Will Wolves’ clash with Newcastle be decided by a Belgian utility man?
Molineux plays host to yet another game under the lights later tonight as Wolves host Newcastle United in the Black Country. In 2019, Wolves have lost only once at home and that came at the very turn of the year when Crystal Palace played Nuno Espirito Santo’s side off the park. Since then, Wolves have beaten Liverpool, Leicester City, West Ham and Shrewsbury Town in all competitions, scoring 12 goals in the process.
Rafa Benitez’ Newcastle side have only avoided defeat once on the road in 2019. That came against Championship side Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup, a game they eventually won 4-2 after extra time. In fact, Newcastle’s away form in the Premier League isn’t that promising at all, with just two wins from a possible 12. Rather interestingly, Newcastle have lost five on the road thus far, the same number that Wolves have lost at home.
Be that as it may, since Wolves switched from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2, they’ve only lost to Manchester City. Even then, that result has an asterisk next to it as Willy Boly was sent off early in the first half. All things considered, despite the statistics pointing towards a home win, there’s not that much difference between the two sides this calendar year.
Recently, the most comparable game that Newcastle have played was at Vicarage Road against Watford just before 2019 arrived, so after looking at 2019 so far, we’ll see how Newcastle broke the deadlock in that one.
Five games in
In the opening five Premier League games of 2019, you can see that Wolves have an xG of 6.74 to Newcastle’s 4.71. Benitez’s side have scored six goals so far this year, so they’re batting at 1.29 above where they should be.
On the other hand, Wolves are dwarfing their xG by 3.26, hitting 10 goals in five league games. In reality, it’s 10 goals in three league games after Wolves’ strikeforce drew blanks against Crystal Palace and Manchester City.
Secondly, if we look at expected goals against (xGA), again, there’s not a great deal in it. If truth be told, from game two Newcastle had the better record and it was only their away game against Spurs last weekend which put them above Wolves.
Newcastle’s 8.64 xGA is higher than Wolves’ 7.80, but there’s not an awful lot in it. Compared to their actual goals conceded though, Newcastle have fared better. Their six conceded is 2.64 better than their xGA, whereas Wolves have let in 1.2 more than their xGA. Wolves conceded eight in their first three games of the year, although only one has been shipped in their last two. On the contrary, Newcastle are rather steady with how many they concede per game.
Concluding this part, Wolves have an xG of 1.348 and an xGA of 1.56 per game, whereas Newcastle have an xG of 0.942 and an xGA of 1.728. So, technically speaking, both sides shouldn’t be doing as well as they are this year.
A tight game awaits
So, adding Wolves’ xG + Newcastle’s xGA and dividing it by two, Wolves should be scoring 1.538. The away side, according to the 2019 averages, will score 1.251. Despite Wolves’ strong last three games, the visitors side will not allow Nuno’s side nearly as much room as Leicester, West Ham or Everton.
Deep completions barely separate the sides
In case you’ve missed this before, deep completions are passes that are made within 20 yards of the goal that are not crosses. Newcastle didn’t complete a single one last week at Spurs and Wolves achieved a similar feat at the Etihad when they completed only one. Overall, Wolves and Newcastle are totally level pegging when we look at the deep completions from this year.
When it comes to opposing deep completions, it’s also difficult to split Wolves and Newcastle. See below.
Only three deep completions by the opposition are the difference. All in all, before moving onto the Watford vs Newcastle game, a close game with both teams waiting for the other to make the first move could well be on the cards.
It looked like much the same at St James’ Park when the two sides met earlier in the campaign. However, an early Diogo Jota goal opened it up as a contest and if DeAndre Yedlin hadn’t got sent off midway through the second half, it could’ve well ended up as a draw. All the stats point to a narrow Wolves win or a score draw.
A new dawn?
Miguel Almiron’s arrival on Tyneside has understandably got the Toon Army excited. After all, it is the first time they’ve broken their transfer record in what seems to be an absolute eternity. Leaving Almiron alone for now, Salomon Rondon is obviously the danger man that Newcastle have, and some would say rely on. His goal against Watford was that of a typical striker.
Christian Atsu breaks away from Will Hughes, plays the ball out to Matt Ritchie who whips it into the awaiting Rondon to head home. With Wolves having an extra centre-back over Watford, perhaps Rondon wouldn’t have such free reign in the penalty area.
All the same, Nuno’s side are not adverse to conceding goals from crosses as you only have to look at their dreadful record from conceding from set pieces. This was magnified somewhat yet again against Shrewsbury in the midweek FA Cup replay as Salop equalised via a corner. Rui Patricio’s understudy, John Ruddy, remained static on his line for the second time in quick succession against Sam Ricketts’ side.
It’s not fair to attribute all of the blame to Ruddy as Rui’s command of the box isn’t the greatest either. We’ve got the how Newcastle can score, now it’s time for the when Newcastle can score.
Midway sticking point
Of the goals that Wolves have conceded in the Premier League this season, 62% have come in the middle third of either the first or second half. To put that into context, Newcastle have conceded 24% in the same time frame.
The problem may well have been fixed by Nuno though, as only one of the nine goals Wolves have shipped in 2019 have come in that time frame. Interesting, indeed.
Finding a way
There’s no secret that Wolves have struggled against teams fighting for their lives, more so than any other collective group of teams this season. Losses against Huddersfield, Crystal Palace and Cardiff amongst others illustrate this.
This will be the first test against a side battling for their lives with the 3-5-2 and Leander Dendoncker in place. The question is, will the Belgian utility man prove to be the difference? We shall have to wait and see.
There is nothing at all from a Wolves point of view to report apart from Jota reportedly missing training in the latter part of last week. Nuno said in his press conference that he has a full squad to choose from so the chances are it’ll be the same XI that won impressively at Goodison Park.
Benitez knows what he’s got to pick from, and the only major decision for the Spaniard is whether or not to start Almiron or not. It’d be incredibly harsh to drop Rondon and with it being tough to see Benitez opting for two up top, the Paraguayan will have to wait his turn off the subs bench.
From what we’ve looked at above, this will likely end up 2-1 to Wolves, a score draw or 1-0 to Newcastle. That’s looking at it objectively. Looking at it from the fact Wolves have scored 10 goals in their last three league games, if Wolves score early and bring Newcastle out of their shell, Wolves could hit at least three for the fourth league game in a row.
Let’s stick to the facts: Wolves 2-1 Newcastle.
Until the next time.
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