Ownership: Wolves believe they are the best of the rest in the Premier League

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As the Premier League reaches week 31 all eyes are on the battle between Manchester City and Liverpool as just one point separates the two teams for the league title. Then there is the chase for the top 4, with just three points the difference between three teams. There is a lot to play for. And then we have 7th place and Wolverhampton Wanderers. and this is the club we will focus on this week.

Wolves have really punched above their weight this season with some excellent results and once we take out the top 6 ‘elite’ teams we seem to have another league within a league. And if we believe that then we can see that Wolves are leading it- and not many pundits or fans could have predicted that at the beginning of the season.

What has made Wolves progress this season even more remarkable is that they are newly promoted from the Championship and this is their first season in the top flight since 2012.

A lot of the praise has gone to the owners who recruited the Portuguese manager Nuno Espirito Santo. The 45 year old guided the team to first place in the Championship but he hasn’t stopped there. With the help of chairman Jeff Shi Wolves are breaking all expectations and there is a feeling that England could well get 7th place as a Europa League qualifying as long as one of the big teams can win the FA Cup.

Shi and Santo realised quickly that the club would need to completely reshape after promotion to arguably the most competitive league in the world, certainly Europe and brought in 20 players to the squad even though they had done so well in the Championship the need to do better was recognised and adopted.

Santo also used his connections to being in loans, which has paid dividends. One such player who has come in and lit the place up is Raul Jimenez who was brought in from Benfica.  Nine players were sold on, with most being for undisclosed fees and to lighten the squad up another 30 players were loaned out, Wolves potentially had the biggest overall squad in the league and it was clear that Santo needed to work with a group that he believed could achieve what he set out to do in the Premier League.

There have been some inspired buys from the club. Notably Diogo Jota who first arrived in the Championship on loan from Atletico Madrid, he was bought for proper last summer and he has scored 23 times for the club in under two seasons. Joao Moutinho has been able to shore up defence and comes with bags of experience and Rui Patrico a club legend at Sporting in Portugal has guarded between the sticks as clubs regular goalkeeper.

The result has been quite incredible as the team have won 12 games this season and at home they have lost just 35% of their games claiming 24 points from 45. It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Wolves, but it was never going to be. But if the club can finish in 7th place it would be a fantastic achievement for a club that many thought might finish 10 places below that at the beginning of the season.

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EPL Game of the Weekend – Bournemouth vs Wolves

bournemouthvswolvesWith a host of games in the Premier League seeing plenty of entertaining action as well as goals in all but one of the games, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that the game of the weekend in this case should be a 1-1 draw, but when Wolves travelled down south to Dean Court to take on Bournemouth the spectacle on display was anything but a dull affair. Penalties, plenty of controversy and an unscheduled water display ensured that fans attending Bournemouth’s ground were well entertained to say the least. If former Gladiators referee John Anderson were addressing entertainment in general, he would have said “you will go on my first whistle…..”

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Wolves have been nothing short of spectacular in the Premier League this season

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Such is the gulf between teams in the Premier League now that it has been referred in the past to a three leagues in one. First you have the elite six teams who always seem to sprint away from the middle pack and create their very own league. From about 13th place to 20th you have the bottom clubs and even if you are near the top half there is every chance of getting sucked down to the bottom three.

And then there is a very important pack, the middle one which ranges from 7th-12th. These are the teams that are well capable of upsetting the teams at the top end and in effect influencing the league. These teams have been managed well, through budgets and players brought in and genuinely have quality managers. Put it this way if you are a manager of one of these clubs and you have an off season and get sacked, your next job will still be in the Premier League, you simply became an established member of the world’s most hyperbole and yet utterly fascinating league.

The only thing that honestly separates the teams is budgets. The top six might be able to spend £100m and upwards, these teams it’s more realistic to strike around the 50-60m mark.

With all of that said here comes the unofficial Premier League ‘real’ leaders, who will reside in 7th- they are the so called best of the rest and that accolade as we roar through February and into the home straight in the league goes to Wolverhampton Wanderers, or simply known as Wolves.

Under Nino Espirito Santos Wolves have been a revelation this season. They started the season brightly becoming a real force to be reckoned with. First they stopped Everton in their tracks with a 2-2 draw at Molineux and they improved on their home form by also forcing champions Manchester City into a 1-1 draw.

They took a point away to Manchester United and before you knew it Santos was picking up manager of the month. All was good before Wolves hit a slump, and it seemed that the club had simply gone through a honeymoon period with their new coach.

But their strength in character really showed and they have been back on form for the past few months. They have lost just 2 games in their past seven and have climbed deservedly so to 7th place, playing attack minded football and making games very difficult for their opponents.

Now they find themselves in 7th and 11 points from 6th and Chelsea who have hit a wall. Could Santos’ team rally on and even threaten that place? Watford are the only team at this moment who are near to the club and these two teams have really been able to punch above their weight this season.

However Wolves remain the leader of the pack and don’t look like they will be tamed anytime soon.

 

Nuno Espirito Santo

January had a big impact on West Ham’s season

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Things can look very different after a month. With six wins from seven games in December, there was plenty of optimism for West Ham United at the beginning of January. However, an unsettling Marko Arnautovic transfer saga, otherwise uneventful transfer window, FA Cup exit at the hands of AFC Wimbledon and a 3-0 thrashing from Wolverhampton Wanderers have changed the mood in East London.

Many supporters were hoping for a cup run and a chase for European football to add excitement to the end of this campaign. It is being said by many that the second half will be pretty boring for the Hammers though, stating the season is already in danger of fizzling out. It can be difficult for matches to maintain their level of importance unless there is a relegation battle or chase for the top places, it’s a problem which the Hammers have faced in the past and it can be argued will face again this time around.

January begun with Samir Nasri being brought in for free after his doping ban had ended. Despite initial concerns after the considerable length of time he’d spent out of the game there were promising early signs once he got onto the pitch. He’d done well on his debut against Birmingham City in the FA Cup before playing an instrumental role in the victory against his former employers Arsenal. He’s now injured though.

Then there was the Arnautovic drama. The Austrian was linked with a move to China, with his brother adding to the rumours by claiming that West Ham should let him leave. After waving the fans goodbye when taken off against Arsenal, then missing the following games against AFC Bournemouth and AFC Wimbledon it was announced that he’d signed an improved contract to keep him at the club. The contract was announced via a video which was released just after the club’s FA Cup exit, with the forward saying he was “back”. It’s impossible to tell whether his shenanigans were a contributing factor to the club’s recent form but the general feeling is that he’s unsettled those around him. The Wolves game did little to prove otherwise.

With all the talks of exits hanging over the club, there had also been a mention of players who were potentially coming to the London Stadium. Names such as Maxi Gomez have been thrown into the mix and there was mention of potentially bringing someone in on loan from Chelsea. However, when the transfer window ended there were no further recruits aside from Nasri, as Gomez remained at Celta Vigo. There was clear disappointment from many West Ham supporters at the news (or lack of it) as they felt it was an opportunity missed.

The only point gained outside of the win against the Gunners was in a 2-2 draw against Brihgton & Hove Albion. However, as frustrating as January was, it can be argued that this it’s not season ending. The three disappointing results came in the space of 10 days and with the transfer window now closed everyone can get on with the football rather than speculating over moves for now. The FA Cup exit is certainly a big blow, especially considering who is left in the competition this year and it hasn’t helped that two losses against opposition around the Hammers came either side of that shock exit.

However, February brings matches against Crystal Palace, Fulham and Newcastle United. These are all games which West Ham will feel they should be winning and if they do so it could put the men in claret and blue back in with a chance of taking seventh in the league. February –like any other month for a Premier League club- won’t be simple though; the Hammers host Liverpool tomorrow evening and will also face Manchester City. Get wins on the board and some excitement could return to the London Stadium. After all, things can look very different after a month.

 

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Jesus back among the goals as Manchester City suffocate Wolves

Following Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, the pressure was back on Manchester City ahead of their clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Reds had extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table to seven points with their success on the south coast, meaning that Pep Guardiola’s side could not afford to draw or lose against a team who had performed very well against them earlier in the campaign.

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Who have been the best pound for pound teams in European football so far?

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We are two months into the domestic league seasons and each league is starting to take shape around Europe. The usual suspects are either sitting on top of the league or ominously close to that. But who have been the best pound for pound teams so far in Europe? The teams that clearly do not have the same budget as the Manchester City’s and PSG’s. And perhaps the following teams will be able to keep up their good starts to the season and cause some surprises. Whilst they may not be crowned new champions of their respective leagues they will all have the ability to try and qualify for European football and possibly have deep runs in their respective cup competitions.

Premier League- Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves as they are commonly known were not supposed to cause much of a fuss in England this season and many expected them to finish in the bottom half of the table. However currently they are in 7th place and have 15 points from a possible 24. Coach Nuno Espirito Santo has been a revelation and has struck a fine balance between attack and defence. Wolves are the only club to take points from champions Manchester City so far and have also come away with a 1-1 draw at their rivals Manchester United. They have lost just 1 game all season so far and are only 5 points from the top of the league.

Ligue 1 – Lille

Lille have struggled in recent seasons so this is a real surprise to see the team in 2nd place and 3 points clear of Marseille in third position. Whilst they won’t be catching league leaders PSG anytime soon as they are 8 points adrift of them their aim will be Champions League qualification for next season. Lille have been superb and have recorded such results as beating Marseille 3-0. They have won 6 of their 9 games so far and are scoring goals too, they currently have 17 which is the 3rd highest in the league.

Serie A- Sampdoria

Sampdoria got off to a slow start in Serie A but their form has been constantly improving week by week. So much so that they find themselves in 5th place behind the more traditional teams who we are expected to see in the top four. Form is good where they have lost just 1 game in their past five matches and have only been defeated 2 times this season. But it has been the clubs away form that has impressed where they have the 3rd best record in the league.

La Liga- Sevilla

This choice is easy, Sevilla, because they have taken the Spanish league by storm and currently sit in 1st place above both Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have already comprehensively beaten Madrid in the league and have won 5 of their 8 games so far. They have won their last 4 games in the league and have scored 14 goals alone in those games. Indeed only Barcelona have scored more goals. It remains to be seen in such a difficult league if Sevilla can keep up their form but they are definitely added to the mix which is sure to make La Liga experience one of the most exciting seasons in years.

 

EPL Best XI – Hat-trick hero Hazard

Eden Hazard

The fifth weekend of the 2018-19 Premier League season saw Chelsea and Liverpool maintain their winning starts, while Manchester United picked up their second victory in a row with a 2-1 win over Watford. Let’s take a look at which players stood out to make the EPL Best XI of the Weekend.

GK: Wayne Hennessey, Crystal Palace – seven points
After being deducted two points in each of his last three games, Wayne Hennessey got back on track this weekend by keeping a clean sheet in Crystal Palace’s hard-fought 1-0 win away at Huddersfield.

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EPL Fantasy Predictions: Matchweek 5

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Tottenham vs Liverpool Wembley Stadium

This lunchtime kickoff is one you won’t want to miss. While Spurs slipped up against  surprisingly imperious Watford,  Liverpool remained stalwart at the King Power. These kinds of tests away from home prove championship quality, and we think Klopp and the reds are at that level. Salah was Liverpool’s sole scorer against Spurs last season, and this may be a good time to jump on the wagon.

Bournemouth vs Leicester – Vitality Stadium

Two teams commanded by two impressive managers who know how to get results in the Premier League. Chelsea gave nothing away to Bournemouth when the Cherries visited Stamford Bridge before the international break, but we are picking Howe’s men to beat the Foxes who looked uncoordinated in the attack against Liverpool without Jamie Vardy.

Chelsea vs Cardiff – Stamford Bridge

If I were a fantasy Premier League manager I’d be jumping out of my seat to bring in a couple of Sarri’s forwards in for this one-sided looking clash at the Bridge. Pedro is in a good run of scoring form, while Hazard netted for Belgium against Scotland during the break.

Huddersfield vs Crystal Palace – John Smith’s Stadium

Huddersfield did very well to get a point at Goodison Park last matchweek, but Crystal Palace will know they absolutely need to start picking up points sooner or later. We are looking at the height of Crystal Palace to make the difference and snatch a draw from a set piece.

Manchester City vs Fulham – Etihad Stadium

If you’re asking us to pick Fulham over the champions, it’s a real shout. But Wolves held the stellar Citizens attack at bay earlier in the season, and Fulham have shown more in an attacking sense. – especially with Mitrovic’s double for Serbia over the break. We are still going with Pep, singling out Mr. Aguero to continue his good run of form.

Newcastle vs Arsenal – Saint James’ Park

With defense proving as optional as ever under Emery’s brief tenure, Newcastle will feel they could really upset the oddsmakers when the Gunners visit Tyneside. Solomon Rondon will by drooling at the chance to have the home crowd behind him as he runs at the shaky pairing of Mustafi and Sokratis.

Watford vs Manchester United – Vicarage Road

We like Holebas and Pereyra in this one, but goals are coming from everywhere amongst the Watford ranks these days. United meanwhile have had to rely thoroughly on Lukaku. The big Belgian has only 16 in 68 games against the top six, and since Watford have already beaten a top six club, we feel this will be a draw, with Mourinho shutting up shop as he is want to do away from home.

Wolves vs Burnley – Molineux

Nunu Espirito Santo is doing his best to make Molineux a fortress in his first EPL season, and we think this is a good opportunity to nab some clean sheet points from the Wolves defense and GK as Burnley are tied for the second fewest goals scored.

Everton vs West Ham – Goodison Park

Away at Everton will be a difficult place for Manuel Pellegrini to try and affect some positive change around the Irons dressing room, so we are going with Everton and backing Theo Walcott to make the difference.

Southampton vs Brighton – Saint Mary’s Stadium

We like Southampton in this South Coast clash, with Danny Ings looking particularly good for his price. He’s already scored with the Saints this season, even after such an enormous spell out with knee injuries at Liverpool.
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EPL Best XI – Romelu Lukaku leads the line

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The fourth weekend of the 2018-19 Premier League season saw Liverpool, Chelsea and Watford maintain their winning starts, while Manchester United responded to their 3-0 loss against Tottenham by beating Burnley 2-0 at Turf Moor. But which players stood out to make the EPL Best XI of the Weekend?

GK: Rui Patricio, Wolves – seven points
Summer signing Rui Patricio picked up his first clean sheet as a Premier League goalkeeper in Wolves’ 1-0 win at West Ham on Saturday. The Portugal international earned seven points, moving him on to three points for the season.

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Issa Diop to kick on after Carabao Cup goal

Many people thought of Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup second round tie against AFC Wimbledon as a bit of a nothing game. However, it could be a match which has significance in Issa Diop’s West Ham career. The 21-year-old centre back, signed from Toulouse for a short-lived club record fee of £25 million had struggled before this match and looked in need of a pick up.

Following that summer transfer, he didn’t get on the pitch against Liverpool or AFC Bournemouth. He then made his debut for the club against Arsenal, putting in a relatively shaky performance which saw him score a calamitous own goal in the 3-1 loss.

On the back of that defeat, when his side conceded after just two minutes against AFC Wimbledon –as Joe Pigott got away from Diop’s centre back Angelo Ogbonna to head home- he must have had a sinking feeling. However, it was the Frenchman who got West Ham back in the game. In the 63rd minute Felipe Anderson played the ball to him. Diop took a touch out of his feet, confident strode up to the ball and smashed it into the bottom corner from outside the box.

The smile on his face following the strike told a story of its own. He put his hands together to form a triangle (his trademark celebration) and the Frenchman’s face lit up with glee as he was mobbed by his team mates. To get his side back into the game with a moment which highlighted his technical ability will have been a big confidence boost for the centre back.

Strikes from Ogbonna and Chicharito secured the win for the Hammers, but it was Diop’s performance which stood out – even without the goal. His stats from the match show just how dominant he was: 100% tackles won, 92% pass completion, seven aerial duels won and six clearances completed. It may have been against League One opposition, but this was a defensive master class.

Now, with this performance under his belt he has the perfect opportunity to kick on in West Ham’s claret and blue. Diop has already impressed during his career, captaining Toulouse and representing his country at Under 21 level. The Premier League may be a step up from this, but he has certainly got the quality to face off with the best in the league, with the confidence from that strike likely to help bring that out of him.

If selected by Manuel Pellegrini, which is likely, his next test will be against Wolverhampton Wanderers. While the Midlands side and their Portuguese contingent have only managed two points so far, they are still a dangerous outfit. However, with Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United to follow, it is important the Hammers pick up some points in this match. Facing off against the likes of Raul Jimenez and dealing with Ruben Neves’ deliveries, West Ham’s centre backs are going to be vital if the team are to be victorious.

A positive performance and result against Wolves, following the Wimbledon match, should lead to Diop’s false start being forgotten about by many. West Ham have a supremely talented player on their hands in the form of Issa Diop, now is the moment he will kick on and show it.

 

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