Wolves resume their Premier League campaign on Saturday after a three-month break due to the global pandemic. They travel to the London Stadium to face West Ham in an evening kick-off live on Sky Sports. As with all of the remaining fixtures, there will be no fans in the stadium and strict protocols are in place to ensure that players and staff are kept safe. Let’s run through all of the key information that you’ll need to know ahead of kick-off.
Before the lockdown, Wolves were on a great run of form. They are unbeaten in their last five league games (W2, D3), keeping clean sheets in four of those. A big contributing factor to those clean sheets was the return of Willy Boly from injury against Manchester United in February. Wolves have definitely looked more confident defensively since his return and hopefully, this solidity will continue on Saturday.
Wolves last outing in the league was a 0-0 draw at home against Brighton. In that game, the issue wasn’t with defence but going forward. Wolves were slow out of the starting blocks and, even though they are usually quite happy to sit back, it felt like they had no idea of how to break Brighton down until Adama Traore came on in place of Ruben Neves in the second half. Despite coming on in the 64th minute, Traore completed more dribbles than any other player (five), which shows the massive impact he had on the game. With Traore’s introduction, Wolves looked livelier and he subsequently had a hand in Wolves only shot on target of the game.
Going into the game against West Ham, I think Nuno should consider going three upfront with Traore, Jimenez and Jota. I think West Ham will be similar to Brighton in that they are desperately in need of points and will be looking to put on a strong defensive display. A draw might not be good enough for them, especially with some tough games coming up, so they may need to push for the win. If Wolves do sit off and allow them possession, having three upfront would make for a deadly combination on the counter-attack and could benefit Wolves more than having the extra man in midfield.
West Ham Form
West Ham, on the other hand, aren’t having a great season. They’ve lost a total of 16 games so far and have only won one of their last five (W1, D1, L3). They currently sit in 16th place in the table, only remaining outside of the relegation zone on goal difference.
Their final game before the lockdown was away at Arsenal where they lost 1-0. Despite losing, they looked like the better side for most of the game and they had the better scoring opportunities. They took the game to Arsenal and were organised in defence. Keeping this in mind, Wolves need to ensure the defensive solidity they had before the break remains and that they have the strength in attack to break West Ham down.
In my opinion, Jarrod Bowen is their player to watch. He has only made four appearances for the Hammers since joining from Hull City in January, with two of those being off the bench, but the 23-year-old forward scored on his first full debut and has shown a lot of promise. Speaking about him during Friday’s press conference, as reported by Football.London, David Moyes said:
“He has shown in training he is more than capable, he’s not got a lot of Premier League experience but we have been mightily impressed with him since he joined the club.”
He is talented, hard-working, fast and good at making runs into the box behind the defence. In his limited number of appearances for West Ham, he has had eight shots, five of which were on target, giving him a 63% shooting accuracy. He also managed to put in six crosses. With this in mind, he could be a threat and the Wolves defence will need to keep an eye on him.
There are no injury concerns for Wolves with the full squad fit and available for selection. The biggest question will be whether Nuno decides to go with the 3-5-2 or 3-4-3. Personally, I’d like to see him go with the 3-4-3 and I’m predicting a line-up of:
Patricio, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Doherty, Neves, Moutinho, Johnny, Traore, Jimenez, Jota.
With the newly introduced five substitutions, there is a lot of room for manoeuvre and we could see some of the younger players and newer signings introduced off the bench.
For the Hammers, defender Angelo Ogbonna was a doubt after he missed both of their friendlies with an unspecified injury, however, he has returned to training which is a massive boost for David Moyes’ side and he could feature. Also available for selection are Andriy Yarmolenko, Ryan Fredericks and Jack Wilshere who have all returned to full fitness.
Head to Head
Since gaining promotion from the Championship, Wolves have won all three of their league games against West Ham and haven’t conceded a goal in any of those games. However, of the 64 meetings between the two sides, West Ham have won 29, Wolves have won 21 and there have been 14 draws, meaning West Ham have the better overall record.
The last time the sides faced each other was at the Molineux back in December, where Wolves won 2-0 with goals from Leander Dendoncker and Patrick Cutrone. The first goal came from a poorly defended corner where Dendoncker was allowed to sneak into space and score. The second goal came from a brilliant bursting run from Johnny, that Cutrone finished neatly. Manuel Pellegrini was still managing the Hammers back then, whereas this time they’ll be under the influence of David Moyes.
This won’t be an easy game by any means. With West Ham desperate for points and the unusual circumstances surrounding the game, Wolves will have a big task on their hands. I think both teams will be cautious at first, as we saw in the behind closed doors game against Olympiacos, and I think both teams will be focusing on being organised in defence. If this is the case, the outcome may well be decided on who has the strength and pace in attack to unsettle the defenders. In his press conference on Friday, as reported by Wolves, Nuno commented on the hunger of the players saying:
“It’s been hard. It’s been very difficult, but I think the players, the hunger and the will to return to competition, is so strong, that they almost forget all these issues and they go out and prepare themselves very well. I’m very proud of it.”
The Wolves players seem raring to go and with this in mind I don’t think they’ll want to just settle on Saturday. I’m expecting a tough start but as the players grow into the game I think Wolves will come out on top and win 2-0.