Newcastle United-Wolverhampton Preview
Still in a position where they can contend for a spot in European play for a second straight season, Wolverhampton look to stay in the hunt for a top-five position Saturday when they host Newcastle United.
Wolves (7-9-5) are seventh in the table on 30 points, trailing Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference and one point back of Manchester United for fifth. Nuno Espirito Santo's team does have the luxury of having done the double against two-time champions Manchester City but also remain on a dual path with knockout round Europa League commitments.
Whether they will continue on an FA Cup path is yet to be determined after playing United to a scoreless draw in the third round at home last weekend. The teams will meet for a replay at Old Trafford next Wednesday, with the winner to face either resurgent Watford or Tranmere Rovers on the road.
"We wanted to win the game. I think we did enough to win the game if I'm being totally honest, but it is what it is, centre back and talisman Connor Coady told the club's official website. "We kept a clean sheet, we move forward, it's another game, a great game at Old Trafford, so let's move on.
"I don't think it's the long campaign, but the amount of games we had over Christmas," Coady added about the additional fixtures with European commitments. "It was an awful lot, but it was the last game of a long cycle and we've got a week to prepare for the next game. There's been a lot of games, everybody knows that, everyone sees it with Manchester United as well, making a couple of changes, for us it's about taking the positives from it and moving forward."
Wolverhampton are winless in their last three games overall, with back-to-back losses at Liverpool and Watford preceding the loss. Nuno's club have been a difficult out at Molineux with only one loss in their last 11 matches (6-4-1) in all competitions.
Getting the offence re-ignited will be the primary task, with Pedro Neto's goal versus Watford the lone marker in 270 minutes. Wolverhampton had scored two or more goals in eight of their previous 10 contests in all competitions before their current dry run.
Newcastle United (7-4-10) are as close to Wolverhampton as they are the drop - five points in either direction as they are 13th in the table trailing Everton and Southampton on goal difference, but also fighting a poor run of form. The Toons are also facing a third-round FA Cup replay, but will at least have theirs at St James' Park after being held to a 1-1 draw at League One side Rochdale last Saturday.
Miguel Almiron scored for the second time in five matches after failing to net in his first 30 after joining Newcastle from American side Atlanta United, but the Paraguay international was alone on the scoresheet as Steve Bruce's side conceded the equaliser on 79 minutes.
The good news for Bruce is he has a full complement of players to choose from as a six-pack of players returning to training - most notably attacking midfielder Matt Ritchie among them - means the gaffer can put his strongest XI out against the top-seven opponents.
"Mentally, it's always a boost for the group when players are ready to come back from injuries. It gives us more options, brings freshness and players like Matt Ritchie, who have come back, which will be good for us," Florian Lejeune said.
"Like every weekend, it will be a very difficult game for us and Wolves are a great side who are having another great season. They started a bit slowly due to starting pre-season early for their commitments of qualifying for the Europa League but now they are really starting to put a run together."
Ritchie, who returned last weekend after a four-month absence due to an ankle injury suffered in a heavy challenge by Leicester City's Hamza Choudhury in the Carabao Cup in August, had to undergo a pair of surgical procedures that extended his absence by nearly double the expected timeline.
"I came back once, broke down. I came back another time and broke down and realised I probably needed another operation," Ritchie told Chronicle Live. "It wasn't as straightforward as we probably hoped - that's through no one's fault - and hopefully we can now look forward to the second half of the season and being involved and trying to add something to the group."
The teams played to a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at St James' Park, with Jonny Otto's goal on 73 minutes for Wolves canceling out Jamaal Lascelles first-half marker. Newcastle played the final eight minutes with 10 men after Sean Longstaff was sent off a poor challenge on Ruben Neves.
The teams have played to draws in six of their nine Premier League meetings, and Wolves have yet to beat Newcastle at home in a top-flight match (0-3-1).
Updated January 9, 2020