Two of the Premier League’s surprise early runners meet at Molineux, with one of the two clearly on form and the other starting to lose their shine a little. Watford’s start to the season has tailed off, and although they will continue to present a challenge to bigger teams, their recent trend may be more a sign of a reversion to type than a temporary blip. Wolves, meanwhile, have lost just once since the start of the season, and given that they have faced both Manchester clubs and Everton, that’s a strong showing.
All eyes will be on the team sheets to see if Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo fields the same starting line-up for a ninth consecutive league game. Given that they are unbeaten in six games – unheard of, for a newly-promoted side – there’s no reason to expect he’ll try to fix what isn’t broken, which means pacy left-back Adama Traore will likely again be used as a counter-attacking option late on.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Watford Prediction: Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 Watford
After taking twelve points from their first four games, Watford seem to have been assailed by an attack of vertigo, with Javi Gracia’s side having taken just one point in their last four. Granted, their opponents recently have included Manchester United and Arsenal, but they’ll be furious that their last home outing saw them thrashed 4-0 by Bournemouth, no matter how good Eddie Howe’s men have been this season. Wolves, for their part, have controlled games and kept things tight at the back, winning their last two without conceding; they could well make it three from three.
Our recommended tip: Under 2.5 goals
Some teams you watch and think “when they click, they’re going to really hammer someone”. Wolves are not that kind of side – they’re going to have a very good season, but all-out carnage isn’t their thing. With a possession-based game and a hugely disciplined back three, they’re going to win a lot of games 1-0 and 2-0. At odds of ⅘, or 1.80, for this game to have fewer than 2.5 goals, we’d feel pretty confident that Nuno’s team will keep their opponents scoreless, but we don’t see them going mad at the other end even in the absence of suspended Hornets defender Christian Kabasele.
These sides haven’t faced off much recently, with Watford embarking on a fourth-consecutive Premier League season while Wolves have been Championship also-rans for much of the corresponding period. Last time they did meet was in the second tier at Molineux in March 2015. On the day, the sides played out a 2-2 draw. Wolves led twice, through Benik Afobe and Jack Price, but were pegged back by Matej Vydra and Troy Deeney respectively. Deeney and Craig Cathcart of Watford, and Matt Doherty of Wolves, are the only players involved that day who are likely to appear here.
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Players to watch: Raul Jimenez & Abdoulaye Doucoure
Jimenez, on loan from Benfica, is one of the comparatively small number of new players to break into Wolves’ Championship-winning side of last season, and he’s the man around whom most of the side’s attacking endeavours revolve. Leading the side in goals (2) and assists (3), he’s not a player who will bang in a hat-trick – but he’ll work tired defenders until they make a mistake, and is more than capable of exploiting any such errors.
Doucoure’s central midfield partnership with fellow Frenchman Etienne Capoue makes that area of the field one of Watford’s strongest units, and the skilful pairing are both highly versatile players. Almost an ever-present last season, Doucoure chipped in with seven goals from the middle of the park, and he’s also strong in the tackle. Up against Joao Moutinho, he’ll need to be on his game to give the visitors any chance here.