Wolves play host to Leeds United on Friday, and I’ve picked out three selections for a Bet Builder.
Last season saw Wolves, in their fourth year with Nuno Espirito Santo, settle for a bottom-half finish, as his tenure petered out.
Bruno Lage stepped in, but following the departure of their much-loved manager, as well as the excellent Rui Patricio, fans’ ambitions of another European campaign were put on the back burner.
Three 1-0 defeats to start their season didn’t inspire much confidence, either, even if they were hard done by to lose all three. The 2-0 win against Watford was followed up by a 2-0 defeat to Brentford and Wolves were 33/1 for a top-six finish, but from there they went from strength to strength. Since that rocky start, they’ve picked up just two points fewer than Arsenal, and three fewer than Chelsea. They’re now 5/1 for a top-six finish.
Their season has been built on a watertight defence, conceding just 23 goals in 29 games, keeping 11 clean sheets, and they’ve yet to concede more than twice in a game this season. Wolves fans fretting about the loss of Patricio needn’t have worried; Jose Sa has been a revelation and may well find himself named in the Team of the Year come May.
He tops the goals prevented charts with +10.7 for the season. David de Gea is second with +10.6, and Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka is a long way back in third with +4.7.
Such a high tally is almost unprecedented, and while sceptics might point out Wolves’ high xGA in comparison to their actual goals against, it’s not merely luck; in Sa, Lage has one of the league’s finest goalkeepers at his disposal.
While Lage has one of the best goalkeepers, he himself is establishing himself as one of the league’s best managers. Pound-for-pound, few – if any – have had a better campaign, with the Portuguese’s nous forcing his opposite number into mid-game tactical changes on more than one occasion.
He’ll have been disappointed his side couldn’t snatch a point in February against Arsenal who played the final 20 minutes with 10 men, and they’ll have been gutted to lose to the Gunners again two weeks later having led after 80 minutes.
But with two wins on the bounce, scoring five and conceding none, they’ve kept themselves in the hunt for the final European place, with Tottenham, West Ham and Manchester United in their sights, and a win against Leeds will keep the pressure on.
Leeds meanwhile still have their eyes firmly set on those behind them rather than above. Almost everything that could’ve gone wrong at Elland Road this season has. Losing top scorer Patrick Bamford to injury, then losing Kalvin Phillips. An injury to Raphinha and you struggle to see how the Whites would’ve been out of the bottom three right now.
But the Brazilian international has kept their heads above water, and with Bamford coming back to fitness, Leeds will be hoping things start to fall into place. The rot was finally stopped in the most dramatic fashion against Norwich at the weekend, but it’s a win the Elland Road faithful would have expected, and a trip to Molineux provides a much sterner test.
While Jesse Marsch has done a good job tightening things up at the back somewhat, they’ve still conceded the most goals in the league, and while Wolves are amongst the lowest scorers in the top flight, they’ll surely fancy their chances on Friday night.
Many Leeds fans were devastated at the departure of Marcelo Bielsa, but credit to Marsch, Leeds have improved quickly. Despite no goals scored and four conceded in their first two games, his side registered 0.5 xGA against Leciester and 0.9 xGA against Norwich – two of their three lowest totals of the season, and at the other end of the pitch, 2.7 xG against Norwich and 1.9 xG against Leicester or two of their four highest totals, so things are certainly looking more positive.
That being said, Wolves’ miserly defence will be tougher to break down for Leeds than Norwich was last weekend. Even then, despite their dominance, it took until the 94th minute to reclaim the lead they thoroughly deserved. But with Leeds being better defensively I’m not expecting many goals at either end. In only 28% of Wolves’ games this season have both teams scored, and they’ve kept clean sheets in 38% of their matches. Under 3 Goals is my first selection.
As well as not expecting many goals, neither side are prolific on the corner front, with their games averaging under 10 corners this season, and that’s my second selection – Under 10 Corners.
Junior Firpo’s absence could see Stuart Dallas deployed at left-back. He sits fourth in the Premier League for tackles attempted this season and while the versatile Northern Irishman has featured in midfield, at right-back, left-back and even centre-back for a spell against Brentford, four of his five yellows have been dished out while he’s played where I expect to see him tonight, and that’s my final selection – Stuart Dallas To Be Booked.
Under 3 Goals - 10/11
Under 10 Corners - 11/10
Stuart Dallas To Be Booked - 2/1
Bet Builder - 11/1
By Steve Freeth