Wolves will be looking to take a big step towards reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League when they welcome Slovan Bratislava to Molineux.
The UEFA Europa League resumes this week with Matchday 4 of the 2019-20 season. Arsenal have already been in action early this week, taking the field on Wednesday, but one of the other two Premier League teams, Wolves will be involved on Thursday, when they play hosts to Slovan Bratislava to Molineux.
Wolves have recovered from a narrow defeat to Braga in the opening matchday to propel themselves up to second in the Group K standings, just a point adrift of their only conquerors so far. The results have generally been improving as well, with Nuno Espirito Santo’s men being beaten just one in their last 10 games in all competitions.
Slovan Bratislava, on the other hand, are placed third in Group K of the UEFA Europa League, just two points behind their hosts on Thursday. Back home, the visitors have been in incredible form, having been defeated just once in their 14 league games thus far, a run which has seen them being perched atop the Slovak Super Liga table.
The reverse fixture, played in Bratislava on Matchday 3, saw Wolves come from a goal down to beat Slovan 2-1, courtesy goals from Romain Saiss and Raul Jimenez. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Nuno Espirito Santo does not have any fresh injury concerns to deal with ahead of his side’s latest Europa League fixture. Against Slovan Bratislava on Thursday, the Wolves manager will be without just two first-team players due to fitness issues.
Chief among the sidelined players is Willy Boly, who is on the recovery trail after having his fractured ankle surgically repaired. Morgan Gibbs-White is the other injury-enforced absentee, with the midfielder nursing a back injury. But, the good news is that Ryan Bennett is available after shrugging off a groin complaint.
Bennett should return to a strong starting lineup, joining Wolves captain Conor Coady and Romain Saiss in the back-three that will protect Rui Patricio. Matt Doherty is expected to be picked as well, as he does not seem to be showing the ill effects of the knock he picked on the knee against Arsenal last weekend.
Doherty will reprise the right wing-back role for Wolves, with Ruben Vinagre expected to line up on the opposite flank. Bennett’s return means Leander Dendoncker will be deployed in the midfield, where he will be joined by Joao Moutinho with Ruben Neves likely to be rested.
Dendoncker will play the holding midfield role, with Moutinho in charge of driving Wolves forward. Meanwhile, there is one final absentee for the hosts, with Diogo Jota suspended after being sent off against Slovan Bratislava in the reverse fixture. In his stead, Pedro Neto will start on the left side of the Wolves attack, with Raul Jimenez leading the line and Adama Traore on the opposite flank.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Saiss; Doherty, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Vinagre; Traore, Jimenez, Neto
Jan Kozak has a few pressing issues to contend with ahead of the trip to the Midlands in England to take on Wolves. On Thursday, the Slovan Bratislava boss is set to be without four first-team players, with Moha being the major absentee for the visitors.
The 26-year-old picked up a leg injury while in action against FK Senica in the league this past weekend and will play no part against Wolves. In his stead, Dejan Drazic should start on the left side of the Slovan Bratislava attack.
Slovan Bratislava top scorer Andraz Sporar, who netted in the reverse fixture against Wolves, will likely lead the line for the visitors after being rested on the weekend. On the right flank, Erik Daniel is a certain starter, with David Holman expected to replace Nono in the hole.
Joeri de Kamps was given a bit of a breather against Senica and is expected to return to the team as the holding midfielder, with Ibrahim Rabiu providing the forward thrust from the middle of the park. At the back, Mitch Apau is the only absentee, with Jurij Medvedev set to start in his stead again.
Slovan Bratislava captain Vasil Bozhikov will start at the heart of the visitors’ defence once again, with Myenty Abena being his partner. Vernon De Marco will reprise the left-back role, replacing Artem Sukhotsky, with Dominik Greif taking his place in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Greif; Medvedev, Abena, Bozhikov, De Marco; Rabiu, de Kamps; Daniel, Holman, Drazic; Sporar
- Wolves beat Slovan Bratislava 2-1 in the reverse fixture in Slovakia, coming from behind to win a game in major European competition for the first time since September 1973 (2-1 vs Belenenses).
- Slovan Bratislava have lost all three of their away games against English opponents in European competition by an aggregate score of 18-3. This is their first such match since a 2-0 loss at Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in September 1997.
- Wolves are looking to win three consecutive games in major European competition for the first time since winning their opening six in the 1971-72 UEFA Cup campaign – a season that saw them reach the final of the competition.
- Slovan Bratislava have won just one of their 15 Europa League group stage games (D2 L12), beating Besiktas 4-2 on Matchday one this season.
- Slovan Bratislava’s Andraz Sporar (4 goals, 1 assist) has been involved in more goals than any other player in the Europa League this season, including netting the opener in their reverse fixture against Wolves.
Player to Watch
Midfield will hold the key in what is expected to be a another tight game between Wolves and Slovan Bratislava on Thursday. And so, the exploits of Joao Moutinho will be crucial, with the Portuguese veteran being in charge of driving the hosts forward from the middle of the park.
Providing a different dynamic to Wolves’ build-up play, Moutinho will need to be at his creative best so as to ensure his side is in control all throughout. His delivery from set-pieces will be pivotal as well, with Wolves being one of the most prolific teams from set-piece situations.
Wolves 2-0 Slovan Bratislava
Wolves have made it a habit to be involved in close games this season, something that has also been seen in their Europa League campaign. But, the focus on Thursday will be on being more resolute at the back, in a throwback to their efforts last term.
This outlook ought to build a solid base for Wolves to be comfortable against a tricky Slovan Bratislava side, which should pave the way for a rather comfortable win. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for Nuno Espirito Santo & co. in a result that puts them on the cusp of securing a place in the Round of 32.