Nuno Espirito Santo

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Wolves boss praises Jota, Jimenez, prefers not to focus on Europa

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Nuno Espirito Santo has Wolves on the brink of seventh place, but is bristling at the notion that it will lift his promoted side in the Europa League at the first try.

The Wolves manager, buoyed by Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez, saw his side get a measure of vengeance by beating Watford 2-1 at Vicarage Road on Saturday to move four points clear of the pack in the race for seventh.

[ RECAP: Watford 1-2 Wolves ]

Now things would be different if Wolves had defeated Watford in the FA Cup semifinal and not required such vengeance. As it stands, Watford could beat Man City in the final and render seventh moot when it comes to the UEL.

Still, most expect Man City to handle its business at Wembley. Most. From the BBC:

“Maybe I’m the only one in the country that knows that seventh position doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s not about finishing as high as possible, but it’s about finishing as well as possible.”

“We don’t have to think about Europe. Nothing is decided and nothing is 100 percent sure. It’s Fulham in our last home game. Let’s give Molineux something.”

Wolves are back on their game after some hiccups following the semifinal setback, beating Arsenal and now Watford. But that’s actually not too far off from their season-long habit of looking like a Top Four contender against the big teams and slipping up a bit when the lights are a bit lower.

One man who’s been consistently strong is Mexican striker Raul Jimenez, who scored his 13th league goal and 17th in all competitions in the win. He also has eight assists on the season, one which gave Wolves little choice but to exercise the option to buy him from Benfica.

Still, Nuno wants more.

“Raul Jimenez has to improve himself,” he said. “The team will improve. As long as we keep together then we will become a better team.”

Diogo Jota also scored and set-up Jimenez for his marker. Jota to Jimenez is the second-top scorer-assist pairing in the league to Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser cueing up Callum Wilson.

“Jota and Jimenez have been working really hard,” said Nuno. “I truly believe the more time they spend together the more good things will happen.”

Wolves finish home to Fulham and away to Liverpool.

PL Preview: Manchester Derby, Wolves-Arsenal

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All Premier League clubs will have played 35 matches this season following the conclusion of two beautiful Wednesday outings in England.

[ MORE: Watford draws Saints ]


Manchester United v. Manchester City — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer poked the bear, and got a response.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, Solskjaer claimed Man City “will snap at your ankles and heels and kick you” upon giving up the ball to opponents ready to counterattack.

City boss Pep Guardiola was not pleased with the comments. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I don’t like it. I don’t like it. No. My team is not built to think and create for that, not at all,” he said, later adding, “Maybe tomorrow in the press conference after the game you can ask him again about that.”

Solskjaer is hoping he won’t spend a second successive post-match ruminating over a grievous loss, as he did following a 4-0 beatdown from Everton on Sunday.

And if responding to its UEFA Champions League exit with a Saturday win over Tottenham Hotspur was satisfying for Guardiola, imagine how revved up he’ll be to reclaim hold on the Premier League crown while completing a season sweep of its local rivals for the first time since 2013-14.

City beat United 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season, and is looking to avoid its first league loss at Old Trafford in four tries.

Wolves v. Arsenal — 2:45 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Unai Emery‘s Arsenal heads to the Molineux Stadium hoping its away support is better than the perceived harsh treatment handed to his Gunners in a 3-2 home loss to Crystal Palace on Sunday.

“I say to our supporters, ‘Help our players.’ Because I want every player to have big confidence,” Emery said. “I know there are reactions, and the first reaction is strong. First, when we win they are telling us we are the best, we have a record, we have a possibility to be third in the table – that is good.”

Arsenal would move into the Top Four with a win, but Nuno Espirito Santo‘s Wolves are fighting for a place in Europe themselves. That’s true on two fronts, though it must be said they could have sewn up seventh place with better play in recent weeks.

Wolves have claimed just five of their last 15 available points, including a draw with Brighton and losses to Burnley and Southampton. Even one more win would have them seventh heading into Tuesday.

“There’s no reference to the table, the reference is to grow, to improve game by game,” said Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo. “Every game is a chance to improve. We have a fantastic opportunity to become a better team, trying new things, but at the same time trying to make players grow on the idea that we want regarding the future. This is what we focus on until the end, there’s no thinking about the summer or next season, it’s a game by game process.”

Premier League Preview: Wolves v. Leicester City

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  • Foxes beat Wolves 2-0 in August
  • Both teams within a win of 7th
  • Wolves lead all-time 41W-33D-37L

Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City are both capable of the sublime and the miserable, and meet Saturday at the Molineux with Top Seven positioning on the line (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Wolves have lost to Crystal Palace and Man City since their controlling 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur to close out 2018. They also boast a win over Chelsea and a draw with Arsenal… and a loss at Cardiff.

Leicester has lost to both Saints and Cardiff at home, but those disappointments are sandwiched around an away win over Everton.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

And to boot: Wolves are a lower half team in terms of home performance, while Leicester is a Top Six side away from King Power Stadium.

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What they’re saying

Wolves’ Nuno Espirito Santo on the season: “What gives us the heart is that we are trying to build something together, not just from now. Last season we didn’t look at the table and we were in the Championship. Now we are in the Premier League why would we change?”

Leicester City boss Claude Puel on Jamie Vardy dressing as Spiderman at training“We need a super-hero I think. We all know about Jamie – I am not surprised it was him. He dressed up and it was a good laugh and freshness. … I appreciate it a lot, it is good – Spider-man was a great feeling. It’s important like Spider-man we keep concentration and focus, and keep a good atmosphere between us and around us. It is important to find a smile. Football is a game and we need to enjoy training sessions and games.”

Prediction

After all that, you want us to predict two very unpredictable sides? Fine. 1-1, with Raul Jimenez and Jamie Vardy trading strikes. So go ahead and bet on 4-2, Wolves.

Premier League Preview: Wolves vs. Liverpool

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  • Wolves on three-match PL win streak
  • Away team has won 4 of 5 since 2010
  • Liverpool leads all-time 49W-17D-35L

Liverpool heads to the Molineux Stadium for the first time since 2012 when it puts its undefeated Premier League season on the line against Wolves on Friday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Wolves can go sixth with a win, and it would be the latest impressive result for Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men. They’ve beaten Chelsea, and drawn against Spurs, Man City, and Manchester United.

Not only that, but Wolves are 1-0 all-time against Jurgen Klopp, upsetting the Reds at Anfield in the fourth round of the 2016-17 FA Cup.

Both teams are much better now, and Liverpool will be heavy favorites to take three points on Friday due to an advantage in defense.

What they’re saying

Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren on an unbeaten season“Hopefully we can be unbeaten until the end of the season. That is why we came to Liverpool. Arsenal did it before so why not?”

Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo on facing Liverpool: “They are on top of the league, that says a lot. We’re going to face one of the best teams in Europe at the moment, but we look forward to it. We will require a lot, it’s a big challenge against a fantastic team, with fantastic players and a fantastic manager. What a game.”

Prediction

Wolves get themselves a goal, but so do the Reds. Both keep unbeaten runs alive in a 1-1 draw.

Wolves not getting ahead of themselves: ‘There are no targets’

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For a long time, Wolverhampton Wanderers were serial Top Four contenders in England’s top flight, only to participate in just five Premier League seasons since 1984.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-1 Wolves ]

This is that fifth campaign, and Wolves look a more like the former than the latter. Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are now seventh on the Premier League table after extending their unbeaten league run to six matches with a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace.

Wolves have also drawn both Manchester City and Manchester United this season, a lone loss coming in the second match of the campaign at Leicester City (the side who also handed them a League Cup ouster).

Still, Nuno isn’t trying to get ahead of himself. From the BBC:

“We go game by game – now it is the international break, players can go to their teams, enjoy it and and play some good football. We will work with other aspects of the squad and we go game by game – there are no targets.”

No targets, sure. But the boss gives himself a way a little bit when he talks about the performance of his squad.

“I look at the situation before,” he said. “The base of team was here last season, so everyone knows their tasks. All the squad know their tasks, and with other options for sure the response would be good as well.”

Watford and Brighton are next before a pair of North London opponents in Spurs and Arsenal. A pair of wins before those encounters would surely have Wolves reassessing their targets.