WOLVES travel to Espanyol in the second leg of their Europa League Last 32 fixture on Thursday. Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) analyses the odds.
Espanyol v Wolves | Thursday 27th February 2020, 17:55 | BT Sport
Wolves head to Spain with a healthy advantage in the Last 32 of the Europa League after their impressive 4-0 win in the first leg over Espanyol, and Nuno Espirito Santo will be expecting nothing less than qualification against La Liga’s bottom side.
Nuno could ring the changes for the trip to Spain given the lead, and there was little to suggest that any changes would have a detrimental impact on the Old Gold’s qualification hopes, with Espanyol struggling to gain a foothold and create chances at Molineux.
A trip to Tottenham on Sunday will certainly be factored in, and the likes of Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto could be given the chance to impress, and a much-needed rest for Raul Jimenez and the in-form Diogo Jota handed out. The lack of striking options in central areas is a concern, but this could lead to a makeshift shape, particularly after they fielded a 3-5-2 formation against Norwich at the weekend.
Espanyol looked toothless in attack without January signing Raul de Tomas, and he is a doubt once again. Sergio Gonzalez has the tough balancing act of whether to actually target victory in this clash, or give his struggling side a rest and fringe players an opportunity to impress, given their perilous nature in La Liga.
Compounded by a defeat to Real Valladolid at the weekend, which saw Espanyol reduced to 10 men for the second league game running, the Budgies now sit five points from safety, and have a tough task at home to Atletico Madrid on Sunday, with the domestic contest potentially taking priority.
The unknowns on how Espanyol will attack this match do make it a tough one to unpick, but from a tactical perspective, I expect to see Wolves sit off and invite on the Espanyol press, something they did in the first leg. Their advantage means they don’t need to look to push forward.
Wolves are also safe in the knowledge that an away goal would mean Espanyol require six, so Nuno’s side will look to attack on the break and utilise the counter-attacking talents and pace on the break of Neto, Podence, and in particular, wing back Ruben Vinagre, who is returning from injury.
Without an Espanyol goal early on, it could easily take the shape of a friendly match, and it would be no surprise to see the referee show a high level of leniency in this one given the nature of the game. Therefore, either avoiding cards, or considering the unders markets, which are unfortunately not price at time of writing, could work.
The betting angle
The main betting angle that tempts me comes in the shape of the Wolves rotation up top, and in particular the chance that will be handed to youngster Pedro Neto.
An eye for goal, he’s notched twice in the Premier League this season, and as he builds his confidence, he will either start on the wing, or in a central attacking role, and be one of the main outlets of the Wolves attack.
The sample size of the attacker finishing 90 minutes and starting games isn’t great, and I would argue, although the statistics aren’t fantastic and do go a long way to explaining the odds, it is the perfect opportunity for the Portuguese attacker to impress.
With Jota and Jimenez potentially rested, another player will need to take up the attacking responsibility up front, and Espanyol themselves could rotate defensively, making them particularly vulnerable, and considering they already concede over 12 shots per-game in La Liga, opportunities could arise for the Wolves attackers.
Priced at 11/8 (Coral), I would be looking at Neto to have two or more shots as the main standout selection in a game that is otherwise hard to eek anything out of, given the potential dead-rubber nature.
Espanyol v Wolves – Pedro Neto to have 2+ shots (11/8 Coral)