Talking Points | Leeds vs Wolves

After the drama of Villa Park, Wolves are back on the road again this weekend, heading to West Yorkshire, where they’ve won on their last two visits, but before Bruno Lage’s men see if they can make it there, presents four Talking Points.

#1 Temptations to tinker?

For the first time as a Premier League manager last week, Bruno Lage changed his system, and did so to good effect. Most likely due to Raul Jimenez’s late return, or Aston Villa’s system, or even a combination of the two, but the Portuguese opted for 3-5-2, bringing in Leander Dendoncker as an extra midfielder and leaving Hee Chan Hwang and Adama Traore to offer the attacking threat. Now, his decision will be if to stick or twist at Elland Road. Jimenez has been back from Mexico duty a week and will be eying a starting spot, while Traore was involved in both the second and third goals at Villa Park, so will hope to retain his spot.

Other options come in the form of Daniel Podence, whose introduction helped turn the tide Wolves’ way, as he set up Romain Saiss for the first goal of the fightback, and Francisco Trincao, who missed out last week due to a Covid-19 infection but made a healthy return to training this week. Should a front three return for Wolves, one of Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and Dendoncker are likely to make way, while the back five has been unchanged since the first day of the season. Lage’s first five league matches in charge were a picture of consistency, but minor tweaks here and there have had the desired effect in the last three – will he tinker once again in West Yorkshire?

#2 Hunting records on the road

Life on the road is good for Wolves at the moment. The current run stands at three in the Premier League, and four in all competitions, incorporating the success at Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup. Saturday was the first time Wolves had won a third away game in succession in the Premier League since the world initially entered lockdown, when three points, ironically also at Villa Park, followed successes at Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United. A fourth on the spin is on offer at Elland Road on Saturday and it would become the first time Wolves have achieved that feat in the Premier League.

Delving into the history books, you have to scroll back to April 1980, and to John Barnwell’s era, to find the last time Wolves won four top flight games away from home in succession. In fact, a 3-0 win at Southampton made it five, following three point hauls at Manchester United, Norwich City, Aston Villa and Coventry City. Back in the here and now, victory at Elland Road would also make it 12 points from 12 overall – the first time that record has been hit in any competition since April 2018, as Wolves secured the Championship title at Bolton Wanderers.

#3 Mixed injury news for Leeds

At St Mary’s last weekend, it was more a case of who wasn’t available for Leeds, than who was. Luke Ayling, Kalvin Phillips, Raphinha and Patrick Bamford have all been certainties in their starting eleven the past 18 months in the Premier League, but for various reasons, missed the trip to the south coast. England midfielder Phillips is arguably the most crucial – Leeds have won just 18% of their Premier League games without him, compared for 49% with him. Further forward, Raphinha is their creative spark and his three goals is a team high, so his absence last weekend, due to arriving late from international duty, hurt his side. Marcelo Bielsa suggested in his press conference that Raphinha is back, but Phillips misses out.  

Meanwhile, Bamford, who hit 17 goals in the Premier League last season, remains absent for the next two games. Definitely out is Ayling, who is recovering from minor knee surgery, while Robin Koch is a long-term absentee. Junior Firpo was an unexpected absentee last weekend, but Bielsa gave little update on the defender post-match. Leeds registered just three shots at Southampton last week, none of which were on target, so that’s an areas the Argentine will have an eye on this week.  

#4 Purple patch against Leeds

Wolves have enjoyed playing Leeds in recent years. The previous five meetings between the two clubs have finished in old gold victories and the West Yorkshiremen have netted on just one occasion during that period. Last season, a pair of ricochets were crucial, as Jimenez’ shot came off Phillips on its way in. Then, at Molineux, Traore’s rocket came back off the crossbar and onto the back of Illan Meslier, who was credited with the own goal. Going further back, an overall score of 7-1 against United during Wolves’ charge to the Championship title in 2017/18 was thoroughly enjoyable for those with an old gold affiliation.

The last time Leeds were victorious against Wolves was back in October 2016. Of those involved that day in old gold, only Saiss, who started, and Conor Coady, who came off the bench, are still at the club. As for Leeds, injured duo Phillips and Ayling both started at Molineux, while now skipper Liam Cooper came off the bench with two minutes remaining. Incidentally, Helder Costa was in the Wolves side, and has since spent two seasons at Elland Road and moved on to Valencia on loan this season. When kick-off arrives, Wolves will be hoping it’s a repeat of their successes in the last five, rather than back in 2016.