Nuno Espirito Santo's Wolverhampton Wanderers are demonstrating that they are no one-season wonder with their displays lately. The West Midlands outfit stunned the league during the last campaign when they finished seventh in the table despite just being promoted. However, if there were still any doubts in the minds of football fans over their long-term credentials, they have proven them wrong.
Despite starting their season back in July and playing more than 40 games already, Wolves sit sixth in the league. They have accumulated 42 points up until now and are just three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Interestingly, Santo's team just need to win six of their remaining 10 matches in the league to better their points tally from the previous season.
As we head into the business end of the season, we take a look at how the Midlands outfit has fared recently as well as their remaining fixtures to predict their chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season.
Playing 40 games across the season takes its toll on a team and its players. However, Wolves are showing no signs of fatigue so far and are on their way to record a better points total than last year while simultaneously mounting a European challenge.
Nuno's men have been in good form recently as well and beat Tottenham Hotspur away from home in their last match. They have remained unbeaten in their last four matches and have lost just three times in their last ten. During this period, they have gained points from their encounters against Spurs, Manchester United, Leicester City, and Manchester City.
Their form in other competitions has been slightly more inconsistent. They did beat Espanyol 4-0 in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first-leg recently but were beaten in the return leg. Furthermore, they also exited the FA Cup following a 1-0 loss to Manchester United in January.
As per Premier League's Fixture Difficulty Ranking, Wolves have the easiest run-in of all the teams vying for the Champions League spot. The West Midlands outfit has an average fixture difficulty of 2.7 out of 5 for their final 10 games, the same number as Chelsea.
Furthermore, Santo's team will go up against four of the bottom-half sides in their next four matches. Starting with Brighton & Hove Albion at home, Wolves will travel to West Ham United before taking on Bournemouth at the Molineux. Matchday 32 will see them take on Aston Villa before their fixture list finally starts throwing some of the tougher teams at them.
In the final six-game weeks of the season, Wolves will face five sides currently vying for a European spot. They will meet Arsenal, Sheffield United, Everton, and Burnely in four back-to-back matches before hosting out-of-form Crystal Palace at home. The final day of the campaign will see them face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a fixture which may decide both teams' European qualification.
Wolves were unbeaten in eight out of the 10 reverse fixtures earlier this season, winning three and drawing five. While their record may provide them with some confidence, they will be boosted by the fact that they only have to face four in-form sides - Arsenal, Burnley, Sheffield United, and Everton. The other six have been stuck in a downward spiral of late, something that Nuno's men will be encouraged by.
Wolves have one huge advantage going into the business end of the campaign, their fixture list. Santo's men have the easiest run-in of all the teams challenging for a UEFA Champions League spot, barring Chelsea. However, unlike the Blues, they are in good shape with almost the entire squad fit at the moment.
Furthermore, they have good form going into the latter end of the season, having recently won two matches on the bounce. They are also unbeaten in the league in four, despite facing Manchester United, Leicester City, and Tottenham during this period.
The biggest challenge for Santo, however, will be to manage his squad between the Premier League and the UEFA Europa League. The Portuguese football coach has kept his squad short, using just 22 senior players across all competitions so far, and is expected to rely upon the senior figures even more in the deep end of the season.
While the Wolves squad has remained injury-free for most of the campaign, the fatigue from playing over 42 games could finally catch up to them. The Midlands outfit will play at least twelve more times in two competitions with the number potentially rising to seventeen.
Overall, Wolves may find it difficult to squeeze into the UEFA Champions League spots before the end of the season. However, given the form of the teams around them, as well as Manchester City's current European ban, they just might stand a chance.Published 03 Mar 2020, 17:36 IST