In pretty much the closest thing to a Midlands derby you’re going to find in the Premier League these days, Nuno Espirito Santo brings his Wolves team to Leicester. They face a side who have, for the third season in a row, played in, and lost, the Premier League’s opening game.
Both of these sides have been active in the transfer market, with Wolves adding almost an entire new team including Portuguese internationals Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio. Leicester, who seem to have wrung every drop out of the defence that took them to a league title in 2016, focused on sprucing up their back line, adding two centre-backs on deadline day along with the acquisition of Jonny Evans from West Brom.
Both teams are still looking for their first win of the season. Granted, after a single weekend that can’t be considered a full-blown crisis, but they still won’t want to be waiting much longer. Wolves played 50 minutes of their opener against Everton with a man advantage, but needed a late goal to secure a draw. Leicester gave away a penalty after three minutes at Old Trafford, and in the end to only lose 2-1 against Manchester United was a blessing.
There is a sense of urgency here for at least one manager. While Espirito Santo can probably ride last season’s promotion for most of this season, his counterpart will know that it took just five games of last season for City to fire Craig Shakespeare. A home game against a side who on paper are inferior to the Foxes, this is a game Leicester should be capable of winning. To lose or draw would do nothing to ease the pressure.
Leicester City vs Wolverhampton Wanderers Prediction: Leicester City 2-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
When Leicester won the league, a major part of their power was that the same back five played almost every match, and they knew each other’s movements innately. These days, we can be sure Kasper Schmeichel and Harry Maguire will start, but the rest of it is pretty much a confused shrug. In the absence of that old certainty, the formerly resolute defence has become leaky. The failure to replace N’Golo Kante hasn’t helped.
There’s no doubt the Foxes can still score goals, but keeping them out is a whole different ball game. It’s the same story for Wolves; Moutinho, Ruben Neves and Raul Jimenez will create and finish off chances, but a relatively uninspiring defence is liable to leave Rui Patricio exposed. This will probably make for an entertaining 90 minutes here, and a high-scoring draw, but if you’re either manager you’d probably settle for a boring game and three points. [150-200 words].
Our recommended tip: More than 3.5 goals
A look at Leicester City’s front line is certainly intriguing. The ever-reliable Jamie Vardy keeps banging goals in even when the side is out of form, and with Riyad Mahrez gone there is now the chance for Demarai Gray to grow into his role. James Maddison, too, looked thrilling at Old Trafford. As we’ve mentioned, though, the defence is lacking both stability and stars, Maguire aside. New signings such as Evans may make a difference, but they lack playing time up to this point.
On the Wolves side of things, a skilful midfield is sure to create openings for Jimenez, Jota and others further forward. The defence, however, has had only minor surgery since Wolves were in the Championship, and you can tell. Backing more than 3.5 goals seems like a no-brainer here, as both teams are rather too top-heavy at the moment to keep any game as tight as they would like to.
These sides have done an impressive job of avoiding one another over the years – Wolves gaining promotion to the Premier League as City get relegated, and vice versa, while both have spent time separately in League One. The last time they were in the same division was in 2012/13, when both played in the Championship.
Although Leicester finished in the playoff spots that season, and Wolves were relegated, the matches between the sides were even. First time out, at Molineux, the home side took a 2-0 lead through Ebanks-Blake and Stearman. A rare Konchesky goal for the Blues narrowed the margin, but Wolves were able to see it out to win 2-1.
Later in the campaign, it was Leicester who would win 2-1. Goals from Anthony Knockaert and David Nugent bookended one for Bakary Sako. Although both sides will be much-changed for this reunion more than five years on, it’s worth noting names such as Vardy, Schmeichel and Morgan on the Leicester team sheet from that day. They’ve been on quite a journey since.
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Players to watch: Jamie Vardy & Ruben Neves
If it seems obvious to pick Vardy from the Leicester line-up, consider this: in a Leicester City team that scored a modest 56 goals last season, he bagged 20. That’s more than one in every three goals his team scored, and despite having just 27 minutes on the field last week at Old Trafford, he was among the goals again.
At the end of last week he signed a four-year contract extension, which will keep him in the East Midlands until he is 35. That’s how much he means to the club, and a decent showing from him here could be pivotal for a team that seems to be lacking confidence.
For Wolves, the players who have arrived this summer will no doubt be the major focal points for media attention, but the player who made them tick last week and for most of last season is Ruben Neves. He arrived at Molineux last summer as a 20-year-old, having already played in the Champions League for Porto, a side he captained.
Neves scored one of Wolves’ goals last week, and laid the other on for Jimenez. While Joao Moutinho may be the bigger name, Neves’ all-action style of play will be perhaps more important – especially in the frantic opening weeks of a season like this.