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Preview: Wolves v Chelsea – Time to beat the Blues?

By Tim Spiers | Wolves | Published:

Wolves host Chelsea at Molineux looking to end a run of five defeats in six matches.

Wolves are searching for their first win in almost two months

Wolves correspondent Tim Spiers previews the game.

Preamble

On the last two occasions Wolves played Chelsea they did so as a team in a lower division with nothing to lose.

Defeats of 2-0 (FA Cup, 2017) and 6-0 (EFL Cup, 2012) were wholly expected and the gulf in class was there for all to see. This time the two clubs are on more of an equal footing, but Wolves supporters will go into tonight's clash with only a little bit more optimism. At odds of 4/1 their team are clear underdogs, that's for sure.

Five defeats in six have burst the Wolves bubble and seen expectations of a push for Europe downgraded to 'hang on, hadn't we better avoid relegation first?'.

For the first time in Nuno Espirito Santo's near-perfect 16-month reign, the head coach's tactics and decisions are being questioned. He's enduring the worst run of his managerial career – and in an unforgiving league needs to stop the rot sooner rather than later.

Nuno was in fighting form at yesterday's pre-match press conference, confidently assuring that his team will be absolutely fine – and come out of this dodgy spell stronger for the experience.

They will stay true to themselves, work hard, fight for absolutely everything and improve as a team, he insisted.

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While Nuno always talks a good game, his team needs to start delivering for him, especially his end-product-shy forwards Helder Costa, Diogo Jota, Ivan Cavaleiro and Adama Traore who've mustered just three goals and zero assists between them, from 48, yes 48 appearances this season (20 as a substitute).

Elsewhere the boss must decide whether to tweak the 3-4-3 formation which has served him so well. Cardiff and Huddersfield both changed their formations to counter Wolves and, while Chelsea are unlikely to do that, Nuno must surely become more adaptable as he strives for a formula to get his team back on track.

West Ham's win on Tuesday night saw Wolves drop one place further to 13th, still seven points clear of the bottom three.

But more important than the league table or even tonight's result, Wolves need to show the desire, character, tempo and quality that's defined Nuno's reign, which has been worryingly absent in their past two defeats.

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In taking points off Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United already this season they've proved they can mix it with the big boys and cause an upset. If they can do so again tonight, fantastic, but even if they lose there's a right and wrong way to do so. A packed Molineux crowd needs to see a reaction and a response.

The opposition

Luke Hatfield spoke with Chelsea experts Simon Phillips and Liam Twomey to get the lowdown on the Blues.

Team news

Wolves are without Ruben Neves, suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season, while Jonny Castro Otto is out for another few weeks with a knee injury.

Other than that, Nuno Espirito Santo should have a fully-fit squad to choose from unless anyone has picked up a knock since Cardiff.

The primary contenders to replace Neves in midfield are Romain Saiss and Morgan Gibbs-White. If it's the former than Ryan Bennett may earn an instant recall after being dropped at Cardiff, while the latter came on as a sub in an advanced role and impressed. The teenager will be desperate to be handed his first Premier League start.

Diogo Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro are also pushing for starts, with Adama Traore and Helder Costa both at risk of dropping out.

Chelsea's two injury concerns are over Ross Barkley, who missed Sunday's win over Fulham with an ankle problem and Victor Moses, who could return from a back injury.

Likely line ups

Wolves (3-4-3): Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Moutinho, Saiss, Vinagre; Gibbs-White, Jimenez, Jota. Subs: Ruddy, Hause, Dendoncker, Giles, Costa, Cavaleiro, Traore.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Willian; Pedro, Giroud, Hazard.

Key players

Wolves – Raul Jimenez

Wolves repeatedly kept inviting pressure against Cardiff with their front three unable to keep possession. That has to change against a Chelsea team that will be ruthless given the opportunity.

Chelsea – Eden Hazard

Chelsea’s playmaker-in-chief has been in inspired form this season under Sarri.Given licence to work his magic around the attacking third, the Belgium star has top-scored with seven goals, as well as chipping in with five assists, in 13 Premier League matches so far.

The bosses

Nuno Espirito Santo: "I say to the players: ‘Just remember how we did things and how we want to improve, how we can reach higher standards even in bad moments’."

Maurizio Sarri: "Wolves have a very technical team with technical players. It is not easy to play there."

Form

Wolves LLDLL

Nov 30: Cardiff 2 (Gunnarsson 65, Hoilett 77) Wolves 1 (Doherty 18)

Nov 25: Wolves 0 Huddersfield 2 (Mooy 6, 74)

Nov 11: Arsenal 1 (Mkhitaryan 86) Wolves 1 (Cavaleiro 13)

Nov 3: Wolves 2 (Neves pen 68, Jimenez pen 79) Spurs 3 (Lamela 27, Moura 30, Kane 61)

Oct 27: Brighton 1 (Murray 48) Wolves 0

Chelsea WWLDW

Dec 2: Chelsea 2 (Pedro 4, Loftus-Cheek 82) Fulham 0

Nov 29: Chelsea 4 (Giroud 27, 37, Hudson-Odoi 60, Morata 78) PAOK 0 *Europa League

Nov 24: Tottenham Hotspur 3 (Alli 8, Kane 16, Son 54) Chelsea 1 (Giroud 85)

Nov 11: Chelsea 0 Everton 0

Nov 8: BATE Borisov 0 Chelsea 1 (Giroud 53) *Europa League

Past five meetings

Feb 18, 2017 (FA Cup): Wolves 0 Chelsea 2 (Pedro 65, Costa 89)

Sep 25, 2012 (EFL Cup): Chelsea 6 (Cahill 4, Bertrand 8, Mata 17, Romeu pen 53, Torres 58, Moses 71) Wolves 0

Jan 2, 2012 (PL): Wolves 1 (Ward 84) Chelsea 2 (Ramires 54, Lampard 89)

Nov 26, 2011 (PL): Chelsea 3 (Terry 7, Sturridge 29, Mata 45) Wolves 0

Jan 5, 2011 (PL): Wolves 1 (Bosingwa OG 5) Chelsea 0

Referee

Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire)

A first Wolves game this season for Moss, who has shown only two bookings in three Chelsea matches (a 2-0 Community Shield defeat to Manchester City, an EFL Cup victory against Derby and a league win over Cardiff).

Match odds

Wolves 4/1, draw 11/4, Chelsea 4/5

Tim Spiers

By Tim Spiers
@tim_spiers_Star

Writes about Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club for a living

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