change in personnel in their three-man back line Saturday when they host Leicester City at Molineux.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
For the first 22 league matches, Willy Boly, Connor Coady, and Ryan Bennett have been fixtures in Nuno Espirito Santo’s starting XI for all but one contest – Bennett was dropped in Wolves’ 2-1 loss to Cardiff City on Nov. 30. While Wolverhampton (8-5-9) have recorded just one clean sheet in their last 14 league contests, they are a competent trio in front of Rui Patricio and a key reason the side are well on their way to staying in the top flight for a second straight season.
Boly, though, will begin serving a three-match suspension in this contest, the result of a straight red card received in Wolves’ 3-0 loss to reigning champions Manchester City last weekend. Boly won the ball on a challenge against Bernardo Silva, but his studs-up follow through caught the City midfielder on the ankle, and Craig Pawson did not hesitate in sending Boly off.
Nuno had no complaints post-match, having conferred with the fourth official during the contest. The scoreline was somewhat harsh to Wolves, who also conceded a first-half penalty after Bennett felled David Silva before Coady had an own goal 11 minutes from time following cross from Kevin De Bruyne.
“We have to have desire,” midfielder Jonny told Wolves’ official website. “We come from two losses in Premier League, but now we have two consecutive home games against two direct opponents. It is important to give a very good performance to our supporters and give them back that love they give to us. Hopefully first with three points against Leicester and then again three points against West Ham.
“Hopefully everything goes well, and we can get six points out of six and keep fighting, because we are having a good campaign.”
Kevin Hause started in Boly’s spot in two Carabao Cup matches for Wolves, but he was loaned out to Aston Villa for the second half of the season. That leaves Leander Dendoncker, Ruben Vinagre and possibly Romain Saiss as options for Nuno at left back.
Dendoncker started at right back in the Carabao Cup and has started three of Wolverhampton’s last four matches in all competitions.
Wolves’ first-season success could be so much better had they done a better job turning Molineux into a fortress. Wolverhampton have dropped back-to-back home league matches and are just 4-2-5 this term after taking 53 of a possible 63 points (16-5-2) in the Championship while earning promotion.
Leicester City (9-4-9) also are in no danger of the drop as they enter this match eighth in the table, but the grumbling that came with their crashing out of the FA Cup grew louder with last weekend’s 2-1 loss at home to Southampton.
The Foxes conceded twice in the first half before Wilfred Ndidi gave the Midlands side a lifeline just before the hour, but an equaliser was not to be found. With rumours swirling that current Celtic and ex-Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is being vetted as a potential replacement for Claude Puel, Leicester begin a daunting four-match gauntlet that includes contests with the table-topping Reds, resurgent Manchester United and top-three Tottenham Hotspur.
Puel has guided Leicester City to wins over Manchester City and Chelsea, but a poor run of results could lead to the ouster of the Frenchman, who has never truly won over supporters and had his run-ins with players, most notably striker Jamie Vardy.
“They are four easy games for us,” centre back Harry Maguire joked to The Times. “But we need to start improving at home. Wolves away will be tough and then we have three good fixtures but very tough ones. Hopefully we can rise to the occasion and get some more points on the board and set us up for an exciting end to the season.”
One reason for Leicester’s inability to kick onto the next level has been a paucity of goals. The Foxes have struck for two or more goals just once in their last 10 matches across all competitions. Leicester City’s 26 league goals are the fewest of any side in the top half of the table as every other club have racked up at least 30.
Vardy has a team-best seven goals, but young playmaker James Maddison, who has five goals and shares the team led with three assists, has not factored on a goal in Leicester’s last five contests.
Leicester City were somewhat fortunate to come away with a 2-0 victory in the reverse fixture in August. Wolves hit the woodwork three times during the match and conceded an own goal through Matt Doherty to open the scoring. Maddison provided the other goal with a finish off a cross from Ricardo Pereira right on the stroke of halftime, and the Foxes saw out the win down a man after Vardy scythed down Doherty in the 66th minute.
Leicester also dumped Wolves out of the Carabao Cup on penalties in the third round on penalties after a scoreless 90 minutes. The Foxes have not done the double over Wolverhampton since the 1995-96 season in the First Division.
Per Bet365, Wolves are 11/8 favourites to claim all three points, while Leicester City are 12/5 underdogs to complete the league double. The odds of the teams splitting the points are slightly in between at 11/5.
Oddsmakers are expecting a tight defensive contest, with the under 2.5 goals a heavy favourite at 4/7 odds compared to 11/8 for clearing that bar. There are also 3/4 odds there will be at least one clean sheet for the third time in as many matches between the sides this term compared to even money they both score.
Each team has a striker at 5/1 odds to score first, but for the Foxes, that choice is Kelechi Iheanacho as opposed to Vardy at 6/1. Jimenez joins Iheanacho at 5/1, with Leo Bonatini in the middle at 11/2. Wolves’ Diogo Jota is a 13/2 pick, while Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro are both 15/2 options. Adama Traore checks in at 17/2, while Leicester teammates Maddison and Demarai Gray are both 9/1 to make a 0-1 scoreline.
Iheanacho and Jimenez are both 15/8 picks to score during the course of the match, with Vardy at 9/4, again behind Bonatini (2/1). Jota is a 12/5 choice, with Costa and Cavaleiro both 11/4 options. Traore again edges out Maddison and Gray as a 10/3 option over the Foxes’ duo at 7/2. Wolves starlet Morgan Gibbs-White also is a 7/2 pick during the match and 9/1 to bag the first marker.
It may be a longshot, but given the gauntlet the Foxes have after this contest, there is a possibility Puel could get the axe here after a loss to consolidate and regroup. Both of these clubs have been maddeningly inconsistent all term — Leicester City overall and Wolverhampton curiously at home — but the grousing in the Midlands picked up steam after the FA Cup loss and could reach a crescendo with another empty result.
Both of these teams are top-half capable, and with no one picking up the banner to claim seventh — three points separate seventh through 11th in the table — a potential Europa League qualifying round spot is there for the taking since the Carabao Cup final will be contested by a pair of top-four sides. A win streak among any of the clubs in that pack could create separation and an inside lane for that spot.
Leicester have the feel of a team with no galvanising force to rally behind, yet have impressive pieces at each level in Kasper Schmeichel, Maguire, Maddison, and Vardy. The parts are better than the sum of the whole at the moment. Wolves have been the opposite for most of their season since promotion, but there will be much to learn about them in these next three matches without Boly.
Leicester City are not an overly physical side, something that should help Wolverhampton given their struggles against teams that like a little bit of blood and thunder with their football. That said, both teams need a win for a different reasons, but it also looks like the kind of match where the sides frustratingly split the points.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 1, Leicester City 1.