The festive season has now passed, meaning the FA Cup is upon us and Wolves are full steam ahead in preparing for their third round encounter with Crystal Palace at Molineux. Here are five things to know before the 7.45pm kick-off on Friday night.
1. THE EAGLES RETURN TO THE MIDLANDS
For the second time this season, Crystal Palace pay a visit to Wolves, with both sides aiming to reach the fourth round of this season’s FA Cup. Molineux has not been a happy hunting ground for Palace in recent years, winning just two of their last seven matches at the stadium, while losing four, including two defeats in their last two trips. However, Roy Hodgson’s side will be boosted by their recent turn up in form following festive period, as they bounced back from a 7-0 drubbing at the hands of champions Liverpool with a 1-1 draw at Leicester City before a 2-0 victory against Sheffield United last time out.
The two teams met in the West Midlands just a few months ago, as Rayan Ait-Nouri and Daniel Podence – who will be missing from the Wolves side due to an injury he picked up against Manchester United last week – scored the goals to secure a 2-0 Premier League victory over the Eagles, meaning Wolves supporters will be hoping Nuno Espirito Santo’s side can translate their league result into the cup.
2. ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID
For Friday nights’ visitors, the FA Cup has always been that one step too far, having made it to the Wembley showpiece in both 1990 and 2016 before going away empty handed. Manchester United were the victors in each final, using a replay in the former and extra time in the latter to claim the title over the Eagles. That 2016 final will still be clear in the minds of six players that are currently on Palaces’ books who were part of the starting 11 in that match.
Wolves on the other hand have lifted the trophy on four occasions, yet the last time the club tasted success in the competition came all the way back in 1960. Recent form in the competition has been mixed, with Wolves having the experience of going out at the first hurdle, as well as going all the way to the semi-finals in years as recent as 1998 and 2018 and Nuno will be wanting his players to create similar memories once again this season.
Working in the last of the Wolverhampton snow.— Wolves (@Wolves) January 5, 2021
3. FINDING THE BALANCE
Although Palace come into the match off the back off four points from six, compared to Wolves’ one, their last five matches have been identical in the form guide. Two losses, two draws and a single victory have greeted both sides, but Wolves’ home record could prove the difference, with the old gold losing just one of their last seven at Molineux.
It’s a case of finding the balance for Nuno’s side, who have been finding it difficult to pick up wins in their recent games. Earlier in the season, the performances might not have been the best, but Wolves still earned victories against Fulham, Leeds United and Palace. Yet, eventhough their displays on the pitch have been improved of late, with the exception of the stunning last-minute 2-1 win over Chelsea, their performances have not been getting the rewards they have warranted.
It’s not just consistency of performances, it’s consistency of wins that Wolves need now. We’ve been getting consistent performances over Christmas, but not turning those performances into wins.
4. GETTING BACK TO FITNESS
In recent years, teams have used cup competitions to rotate their squads due to the busy Christmas Premier League schedule, and this weekend could prove to be no different. The only disappointment for Palace from their victory over Sheffield United at the weekend was the hamstring injury picked up by Jeffrey Schlupp. Roy Hodgson confirmed the wide man is likely to be out for “a while” and will join Gary Cahill, Connor Wickham, Martin Kelly, Nathan Ferguson and Wayne Hennessey on the treatment table, meaning the boss could look the ring the changes on Friday night.
After having an almost impeccable injury record for the last three years, Wolves are now going through something that hasn’t been seen at Molineux under Nuno. Although the latest injury report is looking positive, the head coach could use the game as a chance to rest a couple of his senior players and look to bring in a couple of players who have been unused substitutes during recent weeks, with last weekend’s bench including seven players under the age of 21 and some who are yet to make their first-team debuts for the club.