Wolves 2-1 Manchester United: Back to back defeats for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men

Wolves

Manchester United had a really good chance to stamp a marker of being the favourites to win their first silverware in the FA Cup under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Though, the quarter-final fixture was not straightforward with it being a difficult one against Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves away from home, a side that have picked up a number of results against the Premier League’s top-six so far this season.

Overall, United started on a positive note and dominated possession for majority of the match, but failed to breakdown the opposition’s defence and did not test goalkeeper John Ruddy until the final moments of the game. Meanwhile, Wolves were defended in numbers and created the bigger chances and were ruthless on the counter, with the goals coming from Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez.

Here are the three things we learnt from United’s latest match…

Squad has been burned out from top to bottom

With Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku unavailable due to current injury problems, whilst the likes of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic have been rushed back into the starting line-up, it is not a surprise that the team have struggled to get going following the monumental Champions League comeback against Paris Saint-Germain. The side have been lacking the quality from the bench to help them effect and turn the game around, leading to back-to-back defeats.

On top of that, Solskjaer himself has not got the ideal options available for him to use in the squad as a whole and the blame should definitely be referred back to the board and Ed Woodward. When looking at the current team and the fact that only Diogo Dalot, Fred and Lee Grant came into the club in the previous summer transfer window, it can easily be stated that the new arrivals was simply not enough to allow Jose Mourinho or Solskjaer to guide the side to a successful season.

The problems in the final third have started once again

At this moment of time, the problems in the final third have returned to what it once was in the final months of Mourinho’s time at the club, where the front three fail to provide enough creativity and movement on and off the ball. There was one stage in the match last night at Molineux Stadium, where it had seemed like Martial and Rashford were nowhere to be seen in the opposition’s half.

For sure, if Lukaku was fit and in good condition to play, the side would have played more down the flanks and would have sent constant crosses into the box for the Belgian international to pounce on. However, with his much needed presence missing, the back-three/five of Wolves were able to isolate United’s attackers and left the midfielders with no choices but to play backwards or sideways.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got outdone by Nuno Espirito Santo  

Since his arrival as Manchester United’s interim coach from the middle of December, this has been Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game where he has tactically been dominated and outdone by the opposition. In his favour, Wolves have actually eased down in the league over the last couple of weeks and have quietly been preparing for this match through less training and more resting.

On the other hand, the signs of a goal coming were there in the early moments of the second half, with the hosts becoming more comfortable in possession and attacking with intent along whilst both Matt Doherty and Ruben Neves enjoying a lot of space and time on the ball. Had Solskjaer and Mike Phelan spotted this and looked to match up with Wolves’ setup, the game could have potentially been more balanced and the side would have had more control to the match.

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

EPEP(1)

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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The rise of the talented central midfielders from outside of the Premier League top-six

Neves

The top-six of the Premier League are blessed with a large number of central midfielders, with the likes of David Silva, Fernandinho, N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba seen as the main and obvious ones around. These individuals have shown their quality for their respective teams over the last couple of years, whether it’s with their attacking contributions or their ability defend in front of the backline.

The midfield department has become a very demanding position, where many of the top clubs in Europe aim to have enough quality and depth in order to compete in all competitions effectively. Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City are good examples, three clubs that have the players available on and off the bench to take control of the game and to importantly dominate it.

Now, it is time to look at the talented central midfielders from outside of the Premier League top-six, those who play a crucial role for their sides and are expected to become a wanted man from the end of the season till the final days of the 2019 summer transfer window. For sure, it is still early days to consider these key players, but some individuals have been really impressive in recent months.

With no further ado, here are the central midfielders that deserve more appreciation and credit…

Abdoulaye Doucoure

Javi Garcia’s Watford are enjoying a top notch of a season in the Premier League, because of how consistent they are in front of goal and how they are expected to break a personal record of the most points they have picked up in a single campaign before the current term comes to an end. And one of the main players that have allowed this to happen is Abdoulaye Doucoure, thanks to his technical ability and intelligence on and off the ball as well as his displays in the middle of the pitch.

Since his arrival to England from French side Rennes, he has shown his composure and quality in the centre of midfield alongside Etienne Capoue, where he completes the required interceptions and tackles in his own half to helping the side attack quickly through his dribbling ability and his burst of pace. Thanks to his positive mindset and attacking mentality, it allows the team to strive forward and to press high up the pitch whilst making sure that the goals don’t come only from the attackers.

Andre Gomes

Majority of the Premier League supporters would see Andre Gomes as a player that had failed to succeed the expectations that he once had at Barcelona, and he is now trying to revive his professional career in another country and league. However, Everton took a massive punt on him in the summer, and have reaped the rewards but are waiting to receive it consistently, due to the fact that he has had some minor injury issues and some difficulties in settling into the dressing room.

Nevertheless, the 25-year-old has regained fine form and reportedly expected to move to Goodison Park in the summer on a permanent basis, which instantly sums up the influence he has on Marco Silva’s midfield and how they are more proactive and efficient when he is in starting line-up. Without his range of passing and approach of how to control and dictate play, the Toffees would struggle to break the opposition’s defence down and would face a lot of defensive problems on the counter.

 

 

James Ward-Prowse

Despite Southampton’s below par season over the last two to three campaigns, James Ward-Prowse and his rise has been one of the most popular stories at St Mary’s Stadium. Having evidently proven himself on both sides of the pitch, he is also one of the few leaders that the Saints respectively have within the squad. On top of that, he has the incredible ability to pull off some insane free-kicks, which he did so against both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur over the last two weeks.

If he was playing for one of the top sides in the Premier League, he would be easily getting into the England squad and would have been a serious candidate in the midfield role of Gareth Southgate’s team. For the time being, he still has a lot of time to improve as a player and will have the perfect timeframe to review any potential offers that may come his way, given that he is in need of two more consistent seasons before deciding to move to Arsenal, Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspur.

Ruben Neves

The main focus of this term has been Wolverhampton Wanderers and how they have turned up against the best teams in the league, where they have picked up victories against Chelsea at home, Tottenham away and crucial stalemates versus Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United. Players such as Diogo Jota, Matt Doherty and Raul Jimenez have played the key role in Nuno Espirito Santo’s team, but it’s Ruben Neves who has stolen the media headlines and English press coverage.

With how the Portuguese international has been performing so far this Premier League term, it almost feels like he has been playing in the top flight of English football for quite a long time. Being a physical player off the ball and in the air, he has the ideal ability to distribute the ball that the full-backs and wingers look for from a midfielder. Also, he is another great player that is a dead ball specialist, whilst having the much needed understanding to play in any of the tactical role in midfield.

EPL Player of the Week – Diogo Jota (Wolves)

jotaIt is not really creating any headlines to say that Premier League new boys Wolverhampton Wanderers have impressed many a neutral this season. The club have been in the Premier League before, of course, and have experienced football as low as League One in the intervening years, but this time they have played their top flight football at a level which seems assured to keep them among England’s elite for the forseeable future. While things can change in the blink of an eye, of course, Wolves have some real quality among their ranks – chief among them is this week’s EPL Player of the Week, Diogo Jota.

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The EPL’s likely starting lineups for this weekend

Ross Barkley

This weekend we have another full schedule of ten EPL matches to look forward to. Here are the predicted lineups for every EPL game.

Crystal Palace v Brighton

Crystal Palace XI: Guaita, Wan-Bissaka, Dann, Tomkins, Van Aanholt, Kouyate, Milivojevic, Schlupp, Townsend, Batshuayi, Zaha

Brighton XI: Ryan, Montoya, Dunk, Duffy, Bernardo, Propper, Stephens, Bissouma, Knockaert, Andone, Jahanbakhsh

Questionable: n/a

Out: Speroni, Sakho, Souare (Crystal Palace); Balogun, Gross (Brighton)

EPL Best XI – Week 29

pereiraThis past weekend saw no less than three local derbies in the Premier League, with two of them winding up as draws. Of the six clubs involved in these three games only Chelsea triumphed, toppling Scott Parker’s Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage. It was a spirited performance from the hosts, who sacked manager Claudio Ranieri last week after only 19 games in charge. Spurs hosted Arsenal while Liverpool made the short trip to Everton, with both of these games ending in stalemate. Arguably the finest action to be seen was at Old Trafford, where resurgent Man Utd battled to a 3-2 home win against Southampton, who on this performance alone really should not find themselves in the trouble they are in. Adopting a 4-3-3 this time, let’s see which players stood out!

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EPL predicted lineups for this weekend

Chelsea

There is another full list of Premier League fixtures this coming weekend with all games being played over Saturday and Sunday.

Spurs v Arsenal

Spurs XI: Lloris, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Aurier, Sissoko, Winks, Rose, Eriksen, Kane, Son

Arsenal XI: Leno, Sokratis, Koscielny, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles, Ramsey, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Lacazette, Aubameyang

Questionable: Jan Vertonghen (Spurs); Lars Koscielny, Stephan Lichtsteiner (Arsenal)

Out: Dele Alli, Eric Dier (Spur); Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)

EPL Weekend Picks – Week 28

shawThis weekend’s Premier League fixture list promises another round of tension, goals, celebration and despair. Proceedings get underway Saturday lunchtime with the north London derby, Spurs welcoming Arsenal as their guests at Wembley. We also have a relegation clash as Brighton host bottom side Huddersfield, while on Sunday we have a west London derby – Fulham vs Chelsea – and the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Manchester City look to continue their bid to retain the Premier League crown when they travel to Bournemouth 24 hours before Liverpool’s trip across Stanley Park, and with both of those fixtures proving potentially slippery for the top two this weekend could well start to shape the landscape as the domestic season rolls on.

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Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL fixtures

Premier League predicted lineups

It’s time to look ahead to this weekend’s Premier League action as we predict the starting lineups for each EPL game.

Cardiff City v Watford

Cardiff XI: Etheridge, Peltier, Manga, Bamba, Bennett, Paterson, Gunnarsson, Arter, Murphy, Cordova-Reid, Niasse

Watford XI: Foster, Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra, Sema, Deeney, Deulofeu

Questionable: Ashley Darel Jazz Richards (Cardiff)

Out: Sean Morrison (Cardiff); Holebas, Kiko Femenia (Watford)

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

nununu

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