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First team

Media view: Expert insight on Wolves

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be hoping for a change of fortunes on their travels when they face Premier League rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers tomorrow (6pm kick-off).

The Cherries, narrowly beaten by Liverpool in their last away game before lockdown, are still searching for their first point on the road in 2020.

Wolves, meanwhile, extended to six games their unbeaten run in the top flight when they triumphed 2-0 at West Ham on Saturday.

Raul Jimenez opened the scoring to set the record for the most goals by a Wolves player in a Premier League season, his 14th offering passing his total of 13 from 2018/19.

Substitute Pedro Neto doubled their lead as Wolves, playing their 49th game of a marathon season, strengthened their chances of qualifying for the Champions League.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s team started their campaign with a Europa League qualifier against Crusaders in July 2019 and are currently sixth in the Premier League.

Level on 46 points with fifth-placed Manchester United and two behind fourth-placed Chelsea – who they meet on the final day – Wolves have kept five clean sheets in their past six games in the top flight.

Ahead of the clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Tim Spiers, who covers the fortunes of Wolves for The Athletic.

afcb.co.uk: What was your assessment of Wolves’ display during their 2-0 win at West Ham on Saturday? 

TS: Efficient, clinical and professional. Wolves started the game playing 3-5-2 with Leander Dendoncker the extra man in midfield, picked ahead of Adama Traore.

They kept it pretty tight for the first hour, sporadically threatening via Diogo Jota, then sent Traore and Pedro Neto on after 60 minutes, stretched the play with 3-4-3 and two wingers and duly scored twice with Traore involved in both goals and Neto scoring the second.

It was a textbook away performance and sets them up perfectly for what looks a favourable run-in, especially after the majority of teams around them dropped points.

There is a palpable excitement amongst the Wolves fanbase that they can do something very special in the coming weeks, with Champions League qualification (via the league or perhaps via winning the Europa League) the dream.

afcb.co.uk: As West Ham are a relegation rival of AFC Bournemouth, give us your opinion on them?

TS: Organised at the back but limited going forward.

Wolves struggled to break them down for the first hour – the Hammers perhaps used the lack of a home crowd to their advantage and were content sitting deep for long spells.

However, they couldn't cope with Traore – he and Neto were the difference. I think they'll be able to grind out a few draws and scrappy 1-0s. Either way it won't be pretty.

afcb.co.uk: Did lockdown benefit Wolves with regards to any injured players now being fit?

TS: In the past two years, Wolves have had one of the best injury records in the country – it's a key part of their success and also no coincidence.

Their medical and sports science teams are exceptional with their modern techniques and attention to detail.

The break allowed Jonny Castro Otto and Morgan Gibbs-White to return to fitness.

Traore was really suffering with a recurring shoulder injury before lockdown (it popped out three times during matches in the space of a couple of months) but he looked fine at West Ham.

afcb.co.uk: Raul Jimenez set the record for the most goals scored by a Wolves player in a Premier League season on Saturday – how do you go about stopping him?

TS: The Mexican is just about Wolves' most indispensable player (and has yet to miss a league game since arriving in 2018).

Not only does he adeptly link their attacks with his unselfish play and tremendous work rate, he scores most of their goals too.

He's a complete centre forward. If you do manage to nullify his threat then there's Traore, Jota and Daniel Podence or Neto from the bench. 

afcb.co.uk: Aside from Jimenez, who has been Wolves’ standout performer this season?

TS: To be honest, they've all played their part.

The team would need strengthening if they wanted to become a top-four regular, but when you look at the XI there are no obvious weaknesses.

Willy Boly has been immense at the back (Wolves have only lost one game this season when he's been playing) as well as Conor Coady and Romain Saiss alongside him.

The midfield duo of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho provide intelligence and stability, as do Matt Doherty and Jonny Castro Otto as the wing-backs.

Then you've got fireworks from Traore and Diogo Jota. Traore has been a revelation, adding end product to his unique talent. 

afcb.co.uk: Would Champions League qualification come too soon for Wolves or are they equipped to cope with it?

TS: Of Saturday's starting XI, seven have featured in the Champions League before.

That European experience has helped them progress to the last 16 of the Europa League this season (and they fancy their chances of winning it) so, particularly with their ambitious and wealthy owners behind them, I don't see it as being too soon if they did qualify.

That's where the club wants to be, albeit their progress to date is ahead of schedule. Off the field, as you might imagine, the club needs to catch up with their rapid success on it.

afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction? 

TS: I'm sure Bournemouth will look to frustrate Wolves and we've seen examples of that working this season (just before lockdown, Brighton earned an incredibly dull 0-0 draw at Molineux).

However, looking at the way Wolves and the Cherries performed on Saturday, you'd have to favour a home win, albeit I'd expect that Bournemouth will show a reaction from the Palace defeat. I'll go 2-1 to Wolves.

You can follow Tim on Twitter – @TimSpiers 

Match officials: Michael Oliver (referee), Simon Bennett (assistant), Daniel Cook (assistant), Robert Jones (fourth official), Paul Tierney (VAR), Constantine Hatzidakis (assistant VAR), James Wilson (replacement official).

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