Preview: Wolves v Newcastle – seventh heaven?
It's back to league action for Wolves who take on Newcastle United at Molineux.
Wolves correspondent Tim Spiers previews the clash.
With three months and two days of the Premier League season remaining, Wolves could barely have set better foundations for the long run-in.
Seventh in the table – or top of ‘the rest of the league’ behind the usual big six – Nuno Espirito Santo’s team have a chance to again pull four points clear of eighth-placed Watford with victory over Newcastle on Monday night.
They’ve been trading places with the likes of Everton, Leicester and West Ham in recent weeks, but victory over the Magpies will see them open up an eight-point gap over the Toffees, with a game in hand.
That’s due to a fantastic run of form which has seen them beat the aforementioned trio of teams, as well as progress to the FA Cup fifth round.
With the majority of players enjoying somewhere near their best form of the season in a formation and an XI that seems set in stone, the only glaring pitfalls ahead for Nuno’s team would appear to be a glut of injuries/loss of form, or complacency.
Tomorrow night they'll also have to be wary of an improving Newcastle team who, despite Rafa Benitez's suggestions to the contrary, will surely be hell-bent on revenge after losing 2-1 to Wolves at the start of December.
Matt Doherty scored a last-ditch stoppage time winner at St James' Park and Benitez launched into a VAR tirade after DeAndre Yedlin was sent off.
Newcastle recently beat Manchester City and Cardiff in successive home games and only narrowly went down 1-0 to Spurs at Wembley last weekend.
They'll be organised and they'll be hard to break down. Patience could be the key for Nuno's men.
Diogo Jota missed last week's FA Cup win over Shrewsbury after picking up a knock against Everton, but Nuno told the club's official website on Friday that all his players were fully fit and enjoying their warm-weather training in Marbella. The squad returned to England on Sunday afternoon.
For Newcastle, Jonjo Shelvey avoids what would undoubtedly be a hostile Molineux reception through injury, but only he and keeper Rob Elliot are out.
Mo Diame, Ki Sung-Yueng and Paul Dummett have all been passed fit after recent knocks, while forward Yoshinori Muto is back from the Asian Cup.
Benitez must decide whether to blood new signings Miguel Almiron – a £20million buy from Atlanta United which finally broke the club's 14-year transfer record for signing Michael Owen in 2005 – and Monaco loanee left-back Antonio Barreca.
Likely line ups
Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Neves, Moutinho, Dendoncker, Otto; Jimenez, Jota. Subs: Ruddy, Saiss, Vinagre, Gibbs-White, Costa, Cavaleiro, Traore.
Newcastle (5-4-1): Dubravka; Yedlin, Lascelles, Schar, Lejuene, Barreca; Perez, Longstaff, Ki, Ritchie; Rondon.
Wolves – Leander Dendoncker
In a congested midfield Leander Dendoncker, who produced eight tackles against Everton, will look to dominate and break forward regularly. He's been a revelation in recent weeks and freed up creative duo Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho
Newcastle – Salomon Rondon
The Albion loanee has netted seven times in 20 games for the struggling Magpies. The Venezualan was Newcastle’s stand-out player against Wolves in December, hitting the bar and also setting up their equaliser. A striker who relishes the physical battle and knows where the net is.
Nuno Espirito Santo: "You can see by their last performances, Newcastle are very organised, very compact, and with good players. It’s going to be a very, very tough game. It’s going to demand a lot from us."
Rafa Benitez: "Wolves are doing well. If you see the players that they have – they have champions of Europe, internationals and players who could play at any level in their team."
Feb 5: Wolves 3 (Doherty 2, 45+6, Cavaleiro 62) Shrewsbury Town 2 (Bolton 11, Laurent 39) *FA Cup
Feb 2: Everton 1 (Gomes 27) Wolves 3 (Neves pen 7, Jimenez 45, Dendoncker 66)
Jan 29: Wolves 3 (Saiss 66, Jimenez 80, 86) West Ham United 0
Jan 26: Shrewsbury Town 2 (Docherty 46, Waterfall 72) Wolves 2 (Jimenez 75, Doherty 90+3) *FA Cup
Jan 19: Wolves 4 (Jota 4, 64, 90+3, Bennett 12) Leicester City 3 (Gray 47, Coady OG 51, Morgan 87)
Feb 2: Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Son Heung-Min 83) Newcastle 0
Jan 29: Newcastle 2 (Rondon 66, Ritchie pen 80) Manchester City 1 (Aguero 1)
Jan 19: Newcastle 3 (Schar 24, 63, Perez 90+3) Cardiff City 0
Jan 15: Blackburn Rovers 2 (Armstrong 33, Lenihan 45+1) Newcastle 4 (Longstaff 1, Roberts 22, Joselu 105+3, Perez 106) *FA Cup, aet
Jan 12: Chelsea 2 (Pedro 9, Willian 57) Newcastle 1 (Clark 40)
Past five meetings
Dec 9, 2018 (PL): Newcastle 1 (Perez 23) Wolves 2 (Jota 17, Doherty 90)
Feb 11, 2017 (Ch): Wolves 0 Newcastle 1 (Mitrovic 44)
Sep 20, 2016 (EFL Cup): Newcastle 2 (Ritchie 29, Gouffran 31) Wolves 0
Sep 17, 2016 (Ch): Newcastle 0 Wolves 2 (Mbemba OG 29), Costa 62)
Feb 25, 2012 (PL): Newcastle 2 (Cisse 6, Gutierrez 18) Wolves 2 (Jarvis 50, Doyle 66)
Graham Scott (Oxfordshire)
Just 46 yellows in 18 games this season for one of the Premier League's more lenient referees, who takes charge of a Wolves game for the first time since December 2016 (a 2-0 win at Nottm Forest).
Wolves 8/11, draw 13/5, Newcastle 9/2