Wolves have the chance to progress to the FA Cup quarter-finals for the second time in three years when they host Southampton in the fifth round on Thursday.
Nuno’s side beat Crystal Palace and Chorley to reach this stage of the competition, which has provided a good distraction to their poor Premier League performances.
The Saints won home games against Shrewsbury and Arsenal, but are currently in the midst of a poor Premier League run which involved a 9-0 defeat to Manchester United last week.
Kick off at Molineux is at 5.30pm on Thursday and the game will be broadcast on BT Sport.
After ending their winless league run against Arsenal last week, Wolves made it four points from two games as they drew 0-0 with Leicester on Sunday.
The performance was generally regarded as the side’s best in some time despite failing to pick up a second straight win, which should have been clinched when Fabio Silva’s one on one effort was saved by Kasper Schmeichel.
With the results and performances against two established top-half sides providing a morale boost to players and fans alike, the mood around Molineux ahead of this week’s Southampton double-header seems a lot happier. Any immediate threat of relegation danger looks to have subsided with the 12-point cushion to Fulham in 18th, although Burnley still sit just four points behind Wolves in 17th, a position which would represent a significant demise after two straight seventh placed finishes.
With this in mind, a cup run could put some much-needed gloss on what will likely prove a disappointing league season at Molineux. Although the scars of Wembley in 2019 still haven’t quite healed, fans hold incredible memories from Neves’ goal against Liverpool, Doherty’s last-gasp equaliser at Shrewsbury and, of course, Jota’s match-winning strike against Manchester United.
With the cup the only thing preventing Wolves’ 2020-21 season from being instantly forgettable, we should expect Nuno to go all out to progress to the quarter-finals.
Although Southampton’s blistering start to the campaign saw them top the Premier League table for a day in November, things have been looking much worse for the Saints in recent weeks.
Five straight Premier League losses, which included a second 9-0 defeat in two seasons and a 3-2 reverse against Newcastle’s nine men, have seen Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side slip from European contenders to a seemingly inevitable season of mid-table mediocrity.
This means the Saints find themselves in a very similar position to Wolves, which should see them also go all out for the cup on Thursday. Like their hosts, the Saints have beaten one Premier League team and one lower-league side, as they beat Shrewsbury 2-0 in round three before seeing off Arsenal 1-0 to set up a trip to Molineux.
If Wolves are to progress, they can’t afford to give away many cheap free-kicks. Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse has made a name for himself as a set-piece specialist this campaign, and fired home from distance at St. James’ Park on Saturday.
Nuno’s side will also have to keep a close eye on the partnership of Che Adams and Danny Ings who can give any defence a run for their money, despite the Saints picking up just six goals in their last 10 league games.
Wolves v Southampton team news
Wolves will be able to welcome back Rayan Ait-Nouri to the matchday squad on Thursday, after the Frenchman recovered from a knock that forced him to miss three games.
Nuno’s left-back worries are further eased by Marcal’s return to training this week, although the Brazilian is not expected to be involved against the Saints.
Jonny is expected to be rested after playing 45 minutes in his return against Leicester on Sunday, while Daniel Podence, Willy Boly and Raul Jimenez are definite absentees.
Southampton’s lengthy absentees list has been increased as Takumi Minamino is cup-tied, while Kyle Walker-Peters is also a doubt.
Stuart Armstrong, Ibrahima Diallo, Theo Walcott, Michael Obafemi, Will Smallbone and Alexandre Jankewitz will definitely miss out, but summer signing Mohamed Salisu is expected to make his Saints debut.
Wolves line up prediction: Ruddy; Saiss, Coady, Kilman; Hoever, Neves, Dendoncker, Ait-Nouri; Traore, Silva, Neto.
Wolves v Southampton head to head
The sides last met at Molineux two-and-a-half months ago, where a Pedro Neto tap-in cancelled out Theo Walcott’s opener and earned Wolves a point against then high-flying Southampton.
Wanderers have a good record against the Saints at home, having not lost against them in the West Midlands since an infamous 6-0 reverse in March 2007.
Since that game, Southampton’s 3-1 win at St. Mary’s in April 2019 is their only win against Wolves, home or away, in 10 attempts.
Wolves v Southampton prediction
With the fifth-round draw pitting two struggling teams looking to get some rare silverware against each other, this game is very tough to call.
Although Wolves’ performance against National League North Chorley in the fourth round was one of their worst under Nuno, they have been impressive in draws against Chelsea and Leicester and a win over Arsenal since that game.
Southampton, meanwhile, must have as little confidence as is feasibly possible. Their second 9-0 defeat in 15 months should have been followed up with a win against a Newcastle side who had to play with nine men for the last 15 minutes, but the Saints actually looked worse as the Magpies lost players.
With Wolves steadily improving and Southampton in freefall, Nuno’s side should progress here. Just.
Prediction: Wolves 1-0 Southampton