Ruben Vinagre

Three things learned: Tottenham v. Wolves

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LONDON — Wolves beat Tottenham 3-2 in north London on Sunday as Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side continued their surge up the Premier League table as they outclassed Jose Mourinho’s injury-hit Spurs and deserved the win which boosts their chances of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

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An end-to-end encounter saw Spurs take the lead early on through Steven Bergwijn who slammed home after Serge Aurier teed up Dele Alli but his show was saved by Rui Patricio. That opener sparked Wolves into life and they grabbed a deserved equalizer when Ruben Vinagre crossed for Matt Doherty to finish.

Spurs retook the lead before half time as Aurier rifled home a shot with his left foot which flew into the top corner but Wolves almost levelled at the start of the second half as Diogo Jota flicked a header just over. Dele Alli then headed inches wide as he spurned a glorious chance and moments later Wolves were level again. Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez and Doherty combined to set up Jota to tap home on the line.

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Jimenez then sealed the comeback and the win as he finished up a counter as Jota played him in and Mexico’s star striker finished with extreme composure to stun the home fans and secure a massive victory for Wolves as they move two points ahead of Spurs and are now just three points off the top four.

Here’s what we learned from a wild clash in north London on Sunday as Wolves and Tottenham put on a show.


WOLVES HAVE MOMENTUM IN TOP FOUR RACE

They have a small squad, played away in Spain in the Europa League on Thursday as they reached the last 16 and still they wouldn’t quit. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were dogged at Tottenham as they twice pinned the hosts back and dug deep to secure a huge win. With hefty challenges, rapid counter attacks and total commitment they kept their Champions League dreams well and truly alive and this game summed up everything that is great about this Wolves side. Jimenez and Traore ran themselves into the ground, while the in-form Jota was a brilliant pest and even when they coughed up goals their belief never wavered. Wolves went to Tottenham and grabbed a statement win which took them above Spurs in the table and kept their momentum going. Wolves have lost once in their last seven games, that was a narrow defeat against Liverpool, and they now face only one team who sit above them in the table in their final 10 games of the season. That is fourth-place Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, on the final day of the season. Wolves are three points off the top four and Chelsea can feel Wolves breathing down their necks.


3-4-3 NOT THE WAY FOR SPURS TO GO

It wasn’t pretty and the 3-4-3 system doesn’t really suit Tottenham. Given the absence of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son up top, Jose Mourinho keeps going back to it and although they had more of a cutting edge in attack they lacked defensive stability as strangely both Vertonghen and Alderweireld were left on the bench. Given their recent displays, what else could Mourinho do? Going forward Bergwijn, Lucas Moura, Goivani Lo Celso and Dele Alli can all operate centrally and combine in the final third, but it isn’t Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son in their prime when former boss Mauricio Pochettino preferred 3-4-3 in their title pushing seasons a few years ago. Dele Alli missed glorious chances and there was just no direction in the final third and no belief without Son and Kane. Defensively there is so much work to do as Mourinho abandoned any kind of formation late on and he doesn’t appear to have a plan with this group of players. Tottenham have now lost three games in a row in all competitions and they are in freefall. The negativity Mourinho is spreading about injuries is in the psyche of his team. This is not good, at all. Spurs look very unlikely to make the Champions League next season and Mourinho will have some big questions to answer, injuries aside.


JIMENEZ BACK IN FORM

Wolves’ Raul Jimenez has now scored 13 goals in 28 Premier League games this season. That is the same amount he scored in 38 games last season. Mexico’s star striker is having an even better season this time around and after a run of four goals in 11 games (a rough patch, for him!), Jimenez was back to his menacing best against Spurs. Early on he had a few loose touches but he managed to work his way into the game and he set up countless counter attacks to set up another second half comeback fro Wolves. Jimenez is a hero in Wolverhampton and Mexico and if he leads this side to the Champions League he will be able to shine on the biggest stage of all, which he truly deserves. In the last two seasons he’s scored 39 goals in all competitions, assisted 18 times and has become the highest-scoring Wolves player in the Premier League. His 13 Premier League goals this season have been worth 16 points to Wolves, the joint-most won thanks to a player’s goals alongside Sadio Mane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. That is why Jimenez is well on the way to becoming a Wolves legend.

PL Sunday preview: Wolves, Man United, Everton, Arsenal in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures promise to have a wide-range of action, as Wolves, Manchester United and Arsenal all take the field.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Norwich City  — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Gold and NBCSports.com

Wolverhampton Wanderers are heading into Sunday’s match against bottom dwellers Norwich City with fresh, positive inertia.

On Thursday, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men thumped Espanyol 4-0 in the knockout stages of the Europa League, giving Wolves a much-needed boost of confidence. The club, who has yet to win in Premier League play since January 18, ended a two-game streak without generating a goal against the Spanish side.

Wolves are the clear favorites heading into Molineux Stadium on Sunday. But on the other side stands a well-rested and hungry Norwich, who before going to winter break, showcased class and discipline against Liverpool in their last league showing.

Daniel Farke‘s side are eight points out of the safe zone but time is running out. The sense of urgency is at an all-season high for the Canaries, believers of their under-appreciated strengths.

“They (Wolves) are playing in Europe, they have kept three clean sheets, they have individual quality and it is a huge task,” Farke said. “But I don’t see any easy fixtures at this stage. It is about us. We always have a chance if we are good at our topics.

“People can write us off and say we have no chance to close the gap. But I don’t agree. It is possible.”

INJURIES: Wolves — OUT: Ruben Vinagre (hamstring) | Norwich — OUT: Timm Klose (knee), Sam Byram (hamstring)

Manchester United vs. Watford — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

History and data say Watford, who have never won a league game at Old Trafford, stand no chance against Manchester United on Sunday.

But if one victory inspired a mostly-lethargic Hornets this season under Nigel Pearson it was the 2-0 win over United at Vicarage Road. The second-to-last side went on a six-match unbeaten streak following the said victory. It brought the club back to life, lifting them out of the bottom three.

Watford have since faltered and dropped back below the red line, but Pearson promises to stick to his philosophical guns.

“We approach every game in a very similar way and that is to try and be as positive as we can,” he said. “We’ll go out there and we’ll do what we can to win the game, we’ve not changed our approach, it’s just that results sometimes change how people perceive things.”

United will certainly look different, as Odion Ighalo is expected to make his home debut against his former club following his arrival in earlier this month.

United, who stand in the seventh spot with 38 points, have a clear window of opportunity to surpass fifth-place Tottenham with a victory. Prior to Sunday’s match, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer addressed questions regarding consistency.

“It is team selection – you’ve got to maybe rotate in Europe like we’ve done, then maybe go back to what we were at Chelsea this week,” Gunnar Solskjaer said. “I feel that Bruno [Fernandes] and Odion [Ighalo] coming in will get more goals in the team. That’s been lacking. The games we’ve lost – West Ham, Burnley, Palace, Bournemouth – we’ve had chances but we haven’t scored goals.”

Perhaps Ighalo could finally contribute towards a win at Old Trafford with Watford jerseys on the field.

INJURIES: Manchester United — Paul Pogba (ankle), Axel Tuanzebe (thigh), Marcus Rashford (back) | Watford — OUT: Daryl Janmaat (knee), Tom Cleverley (match fitness)

Arsenal vs. Everton — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Subplots reign supreme ahead of Everton’s visit to the Emirates.

Mesut Ozil, who missed the Gunners’ 1-0 Europa League victory, and Andres Gomes, 16 weeks after an ankle dislocation and fracture, are both expected to return to action. Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti will meet for the first time after being linked to each other’s position before the start of the new year.

Perhaps the most significant one, however – at least to Everton – is that it’s been 24 years since the Toffees won at Arsenal. If they can pull it off this time around, the Liverpool-based side will be one step closer to the European dream.

“We have to be focused on Arsenal,” Ancelotti said. “Then there are very important games after. There’s [Manchester] United, Chelsea, Liverpool. After these four games, we can see what is going on for Europe.”

“This is a really important game against a strong team, away, but we have to have confidence to do our best and try to win. We’ve got 13 games to go and have got ourselves in a decent position,” he said. “It gives us the platform to have a decent season. I think we’ve done okay. We’ve had huge problems over six weeks and fair play to the squad for showing that resilience.”

Everton have picked up 17 points out the 24 possible under the Italian, while Arsenal have only experienced two wins under the Spaniard.

INJURIES: Arsenal — Cedric Soares (knee), Kieren Tierney (shoulder), Callum Chambers (knee), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (knee) | Everton — OUT: Jean-Phillipe Gbamin (thigh)

PL Preview: Wolves v. Leicester

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  • These 2 teams played to a 0-0 draw on the season’s opening day
  • 4 of Leicester City’s 6 losses this season have come on the road
  • Wolves have scored just 9 of their 35 goals in the 1st half of PL games

Leicester City has been eyeing second in the Premier League table for some time now.

With Man City on its February break, the Foxes can officially catch Pep Guardiola and take second place with victory on the road at Wolves on Friday, with kickoff set for 3 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

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Just two points back in third, Leicester City can overtake Man City should they top a Wolves squad licking its wounds. Thankfully for the hosts, the February break may have served to alleviate some of those injury concerns. Adama Traore suffered a double blow in the 0-0 draw with Manchester United before the hiatus, dislocating his shoulder and suffering a kick to the calf later that eventually forced him off. Thanks to the long break, Traore is expected to play some part in the match, even if he doesn’t start. If Traore begins on the bench, it could signal a first Premier League start for new signing Daniel Podence.

Leicester City will be without an impactful player as well, with Wilfred Ndidi likely to miss his second straight match, with Brendan Rodgers saying the Nigerian returned too quickly from a knee operation.

Injuries/suspensions

Wolves: OUT – Ruben Vinagre (thigh). QUESTIONABLE – Adama Traore (shoulder/calf).

Leicester City: OUT –  Nampalys Mendy (knee), Ryan Bennett (unable to face parent club), Daniel Amartey (ankle). QUESTIONABLE – Wilfried Ndidi (knee), Wes Morgan (illness), Matty James (Achilles).


Probable lineups

Wolves: Patricio; Jonny, Saiss, Coady, Boly, Doherty; Neves, Moutinho, Jota; Jimenez, Podence.

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Chilwell; Choudhury, Praet, Tielemans, Perez, Maddison; Vardy.


What they’re saying

Wolves defender Conor Coady on return of Willy Boly“He slotted straight back in and is a fantastic footballer. He is a brilliant person too to move forward in the team. You saw what he did on Saturday. He did exactly what he did before he got injured. He is a fantastic person to come back in. It’s not an easy game to come into either. He was brilliant and he does that every single game – you know what you are going to get from him. He has been a big miss since he has been injured, so to have him back is a huge thing for this football club.”

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers on Wolves: “It will be a tough test. They are well organized, they’ve been together for a few years. Nuno [Espírito Santo] has done a great job there. I’m looking forward to the challenge of it.”


Prediction

The possible absence of Traore and Ndidi take a bit of sting out of this game, and that could see this headed for another draw. Both teams would rue a loss far more than they would fear a draw, and that’s sometimes how these battles play out. It would be great for the Foxes to find themselves second in the table, and Wolves could jump all the way to fifth, but ultimately the point is the most valuable. It won’t be as dull as the season opener, but a 1-1 draw with some excitement at the end could ultimately play out between two teams proficient at scoring second-half goals.

Nuno proud of Wolves comeback; Hasenhuttl fumes at VAR

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It is safe to say that the managers of Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers had contrasting emotions after the dramatic 3-2 victory for the visitors at St Mary’s on Saturday.

Saints led 2-0 at half time but a stunning second half comeback, led by Mexico’s Raul Jimenez who scored twice, grabbed Wolves all three points.

With his squad banged up and missing Ruben Vinagre, Willy Boly and Diogo Jota among others, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo was beaming at the final whistle after a lengthy celebration with the Wolves fans in the away end.

“It was amazing, the second half,” Santo smiled. “They [the players] realized the first half was not good. They reacted very well. I am very proud of the players and I was proud even in the first half because I am very aware of how we were doing things. Let’s keep on going.”

As for Southampton’s perspective, Ralph Hasenhuttl was not a happy man.

But not because of how his team played. He was fuming at the officials and VAR due to the decision to award a penalty kick to Wolves for their second goal. Referee Darren England didn’t award a penalty kick as Jonny went down in the box under contact from Cedric and then Jack Stephens but VAR intervened and awarded the spot kick.

“For me it is absolutely not a clear wrong decision. I think the referee was right in that moment,” Hasenhuttl fumed. “Cedric was in front of him and it wasn’t a clear wrong decision, in my opinion. The referee was right. I don’t know why they overruled in that moment. I cannot understand it. I really can’t. Cedric was in front of the ball so he [Jonny] had no chance to get to the ball. You can give it, yes, but it is not a clear wrong. I heard that VAR was overruling when it is clearly wrong. For me, it was not clearly wrong. This is what I cannot understand.”

Cedric’s nudge on Jonny probably wasn’t a foul and although Stephens didn’t make contact, his challenge was reckless. Hasenhuttl is perhaps looking to detract a little of the attention away from his players who crumbled after leading 2-0.

In truth, that lead was flattering in a pretty even game that Wolves had dominated early, and although Southampton’s incredible run of form (six wins in nine PL games before this) is over, they are still six points above the relegation zone.

This was a big moment in the season for both teams. Had Saints won they’d have been level with Wolves but a massive comeback victory now propels Nuno’s boys up to sixth and in with a chance of a top four finish.

That will surely persuade their owners to spend money in the final days of the January transfer window as their tired and stretched squad will also have to cope with the latter stages of the Europa League in the coming months.

Edgy Liverpool beat Wolves

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Liverpool beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 on Sunday at Anfield but it was far from routine for the Premier League leaders.

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Amid VAR drama in the first half which saw Sadio Mane’s goal ruled legit by video technology then chalking off what looked like an equalizer from Wolves’ Neto, the game was tight and tense as Wolves spurned several decent chances in the second half.

With the win Liverpool are now 50 games unbeaten at home in the Premier League and they lead second-place Leicester City by 13 points and also have a game in hand. Wolves sit in seventh place on 30 points.


3 things we learned

1. Reds grind it out as PL title procession begins: Liverpool are just a winning machine. They have won 17-straight games at home, they are 50 unbeaten in the PL at Anfield and they have lost just one of their last 36 PL games and none this season. Klopp’s side have been workmanlike during many games this season and they’ve shaken off the tag as the great entertainers. They can still do that but they can also grind out wins with ease. That is why they are 13 points clear at the halfway point and why their title procession has already begun.

2. Wolves livid but VAR followed the rules: Nuno Espirito Santo was booked, Wolves’ players fell to their knees and fans watching across the globe vented their anger at VAR. But, under the current laws of the game, the video technology worked well. That will not be a popular opinion but after 24 hours which has seen so many tight offside calls chalking off goals, it happened agains as Neto looked to have equalized right on half time. A tweak to the offside law is needed by IFAB otherwise we will have these tight offside calls for the rest of the time we have VAR.

3. Memorable 2019 for Liverpool: They won their sixth European title and are runaway leaders in the Premier League. 2019 has been kind to Liverpool even if they were pipped to the 2018-19 title. Many thought Klopp’s side would be demoralized by losing out on the title by one point last season but they’ve been utterly dominant in the last 12 months, losing just once in the PL, winning the UCL and they look set to smash several records on their way to winning the PL this season.

Man of the Match: Neto – He was absolutely everywhere, scored a superb goal which was ruled out and gave Alexander-Arnold a torrid outing. Superb display from the Portuguese teenager.


Liverpool started brightly as Trent Alexander-Arnold had a shot from the edge of the box which was blocked, then his cross found Salah who slotted just over the bar.

Salah then had a shot bravely blocked as Liverpool had plenty of the ball but Wolves were a threat on the break.

The hosts continued to huff and puff as Mane caused problems and Roberto Firmino nodded wide, as Wolves’ defense was just about holding firm.

Right on half time Liverpool took the lead as Mane finished off a flick from Adam Lallana. However, the goal was initially ruled off for handball on the pitch but VAR was used to overturn the decision as Lallana flicked it on with his shoulder instead of his arm.

Wolves thought they had equalized right on half time but Neto’s goal was ruled out by VAR for a marginal offside in the build up by Jonny Otto, as the visitors were livid and the hosts delighted, as Liverpool led 1-0 at the break.

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Georginio Wijnaldum then had a header from a promising position deflected over as Liverpool started the second half well.

Wolves grew into the second half as Adama Traore came off the bench and Diogo Jota caught Virgil Van Dijk in possession but his shot was deflected wide as the hosts built up a head of steam.

As the game opened up Liverpool had plenty of chances to wrap it up on the break but Wolves dug deep to stay in the game as long as they could.

Substitute Raul Jimenez saw his effort deflected over by Joe Gomez as Liverpool were pinned back late on but Joao Moutinho, Romain Saiss and Ruben Vinagre all smashed over from good positions and Traore was denied by a superb block.