Wolves v Norwich
Sunday 23 February, 14:00
Wolves fans enjoying the good times
If ever you wanted a moment that summed up Wolves' current success under their Chinese owners, it was Ruben Neves' stunning strike in Thursday's Europa League win over Espanyol. When Wolves were drifting in the Championship, not many fans would have imagined a player of Neves' quality joining the club, let alone scoring a magnificent goal in a 4-0 win in a European knockout match. Not everyone may be entirely sold on super-agent Jorge Mendes' involvement in club affairs, but an excellent squad has been put together, and popular manager Nuno Espirito Santo continues to impress in word and deed.
As many clubs have found, the challenge is to balance the demands of European and domestic football. Nuno has taken the UEL incredibly seriously, and yet has kept WWFC in contention for another European qualification through the Premier League. However, a current slump is threatening to derail efforts to finish in the top six. Wolves have won just one of their last seven Premier League matches, and at Molineux they have won just one of the last five.
It doesn't help that Nuno's men keep falling behind in games. They have trailed in nine of their last 11 top-flight matches. They haven't led at half-time in a Premier League match since the first week of December, and that was at home to West Ham, who are one of the worst teams in the division.
Wolves have no fresh injury concerns, and Nuno isn't expected to make wholesale changes from the win over Espanyol. Diogo Jota will hope to start after netting a hat-trick on Thursday.
Norwich swimming against the tide
There are few managers in English football who seem more reasonable and level-headed than Daniel Farke. He admits that Norwich can't financially compete with their Premier League rivals, but says he is more interested in working for a club that has great unity than he is in chasing titles or transfer funds. On the other hand, Norwich have been consistent in their backing of the German coach, even though the Canaries have been regular residents in the dropzone.
Nine of Norwich's 16 Premier League defeats have been by a margin of two goals or more, but interestingly only one of those heavy losses have been suffered since November 8, and 14 goals have been leaked in the last ten top-flight matches (1.4 per match), compared to 34 in the first 16 (2.12 per match.) Norwich are seven points adrift of safety, but they have only lost three of their last seven top-flight games, and they pushed Liverpool hard in a 1-0 defeat at Carrow Road last weekend.
Sam Byram has been ruled out of the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on a hamstring problem, while Farke has to make a decision on the fitness of creative spark Emi Buendia. Defender Timm Klose is still unavailable.
Wolves a touch too short?
Norwich's away record is poor, with just two points collected from the last six matches away from Carrow Road. However, they have tightened up defensively, and Wolves do tend to suffer Europa League hangovers. They have collected just 12 points from the ten PL games they have played straight after Europa League matches this season, and that's understandable when you consider that Nuno fields such strong teams in that competition.
On that basis, I'm struggling to get excited about backing Wolves here at 1.574/7. You could lay them across the 90 minutes, or lay them in the Half Time market at 2.0421/20, as Wolves are such slow starters.
No mayhem at Molineux
Wolves may be a little drained by Thursday's efforts, and while Norwich have battened down the hatches defensively, they still don't score enough goals. The Canaries haven't scored multiple goals in a Premier League match since the turn of the year.
Under 2.5 Goals is odds-against here at 2.021/1, and that's the way I'm heading. That bet has paid out in four of Norwich's last six league games, and seven of Wolves' last ten games that have followed a Europa League match.
Alternatively, you could back No in the Both Teams To Score market at 1.9210/11, which has paid out in six of Wolves' last ten games, and five of Norwich's last ten.