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Wolves v Leeds preview: Wolves need to find their bite for crunch encounter

Relegation battles do not come much bigger than this.

Matheus Cunha (Getty)
Matheus Cunha (Getty)

Come 5pm tomorrow we could have a clearer picture of Wolves’ trajectory this season, after the crucial home clash with Leeds.

The club will have highs and lows between now and May, and this fixture will not condemn Wolves to relegation or save them outright, but of the remaining fixtures this season it is absolutely one of the biggest.

Leeds have slipped to 19th in the table, while Wolves have risen to 13th, but only four points separate them and the Yorkshire side currently have a game in hand.

Tomorrow’s fixture, and the visit to Nottingham Forest after the international break, are two huge opportunities for Wolves to create some daylight in mid-table.

And considering Leeds’ position, and Wolves’ remaining opponents this season, it is fair to say tomorrow’s game may be the biggest of the lot.

Playing in front of home fans once more, Wolves must be aggressive, intense and ruthless from the start.

Julen Lopetegui has been conservative in his approach at times, particularly away from home, and back in front of his own fans he must take the handbrake off this Wolves team.

A striker is still yet to score this season, while the chances created for the forwards have been few and far between.

As a result of that, and the number of players at his disposal, Lopetegui has some important decisions to make on his selection.

Hwang Hee-chan returned from his hamstring injury last weekend, and scored less than a minute after coming on at Newcastle.

Lopetegui is a huge fan of the South Korean international, and could choose him to start for his hard-working qualities and ability to get closer to Raul Jimenez, who could also start.

Starting Hwang could also allow Rayan Ait-Nouri to be unleashed, with the left-back safe in the thought that Hwang will help him with his defensive duties.

Pedro Neto, Daniel Podence and Pablo Sarabia are also in contention, and one of them is likely to miss out on the squad altogether.

Sarabia had a heel injury and missed the trip to Newcastle. The knock is not believed to be serious, but it remains to be seen if he is fit for tomorrow – but if he is, Lopetegui will have a decision to make.

It is also hoped that Matheus Cunha will be fit for selection.

The striker was an unused substitute at Newcastle, but was seen warming up and showing no signs of injury, before he worried supporters with an Instagram story of him with a protective boot on his right foot just days later.

It is understood, however, that Cunha was wearing it in order to manage his ankle knock and take the weight off it, and that he is expected to be available tomorrow.

The Brazilian suffered the injury away at Fulham last month and was stretchered off, but only missed one game as a result.

Opposition view

Leeds midfielder Tyler Adams has been ruled out of Saturday’s Premier League game at relegation rivals Wolves due to a hamstring injury.

USA captain Adams, consulting a specialist and waiting to learn the full extent of the problem sustained in training, will not be joining up with his country’s squad for international duty after Leeds’ trip to Molineux.

The club’s head coach Javi Gracia said: “In this moment he’s with a specialist and we’ll see how long he’s out of the team. We have other players.

“We know, all of us, that Tyler is a key player for us, but we have to manage with the squad we have. We have other players ready for the next game.

“He is different to others. There is no one like Tyler because all the players are different with different features and skills they have, but in this case we have other players ready as you can see in the last games we’ve played.”

Adams, who skippered the USA at Qatar 2022 – they lost 3-1 to the Netherlands in the last 16 – will miss his country’s forthcoming CONCACAF Nations League matches in Grenada (March 25) and against El Salvador in Florida (March 28).

After tomorrow’s trip to Molineux, Leeds are next in action following the international break at title-chasing Arsenal on April 2.

Leeds, second bottom and a point from safety after last week’s 2-2 home draw against Brighton, will climb to within a point of 13th-placed Wolves with victory on Saturday.

Just five points separate the bottom nine clubs in a hotly-contested relegation battle, while Leeds are bidding for their second league win in 14 matches and just their second on the road this season.

“There are many teams involved in relegation,” Gracia added. “As I told you many times, we are focused on the next game, giving the most importance to the points in play.

“We know it will be like this until the end. We have to be ready and focused in every game - trying to give our best. I’m sure we will be fighting until the end.

“When I came here three weeks ago, I knew the objective was to remain in the Premier League and I’m sure of that.”

Adams’ USA team-mate Weston McKennie is likely to return to the starting line-up alongside Marc Roca, but Gracia said Darko Gyabi and Archie Gray offered alternative options.

Gracia confirmed Leeds skipper Liam Cooper, included in Scotland’s squad this week, will be in contention after his recent struggles with injury.

Cooper has not appeared since the defeat at Nottingham Forest in early February due to knee and muscle problems.

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