Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Brighton & Hove Albion
Referee: Craig Pawson
What would have likely been touted as a pivotal fight for survival fixture at the start of the season, now sees only Brighton approaching this game with survival mentality while Wolves still have it all to play for in competing for a Europa League spot.
The stage has been set at Molineux to host a must win game for Wolves and Brighton. Especially after the two most recent and damaging losses suffered by the Seagulls and Wolves’ failure to take advantage of gaining points on other European hopefuls.
Brighton’s concerning defeats against South Coast adversaries Bournemouth and relegation rivals Cardiff in the space of four days has put them only 2 points above the Bluebirds in 18th. Whereas Wolves’ loss to Southampton did not affect their league position as most results went their way to keeping them in 8th with a game in hand on Leicester in 7th, behind on only goal difference.
Wolves Need Sprint Finish
They have had a remarkable campaign for their first year back in the Premier League but it has been achieved through short bursts of form rather than maintaining a consistent pace. Their defeat to Southampton last weekend added to their inconsistency. A win over Manchester United was marred by an FA Cup semi-final loss to Watford.
They also lost to Burnley and drawn to Chelsea in recent fixtures. Wolves have taken the most points of any team outside the top six, against the top six but they have only gained 10 points from a possible 30 against the bottom five.
Across all competitions this season they have beaten Manchester United (twice), Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool while getting a point against Manchester City and Arsenal. However, they have lost twice to a comfortably relegated Huddersfield while taking losses to others in the bottom half of the table such as Cardiff, Brighton and Burnley.
Nuno Espirito Santo stormed out of his Saturday evening press conference when questioned about their current poor away form of five games without a win.
Wolves have made a habit of coming from behind to get a result this season, but it seems this talent is fading as they’ve been unable to get a result from games that they’ve gone behind in lately. Leander Dendoncker is focusing on reasserting the clean sheets which Wolves were becoming renowned for this season saying, “it’s important we keep them at zero”.
They started poorly against the Saints and could have been trailing heavily before the end of the first half. Wolves failed to create any clear-cut chances, only registering 2 shots on target of the 17 in total despite controlling the ball.
The 19-man squad is the smallest in the Premier League and a long season with a good cup run could be beginning to take its toll on their performances. They have fought fearlessly, surprising many to get within touching distance of a Europa League spot and an FA Cup Final which is much more than any other Premier League newcomer can boast.
When put into perspective, the unlikely points gained against the top teams have been equalised by dropped points against teams they were expected to beat. These missed opportunities for Wolves have resulted in them chasing 7th place but the astonishing results against the top six has then made up for these blights on their record.
This mentality illustrates a successful sprint; when the going gets tough they get results but ease off too much when expected to be successful. Wolves relish being underdogs, but need take charge when they are the favourites to make this season an incredible success rather than left asking questions of what could have been, come the end of the season.
A Toothless Brighton’s Increasing Relegation Anxiety
Brighton are now perilously close to the relegation zone after two consecutive defeats, both at home, where they were embarrassed after the 5-0 hammering against the Cherries and the significant loss on Tuesday night against current relegation attendees Cardiff City.
These defeats have both come after Brighton’s FA Cup semi-final exit to Manchester City. This defeat has completely reversed the more positive and confident Brighton performances on display before the cup exit and Chris Hughton needs to revitalise his men to move away from the relegation zone.
The midweek loss has broken an unwanted record as they are the first top-flight team to lose five consecutive matches without scoring in all competitions since Aston Villa in October 2014.
Compared to Southampton and Cardiff, they are the out of form team losing there last four including defeats against both these relegation competitors. Form is invaluable at the end of the season and a win may still not be enough to guarantee Brighton’s survival.
Despite Cardiff being unlucky in recent fixtures and which has cost them valuable points, which Neil Warnock has used to blame officiators, they still in better form than the Seagulls. The defeat against Warnock’s Cardiff can only add to the current despair coursing through the team.
While Cardiff’s displayed a never say die attitude in the 2-0 victory against Hughton’s Brighton, the home side were lacklustre. This lack of form doesn’t shape up well for Brighton’s upcoming fixtures.
Out of these clubs, Southampton have the easier run of fixtures only facing one team currently in the top 10, Watford. Cardiff must face Liverpool and Manchester United but have Fulham and Crystal Palace in between.
With stronger performances compared to Brighton and home advantage against the Red Devils on the final day of the season, one win and a draw could potentially see the Bluebirds fly past the Seagulls come the end of the season. After Wolves, the Albion encounter Tottenham, Newcastle, Arsenal and Manchester City. Hence, these crushing defeats against Bournemouth and Cardiff need to be the catalyst to restore the team’s performance and confidence come this Saturday.
Otherwise, the most likely opportunity for another point this season will be against the Magpies. Only a win can keep Brighton’s fate in their own hands.
The Seagulls Need To Break Up The Wolves Pack
Brighton need to cash in on their good record against Wolves. Their last 3 league meetings have all been won by the south coast team who have won 15 times versus Wolves’ 6 victories whilst sharing the spoils 10 times. Wolves have a tough time against struggling teams in the Premier League and Brighton can take some solace in the fact Huddersfield completed the double over the midlands club this season.
However, Wolves will be confident that they have the quality to beat a downtrodden Brighton side and need to bounce back from a disappointing couple of weekends. Wolves have won 7 of their 8 last home games in all competitions. Brighton’s last success on the road was against Crystal Palace in early March.
Both teams need to win to keep their fate in their own hands, Brighton more so than Wolves considering the League Position and upcoming fixtures. Chris Hughton’s men have not inspired or excited the south coast club’s supporters and will be looking at other fixtures results to help their fortunes. Wolves just need to win and don’t have to be as concerned as others around them. With their game in hand they can be in full control of reaching their league finish of 7th.
Wolves, like most of the season despite their fewer numbers, appear to have a fully fit squad available. Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota will likely be in the starting line up as both sit in the top two for goals and assists for the club.
Despite the concerns over Wolves’ recent defensive performances and their slight leak in defence, they still hold the sixth best defensive record in the division. Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho have contributed to this in the midfield but have faded in contribution to attacking plays. Nuno Espirito Santo may shake the team up considering they haven’t been able to overcome weaker opposition in the Premier League. An opportunity for others may revitalise the hunger in the squad.
Brighton will still be without favoured winger Anthony Knockaert who is serving his suspension from the straight red card he received against Bournemouth for his reckless foul. However, Chris Hughton responded by making five changes against Cardiff, one of those being the return of the influential Pascal Gross playing for the first time since the defeat against Leicester at the end of February. With a few more days of training under his belt, he could be ready to help lead the charge for Brighton in this colossal fixture.
Other players who were brought back into the fray were Glen Murray and Solly March who both had attempts on the Cardiff goal but really struggled to make a significant impact. Murray, did hit the post in stoppage time which characterises the current situation at the Albion, that it all seems a little too late.
The mounting pressure on Chris Hughton may spur on more changes to his squad for their visit to Molineux as they have little consistency in terms of positive performances, so another risk of rotating many players may spark the change they need and yield better results.
Predicted Starting XIs
Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-5-2): Rui Patricio; Coady, Boly, Bennett; Doherty, Neves, Jonny, Moutinho, Costa; Jimenez, Jota.
Brighton Hove Albion (4-5-1): Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo; Izquierdo, Stephens, Propper, March, Gross; Murray.
Prediction: Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
Wolves have the home advantage and have demonstrated impressive form in front of the Molineux supporters. Brighton have a better head to head record in this fixture, but they don’t look like they could beat any team in the league at the minute.
Nuno will want to continue their dominance at home to make up for their disappointing travels. Wolves can make amends defensively against a weak attacking line while exploiting the troubled Brighton defence which has conceded seven goals in their last two games.
The home side should have too much and extend their good home form while Brighton will be left looking over their shoulder and hoping for results to go there way elsewhere.