Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Newcastle United
Venue: Molineux Stadium
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Referee: Graham Scott
Wolverhampton Wanderers play host to a beleaguered Newcastle United side on Monday evening, after the Magpies were fortuitously beaten by Tottenham Hotspur last Saturday.
Since being defeated 3-0 by Manchester City in January, Wolves have put together an imperious run of recent form to cement their position as the seventh best side in the Premier League. Leicester City, West Ham United and Everton are all established sides who’ve spent years trying to bridge the gap to the top six yet Nuno Espirito Santo’s team have blown them out the water in the last three fixtures averaging over three goals a game. After their victory over Everton on Saturday, Watford decreased the gap between 7th and 8th to just one point, yet Wolves have the chance to make up the four-point gap on Monday night and the race for the seventh place could rapidly become a one-horse race.
However, a shock defeat at the hands of Newcastle could reinvigorate the chasing pack, most notably Watford or Bournemouth, who may contemplate this as their best chance to make an appearance on the European stage next season.
Meanwhile, after Cardiff’s heroics last weekend defeating Bournemouth, Newcastle, despite a recent resurgence, remained just two points above the relegation zone. Yet following results on Saturday when Cardiff once again were victorious over Southampton while Burnley beat off Brighton, Newcastle have slumped back down to 17th and now find themselves level on points with the Saint’s in the relegation zone. A win on Monday night could see them jump to 15th though and that will be the aim for Benitez’s men.
Leo Bonatini’s loan to Nottingham Forrest until the end of the season means Wolves should continue with the Jimenez and Jota partnership that has been so successful of late. Though the scare of Jota’s knock highlighted the fragile state of Santo’s striking options, as behind the pair, there is no replacement of equal quality.
While Wolves may be short of options up front, defender Matt Doherty has been providing a contribution of his own from the back. Few thought the defender would survive the transition to the Premier League, however, it is a testament to Espirito Santo’s coaching ability that Doherty has thrived and now boasts the most goals of any defender in all competitions with five. Overall those strikes make him Wolves second highest scorer this season, behind only Raul Jimenez.
As for Newcastle, their long list of absentees continues to grow, Ki Sung-Yueng returned from the Asian Cup with an achilles problem to further prolong his absence. Meanwhile, Mohammed Diame and Jonjo Shelvey remain side-lined further reducing the options in central midfield. Record signing Miguel Almiron has been granted a work permit although he is not expected to start but could make an impact off the bench.
Both sides will almost certainly continue to set up in the same defensive shape as they have for much of the season, mirroring each other. Espirito Santo is notorious for tinkering with his setup infrequently, while Benitez has also found deploying three centre-backs very effective. As well as this, both right sided wing backs are more traditional defenders and Yedlin and Doherty are adept at attacking but provide better cover in defence than their left-sided counterparts. Meanwhile, Matt Ritchie and Jonny Otto are more attack-minded and have dropped into a deeper role, while this can be devastating going forwards, the pair are a weak link defensively for either side to exploit.
Predicted Starting XIs
Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-5-2): Patricio; Bennet, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho, Jonny; Jimenez, Jota
Newcastle United (3-4-2-1): Dubravka; Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune; Yedlin, Hayden, Longstaff, Ritchie; Perez, Atsu; Rondon
Score Prediction: Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 Newcastle United 1
Benitez will likely set Newcastle up to be very solid defensively as they were for extensive periods against Tottenham; this may trouble Wolves as they are used to operating with little possession. Espirito Santo’s side usually attacks spaces in rapid transitions going forward, though few of these will likely be afforded early on. As the match progresses and Newcastle either tire or attempt to win the tie, gaps will appear for the hosts to exploit.