After three straight defeats over the festive period and an unacceptable FA Cup collapse at Rochdale, this feels like a big game for Steve Bruce.
Wolves are tough opposition and one of few clubs capable of breaking the ‘big six’ this season, however it’s a essential we put in a much improved display after some worrying performances in recent weeks.
We’ve never dominated games, created a bucket load of chances or been great on the eye this season, but we built a habit of being hard to beat, staying in games and defending well – and we need to get this knack back, or we are at risk of being dragged back into a dreaded relegation battle.
With several first-team players now back in contention, Steve Bruce has a slightly more healthy squad to pick from going into this one.
At the back there’s still a few issues, but it’s not all bad news. Schar, Manquillo and Lascelles are all out and Yedlin is a doubt, but with Clark, Dummett and Ritchie all back, we have plenty solid options at the back.
At centre-back, I think Lejeune needs to be eased back in and protected after being overplayed over the festive period, so a back three of Fernandez, Clark and Dummett.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce played Ritchie at right wing-back, however Emil Krafth could well come in. After all, I’m not sure why we signed him if he can’t get a game even when Manquillo and Yedlin are out injured!
Willems looks likely to come back in at left wing-back, while Hayden and Sean Longstaff seem nailed on to start in midfield with Shelvey set to miss out again with a hamstring injury.
In attack, Atsu’s lively display at Rochdale could’ve earned him a start – especially if Bruce decides to take Joelinton out of the firing line.
That said, I can see a fit again Andy Carroll leading the line, with Joelinton and Almiron either side of the big man.
Preferred NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka – Ritchie, Fernandez, Clark, Dummett, Willems – Hayden, S.Longstaff – Almiron, Joelinton – Carroll.
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolves side:
Adama Traore –
Raul Jimenez – The Mexican striker was outstanding last season and is continuing to score and assist this term. He’s a handful, surprisingly quick for his height and has been involved in 14 Premier League goals already this season.
Adama Traore – Wolves’ most improved player this season and an unstoppable force on current form. We all know about his pace, power and dribbling ability, but his final ball has improved considerably, with him bagging 5 goals and 7 assists in all comps.
Matt Doherty – We’ll no doubt double up on Traore down Wolves’ right-hand side, but marauding wing-back Matty Doherty is another one to watch. His late runs into the box hurt us last season and he’s scored 5 goals already this term.
Predicted Wolves XI – (3-4-3) Patricio – Coady, Saiss, Bennett – Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny – Traore, Jimenez, Neto.
Where to start – although this time there’s plenty good news!
Almiron, Carroll, Ritchie, Dummett, Willems, Clark and Gayle are all available after returning to training this week, but the game will come too soon Allan Saint-Maximin.
Schar, Manquillo, Shelvey, Lascelles, Muto and Ki have been ruled out by Bruce, while Yedlin is a doubt with a ‘sore knee’.
For the hosts, Diogo Jota is out because of a dead leg suffered in a New Year’s Day defeat to Watford.
Willy Boly will miss out once again – the man who scored a controversial last gasp equaliser against us in our 1-1 draw at Molineux last season.
I think we’ll respond after three straight league defeats and a bad draw at Rochdale, but fear that anything other than our A-game will lead to a loss here.
I don’t see it being a high scoring game and believe we’ll show more solidarity and organisation at the back, however our ability to hurt teams in attack without ASM and with Joelinton remains questionable.
Hoping for a shock win or hard fought draw, but fear they’ll have a bit too much for us and win narrowly.
Prediction: Wolves 1-0 Newcastle