Wolverhampton-Crystal Palace Preview
Nuno Espirito Santo is facing his first true crisis since building Wolverhampton into a credible Premier League side as the slumping Wolves again seek their first league win Sunday when they face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Wolverhampton (0-3-2) confounded everyone last season as a well-drilled promoted side, reaching the FA Cup semifinals and finishing seventh in the table - which awarded them a spot in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League. Wolves made the most of that spot, spending the summer advancing to the group stage proper, but in recent weeks, the check has come due for all those extra matches as Nuno's team have dropped three on the trot.
The last defeat was a 1-0 loss to Portuguese side Sporting Braga at Molineux on Thursday, spoiling their return to European football after a 38-year absence. Wolves appeared in control most of the match - one that could have been played in Lisbon it featured so many Portugal-born players - but a sloppy pass by Ryan Bennett resulted in a Braga counter that ended with Ricardo Horta scoring the lone goal in the 71st minute.
"The reality is we're not performing well," Nuno told The Times. "We have to analyse and see what's wrong with the team. We started well. We have to come strong on Sunday [away to Crystal Palace] and react immediately."
Wolverhampton's travails have a slightly similar theme to Burnley from last season, with the big difference being Wolves have at least five more group matches remaining to fix their problems while the Clarets were stopped one round short of where the Midlands club are now. But the Thursday-Sunday grind left a toll on Sean Dyche's side that resulted in Burnley on the cusp of a fatiguing relegation scrap most of the 2018-19 term.
That is where Wolves could find themselves if they are not careful. They were torn apart at home by Chelsea 5-2 in their last league match, sorely missing suspended defender Willy Boly. The Ivorian is all but certain to return to the starting XI after serving his red-card ban to rejoin fellow backliners Bennett and Connor Coady after Real Madrid loanee Jesus Vallejo failed to impress.
"It's a massive test, playing Thursday and Sunday every week. We're a small squad but everyone is raring to go," midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White told the club's official website. "It's taken its toll and we're tired, but we're still working hard and still ready to go for the next game on Sunday. We always believe - we go again Sunday and hopefully we can get the victory at Palace."
Crystal Palace (2-1-2) have yet to find consistency on a match-to-match basis in the early going. A side that stole a late win at Old Trafford and played Everton to a scoreless draw among their first four matches looked more like a Sunday pub team playing kickaround in the first half of last weekend's 4-0 debacle against Tottenham Hotspur on Sept. 14.
The match was done and dusted in the first 23 minutes as Heung-Min Son bracketed an own goal by Palace defender Patrick Van Aanholt. Even on a disappointing day, keeper Vincent Guaita still did plenty of quality work in the final 45 minutes to prevent a more embarrassing scoreline as Palace were emphatically denied a third straight league victory.
"You need to correct a lot of things from this game what was bad. This is a top side, this team," midfielder Luka Milivojevic told Palace's official website. "They've played three or four seasons in a row in the Champions League, they finish in the top four. It's a top side but the next game, the next week will be a different game. We're going to try to prepare for it in a different way and try to correct some things from this game.
"We need to put this game behind us, try to take the positives and of course to prepare for the next two games at home which are very important for us."
If there was a positive to be gleaned from the defeat, it was centre back Mamadou Sakho playing the full 90 minutes for the first time this term. Sakho was held out of the first three matches while finishing his recovery from a knee injury suffered in February and had a late runout before the international break versus Aston Villa.
The first top-flight meetings between the club last season saw the road team victorious on both occasions. Wolves posted a 1-0 victory at Selhurst Park, with Matt Doherty's goal on 56 minutes separating the sides.
Updated September 20, 2019