Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 19/20
Molineux will host only the second-ever Christmas Eve Premier League fixture on Sunday lunchtime, featuring a clash between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea in the West Midlands.
Wolves, managed by Gary O’Neil, suffered a disappointing 3-0 defeat to West Ham United in their recent Premier League encounter. Meanwhile, Chelsea returns to league action following their progression to the Carabao Cup semi-finals, having defeated Newcastle on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge in the previous round.
In the recent trip to West Ham, some Wolves fans might have anticipated a closely-contested top-flight clash but instead witnessed the outstanding performance of Lucas Paqueta at the London Stadium.
Paqueta, the brilliant Brazilian, achieved a rare feat, becoming only the second Brazilian player, after Roberto Firmino, to record three assists in a single Premier League game. His contributions included setting up two goals for Mohammed Kudus in the first half and assisting Jarrod Bowen, sealing a convincing victory for the Hammers.
O’Neil, a former West Ham player and current Wolves manager, expressed disappointment in his team’s “disastrous decision-making” that led to conceding three goals despite dominating possession with 56% and having 14 shots – one more than the Europa Conference League winners – but failing to convert chances effectively.
Wolves’ fourth consecutive away defeat placed them in the 13th position in the Premier League table before the final set of pre-Christmas fixtures. However, despite potential changes in rankings due to other teams’ results, Wolves currently maintain a relatively comfortable seven-point lead over Luton Town in the relegation zone, after the Hatters pulled a shock win over Newcastle.
While facing consistent challenges away from home, Wolves have displayed strength at Molineux, going undefeated in their last six Premier League home games, including victories against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. Additionally, the team has scored in 15 consecutive home games, showcasing their prowess in front of their own fans.
In the pre-game press conference, Gary O’Neil delivered encouraging news to Wolves supporters by announcing that Pedro Neto, who has been pivotal in providing assists for the team, has returned to full team training following a thigh injury. He is expected to be available for Sunday’s match, marking his first appearance since October 28. Despite his two-month absence, Neto remains among the Premier League’s assist leaders with seven, on par with Kieran Trippier and Mohamed Salah.
Additionally, Jose Sa, recovering from a shoulder issue, and Nelson Semedo, recuperating from an illness, are likely to be included in the squad.
However, Joe Hodge continues his recovery from a shoulder operation and is still unavailable for selection. Meanwhile, Jonny has been excluded from the first-team setup until at least the end of January due to a serious incident during a training session.
Before discussions about a renewed attempt at creating the European Super League arose, Chelsea, among several teams opposing the project, made significant progress toward domestic success in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals against a weakened Newcastle on Tuesday.
Callum Wilson’s remarkable individual effort seemed to be the decisive moment, but Mykhaylo Mudryk took advantage of a mistake by Kieran Trippier, leading to penalties. Trippier’s missed penalty, followed by Djordje Petrovic’s save from Matt Ritchie’s effort, secured Chelsea’s progression to a two-legged semi-final against Middlesbrough.
Mauricio Pochettino, still seeking his first team honor in English football, has been working on rejuvenating Chelsea’s performances. The team comfortably defeated Sheffield United 2-0 last weekend, positioning them in 10th place in the league standings.
Despite securing three successive away wins between October and November, Chelsea has recently suffered defeats in their last three away Premier League matches against Newcastle, Manchester United and Everton. However, Chelsea haven’t lost four consecutive away league matches since December 2000, when they ended the streak with a draw against Ipswich Town on Christmas Day that year.
Frank Lampard’s return to Molineux in April didn’t bring much joy as Chelsea succumbed to a 1-0 defeat, adding to their winless run at Wolves’ ground since 2019.
Chelsea continue to grapple with a string of injuries, affecting several key players. Reece James (hamstring), Wesley Fofana (knee), Carney Chukwuemeka (knee), Trevoh Chalobah (thigh), Marc Cucurella (ankle), Robert Sanchez (knee), and Ben Chilwell (thigh) remain sidelined.
Enzo Fernandez suffered a hernia during the win over Newcastle, ruling him out for the upcoming game. Levi Colwill was substituted at halftime due to fatigue but is expected to recover in time.
On a more positive note, Romeo Lavia (ankle), Lesley Ugochkwu (unspecified), and Noni Madueke (fitness) have returned to full training this week and might be available for selection.
Christopher Nkunku made his highly anticipated competitive debut for Chelsea in Tuesday’s Carabao Cup clash, and while a Premier League debut beckons for the Frenchman, manager Mauricio Pochettino may opt for a cautious approach regarding his involvement in the starting lineup.
Wolvers are typically a formidable force at Molineux, and under O’Neil, they should approach the game with confidence, particularly in extending their scoring streak against Chelsea, a team struggling defensively away from Stamford Bridge.
Yet, Wolves’ recent display against West Ham raised concerns about their performance. Despite Chelsea dealing with potential fatigue after the mid-week game, the Blues’ recent boost in confidence and the added threat posed by Nkunku might prove pivotal, potentially leading them to secure a victory and claim all three points.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 19/20
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