Well, here we go again. It’s been a while, but it has been sorely missed. There’s only one game that can make a Wolves fan feel physically sick for the majority of the week leading up to it; the Black Country Derby.
Saturday lunch time sees a game against West Bromwich Albion for the first time in nine years (don’t even go there). It was the first fixture to look out for when the fixtures were announced and at the start of the season, you would be forgiven for thinking this was a season where Wolves could dominate their rivals. But with both teams in identically turbulent form, with 3 losses and two draws in their last five games, the stakes could not be higher.
What a frustrating night Tuesday was, with Wolves falling to a 77th minute header to give Everton victory. The performance wasn’t as bad as Wolves Twitter might have you believe, but it was a performance that typifies the current state of affairs at Molineux.
The night started with an injury riddled side being pummelled again with the blow that Adama Traore was not in the squad. Seemingly cramp had quickly transformed into a hamstring problem.
A further surprise saw Morgan Gibbs-White return to the starting line-up and throughout the game he adopted a false nine role. Gibbs-White looked decent in his time on the field, but without match fitness and being unfamiliar with the role given to him, it was never going to be easy.
We know all too well about the lack of fire power that Wolves currently possess. Without Jimenez this was always going to be an issue. Fabio Silva has struggled to adapt to being the focal point of the Wolves attack, and he looked timid again on Tuesday.
Everton knew the major attacking weapon that Wolves possessed was Pedro Neto, who was circled by a myriad of defenders throughout the evening. It was all too easy for Everton to stifle Wolves, and would have been a promising sight for Big Sam. He would have also been thrilled to see a Wolves back line struggle to defend set pieces and crosses into the box.
On a positive note, defensive vulnerabilities aside, Nelson Semedo and Rayan Ait-Nouri both looked promising going forward, and if they can maintain an attacking threat, they could help Wolves’ fortunes going forward. Ruben Neves was a bright spark on Tuesday, capping a dominant midfield display with a goal. Dendoncker again brought a solidity to the middle of the park and the only thing missing to his game is his finishing touch in front of goal. Wolves should in theory win the midfield battle on Saturday, however this is not where the game will be won or lost.
West Bromwich Albion make the short trip to Molineux looking to get their first win under Sam Allardyce. Their last and only league win came in November against bottom team Sheffield United. Since then, they have lost five games and drawn two, conceding twenty-one goals along the way. This looks quite bleak for our rivals, but they do have the ability to grind out a result, as emphasised in away ties with Manchester City and Liverpool. As well as their vulnerable defence, they too have issues in front of goal, scoring only six goals in their last fourteen matches. They will most likely come with a plan to frustrate Wolves, soak up pressure and nick a goal from a dead ball scenario when possible.
New signing Robert Snodgrass will have been brought in to execute this exact plan, and he could make his debut on Saturday.
A bonus for Wolves will be that Connor Gallagher, who has been promising throughout his loan spell, misses out due to suspension. Matheus Pereira always poses a threat for the visitors; as does the towering Semi Ajayi, who has taken on the mantle of being the main goal scoring threat for West Brom and will no doubt be a target for the deliveries of Snodgrass.
It is probably easier to predict the next time you will be able to go to the pub than it is to pick a Wolves starting eleven at the moment. Of course, injuries will mean there will be no Jimenez, Jonny, Marcal, Podence and Boly. Wolves fans will be praying to the Hamstring Gods that Adama Traore will be fit come Saturday. If he is fit, he could be the difference in causing huge issues for the Baggies backline, as well as freeing up Pedro Neto to work some magic of his own. As much as some of the fanbase may want to see the passionate pasta merchant given a chance, Nuno seems to be sticking with his man Silva for the time being, and I wouldn’t expect Saturday to be any different.
Nuno finds himself in a Catch 22 situation; address the defensive frailties by reverting to the tried and tested three at the back or; take a leaf out of the ‘how to defeat West Bromwich Albion’ play-book of Leeds and Aston Villa, go all-out attack with four at the back and four attacking options. The fitness of Traore will determine this which could work to the advantage of Wolves in terms of being unpredictable going into the game.
You don’t need me to tell you how important this fixture is. Wolves have won just one of the past eight meetings with West Bromwich Albion in all competitions and this feels like a pivotal moment in the season. It’s not even worth thinking about what a loss could do. With a win, not only will Wolves players write themselves into club history, they could give themselves the impetus to turn this wretched season around and give a downbeat fanbase something to smile about once more.
Please Wolves. Please.
Predicted 11- who knows?
Desired 11- Patricio, Coady, Saiss, Ait-Nouri, Semedo, Neves, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Neto, Traore, Silva.