After Thursday night’s late heartbreak, attention quickly turns to Sunday’s visit to West Ham United for Bruno Lage’s man, and ahead of the 2pm kick-off, there are plenty of pre-match talking points.
#1 A first attempt at bouncing back
Wolves will be confident in bouncing back at the first attempt having conceded twice in the last 10 minutes at the Emirates on Thursday night when they head to the capital’s east and the London Stadium. After getting their season up and running in September, Lage’s men have lost just six times since then, and have won the subsequent game on four of those occasions – including a 1-0 win over West Ham in November following a loss at Crystal Palace. Wolves experienced successive defeats in December when a 1-0 loss to Liverpool was followed up with the same scoreline in controversial circumstances at Manchester City, but can they make it five from six on Sunday by making an immediate recovery?
Trying to stop them will be David Moyes and West Ham who are on an unbeaten run of four matches in all competitions, although their last two results in the Premier League were draws – 2-2 vs Leicester City, where they relied on a contentious last-minute equaliser, and last weekend’s tie against Newcastle United. The Hammers will be looking at picking up maximum points at home, especially if they want to be in with a chance of making the Europa League for the second time in two seasons, as they face a trip to the league’s form team Liverpool next Saturday evening.
#2 Hwang firing again
There were positives to take from Wolves’ clash with the Gunners on Thursday night, although the cruel, late twist in north London may have left many members of the old gold faithful feeling less than optimistic! One of the more pleasing aspects of the game in mid-week was a first start for Hee Chan Hwang since December when he suffered a hamstring injured in the victory at Brighton. The South Korean has been getting back to full fitness during the past few weeks with a few cameo appearances off the bench, coming on with 10 minutes to go against Tottenham Hotspur, before a half-hour showing last weekend against Leicester.
Not only did Hwang get his first start in more than two months on Thursday night, but he notched his first goal since September, as he found the back of the net with just 10 minutes on the clock. The forward showed he was back to his predatory best when he intercepted Gabriel’s backpass before rounding Aaron Ramsdale and slotting home from a tight angle. Hwang lasted 75 minutes before being replaced by Pedro Neto, another of Lage’s squad who is returning from injury and adding to the competition of the wide players pushing for a starting birth at the London Stadium.
🎶 Heeeeeeeeee's Korean... pic.twitter.com/bZfL5AcXda— Wolves (@Wolves) February 24, 2022
#3 Here’s Jonny!
Just as Lage was provided with a fully-fit squad for the first time since he arrived at the club in the summer, one of his stalwarts then found themselves in the treatment room. On the hour-mark at the Emirates, Nelson Semedo pulled up with an injury and had to be replaced by Jonny – who himself has been out since a 1-0 loss to Liverpool last March. That injury was the Spaniard’s second ACL in the space of a year, having only returned from a knee injury last February and playing just seven Premier League matches before suffering again.
Should Semedo be unbailable to play against West Ham, it would leave Lage with the option of either handing a first start in almost 12 months to Jonny or a return to the first 11 for Ki-Jana Hoever. The young Dutchman has made six outings in the Premier League this season, but has started just two of those appearances, against Leicester City on the opening day of the campaign and in the goalless draw with Chelsea at Molineux in December.
#4 The battle for Europe
When Wolves and West Ham meet on Sunday, there will be just two points separating the sides, and a win for the hosts will lift them up into fifth, while victory for the old gold will see them replace the Irons in sixth. Historically outside of the ‘big six’, both clubs are punching above their weight in the Premier League and a win on Sunday will help their push into securing a place in Europe for next season.
Both teams have experienced Europa League football in recent years, with Wolves reaching the quarter-finals in 2020, while the Hammers are currently competing in UEFA’s secondary club competition, having topped their group and are one of the seeded clubs for the last 16 which will take place in March. Tomorrow’s Carabao Cup final sees Chelsea take on Liverpool, and with both all but guaranteed a European spot, it means the Europa Conference League spot will transfer to sixth place in the Premier League (and then down to seventh if the FA Cup winners end up in the top six). This means Sunday’s clash at the London Stadium could have a big say on where those eventual European places end up going to.