After taking seven points from their last three Premier League matches, Wolves will be aiming to extend their impressive recent run in the top-flight when they invite Leeds United to Molineux on Friday evening, but here are five things to know ahead of the opening match of the weekend.
1. THE GREAT ENTERTAINERS
Following their promotion to the Premier League in the summer, Leeds have lit up the top-flight so far this season and received plenty of plaudits for their entertaining, high-pressing style under Marcelo Bielsa. Their games have seen more goals than any other club this season, with 40 scored and 42 conceded, Leeds’ total of 82 pips second-place Manchester United, while only four sides have scored more than Leeds all season.
However, by conceding 42 goals – 10 more than a Wolves team who have been letting in a fair few more than they’ve been used to in previous seasons – it shows that there are defensive frailties in the Whites’ defence that Nuno Espirito Santo’s men will be looking to exploit on Friday night. That is as long as a Wolves can keep it tight in their own back line, something they were able to do the last time the sides met at Elland Road earlier this season.
2. NUNO 3-0 LEEDS
Friday night’s clash between Wolves and Leeds will be the 99th time the sides have gone head-to-head, and the first Premier League clash between the teams at Molineux in more than 17 years (a 3-1 win on 28th December 2003), and although Leeds might have had the better of the historical meetings – having won 42 matches to Wolves 34 victories, with the remaining 22 games finishing as draws – it’s Wolves who have come out on top since the arrival of Nuno back in 2017.
All three matches Nuno has been in charge of the old gold against Leeds have seen Wolves come out on top. Last time out saw Wolves grab a 1-0 win back in October, as his team expertly defended against the Leeds press before catching them out in a second-half hammer blow through Raul Jimenez – although Romain Saiss could count himself unlucky to have a goal disallowed for a marginal offside against Daniel Podence. Before that, the results in the Championship were much more comfortable, thanks to a 3-0 win at Elland Road and a 4-1 drubbing at Molineux.
3. SECOND-HALF EXAMPLE
Well known for their second-half exploits, Wolves relied on being able to turn a game around following the half-time break once again on Sunday, as they produced arguably their best 45 minute showing so far this season to overcome Southampton. Seemingly out of the match having produced a first-half display which Ruben Neves described – kindly – as “horrible”, all that changed thanks to a tactical switch with Pedro Neto and Adama Traore switching flanks and running at a tiring Saints defence.
Sunday’s showing was very similar to what was seen at Elland Road back in October, with Leeds showering the Wolves goal with shots throughout the first period. It was a backs to the wall display as Nuno’s men didn’t attempt to copy their opponents’ way of playing, but instead, allowed them to have possession and waited for Leeds to tire, and when they did in the second-half, turned the game on its head using the pace of Podence and the trickery of Jimenez to cut Leeds apart and strike the critical blow. It would not be a surprise if we were to see similar contrasting halves once again on Friday night.
4. STRIKE IT LUCKY
The 2020/21 season has been the tale of strikers for both Wolves and Leeds, but on two opposite sides of the scales. A month having scored the winning goal at Elland Road, Raul Jimenez found his season prematurely ended when he suffered his horrific head injury, with the young and inexperienced Fabio Silva being the first to try and fill the boots left behind by the Mexican, before Willian Jose took up the striker’s mantle. With the two goals for Silva and Jose yet to get off the mark, it’s been a difficult position for Wolves this season.
Yet for Leeds, the success of their number nine might have come as a surprise to many after Patrick Bamford had tried and failed in the top-flight with previous clubs Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Burnley, but the 27-year-old has finally found his home in white under Bielsa. His goalscoring form has also seen Bamford stake a serious claim for a place in the England squad for this summer’s Euros, having scored his 100th career goal against Palace recently, and his 12th of an impressive season. That goal also saw Bamford become the first player to score in three Premier League games in a season against his former clubs (Palace twice and Burnley once) since Romelu Lukaku in 2017/18.
5. QUESTION MARKS OVER PHILLIPS
Although Wolves have suffered an injury crisis this season, Bielsa is probably missing more key men to his side than Nuno is to his. The Whites were without a host of players for their 4-2 defeat at Arsenal on Sunday, including three of their four major summer signings – Rodrigo, Robin Koch and Diego Llorente – while the manager revealed after the match that Mateusz Klich had been playing through the pain barrier before being substituted at half-time. But the biggest blow comes in the form of England midfielder Kalvin Phillips, who is facing a race against time to be back for Friday night, but if he continues to be absent with a calf injury, that would give Wolves a huge boost.
Having swapped and changed several players from game to game due to the injuries which have been racking up like never before at Wolves this season, Nuno could – for once – name an unchanged side from the team that beat Southampton on Sunday. The head coach has no fresh injury issues to contend with, as Willy Boly, Raul Jimenez and Daniel Podence continue their recovery on the sidelines.