Wolves are still to get going, but Chelsea might be there for the taking
Cast your mind back to this day in 2016. It’s hard to remember what exactly you did on that day, which is understandable (unless you have a diary, that’s nigh-on impossible). But take your mind back to footballing events of this date three years ago, remembering those are a bit more plausible. Then, as the UEFA Champions League began the group stage of its 2016/17 season, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal were tussling with Unai Emery’s Paris St. Germain, while Barcelona’s MSN forward was tearing Celtic to shreds.
In the Championship, there were jaw-droppers; Newcastle hitting past Queens Park Rangers, while newly-promoted Barnsley bagged four without reply against Wolves. For Wolves, that result, in retrospect, was fitting for their season. The Midlands club entered the campaign on the back of the 2015/16 disappointment under Kenny Jackett, whose departure was already bordering on inevitable. The failure to get Julen Lopetegui kept Jackett in the job a little bit longer, before Walter Zenga came in at the end of July.
But the disappointments didn’t stop under the former Italy goalkeeper, who was gone by July after four league wins in 14 games. Rob Edwards, and then Paul Lambert also took the hot-seat that season, as Wolves finished a tepid 15th. Looking back on, they’ve become quite unrecognisable from then, with Matt Doherty, Conor Coady and Romain Saiss the mainstays then who are still key players now.
Wolves have gone from strength to strength since that season, the Fosun investments have yielded fruit, the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo as manager has been followed by smart recruitment. Promotion to the Premier League has come, and Wolves have moved from Championship also-rans to Europa League dark horses.
Last season’s achievements – seventh place, a cup semi-final – happened despite a slow start in which the first three league games yielded two points. This term, it’s a bit similar for Santo’s side, three points after four games in the league. In fact, their only defeat didn’t come until the game immediately before the international break, a 3-2 defeat to Everton.
But Wolves know that they are yet to get going in the league. Perhaps it’s due to their Europa League commitments, a competition in which they’ve already played six games, in their successful bid to get into the group stage. That seems like a ready-made excuse for many teams – the concept of participation in the Europa League hindering your ability to get into said Europa League remains odd – but with Santo’s well-known preference for having a small squad, there is a case for it. That may well explain the fact that Wolves haven’t just failed to win games in the league, they haven’t been quite formidable in them.
When they began last season with three winless games, the performances were impressive – a solid 2-2 draw with Everton, another dogged stalemate with champions Manchester City – and it seemed a matter of time before they got going. This season, it feels quite different; they were off their game in the first half against Manchester United on August 19, needed a bit of luck against Burnley a week later, and the two goals they scored against Everton at Goodison Park were a tad misleading. The results haven’t been the most positive, and the displays haven’t showed us that they’ll necessarily get better.
But a team of Wolves’ calibre should get back on their domestic horse soon, and maybe this seems like the weekend to do it, against a Chelsea side that look there for the taking. It’s been a similar story for the Blues under Frank Lampard; a blistering first half in which they put opponents on the back foot is followed by a second period where they look vulnerable and are suddenly hanging on for dear life. The Blues have scored six league goals so far, but have conceded nine, which sends a message of a suspect backline.
And Wolves, for all their lack of conviction so far, have a threatening duo in Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota, both of whom combined to devastating effect against Chelsea last term. A potential win here could be the jolt they need to get their league season up and running. And it’s not a long shot.
- Speaking of there for the taking, Leicester travel to Old Trafford this weekend to face Manchester United. Since hitting four past Chelsea on the opening weekend of the season, United have mustered results and performances hinting that the opening-game victory might be even more misleading than many presumed. The Reds have looked listless, particularly in their last two games, and with key players like Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial missing this weekend’s game, optimism might well have dwindled even further. Leicester, meanwhile, continue to be talked up as the team to break into the top-six this season. Debate this week has started about whether the Foxes have a better squad than United’s, which is not without reason (you could even argue that they have a more complete and functional squad than three of the top-six sides). Brendan Rodgers’ side have played one game away at a top-six side this season, and in that 1-1 draw at Chelsea, looked to only truly believe they could be the better side after half-time. If they believe their hype from the off at the Theatre of Dreams, a statement win could be on the cards.
- There’s a sense of significant discomfort brewing at Tottenham, with manager Mauricio Pochettino not being particularly happy since the start of the season, not to mention the Christian Eriksen situation. Pochettino has stated that the Danish playmaker is happy to stay at Spurs, with the European transfer window now having closed, and Spurs need their creator-in-chief. The North London side have only won four of their last 16 league games, a run which, beginning from last season, was partly ignored thanks to the Champions League run. But there are currently no such European exploits this term, and against Crystal Palace at home, a win is paramount.
Bournemouth v Everton
Manchester United v Leicester
Liverpool v Newcastle
Brighton v Burnley
Sheffield United v Southampton
Tottenham v Crystal Palace
Wolves v Chelsea
Watford v Arsenal
Norwich v Manchester City
Aston Villa v West Ham
Kunle Ajao126 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not