WOLVES host Espanyol in the first leg of their Europa League Last 32 fixture on Thursday. Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) analyses the odds.
Wolves v Espanyol | Thursday 20th February 2020, 20:00 | BT Sport
Wolves’ European adventure continues as they host Espanyol on Thursday night, and there are a number of interesting angles to consider coming up against La Liga’s bottom club.
The Europa League has offered Espanyol a welcome break from their struggles in Spain as they topped Group H, easing past Ludogorets, Ferencvaros and CSKA Moscow, only conceding four goals in the process.
Coming up against Premier League high-flyers Wolves, it will be a much tougher test for the Barcelona club, however their domestic form has begun to pick up in recent weeks, coinciding with Abelardo’s appointment as head coach, as well as the arrival of striker Raul de Tomas in January, who has now netted four goals in four games.
La Liga woes
Domestically, goals have been a problem for Espanyol, only scoring 21 goals all season at an Expected Goals (xG) output of 24.90, and with de Tomas an injury doubt after missing the 2-2 draw with Sevilla on the weekend, goals again could be an issue for the Budgies.
Lining up 4-2-3-1 last time out, Espanyol looked to sit deep and hit Sevilla on the counter, and they frustrated Julen Lopetegui’s side for long periods before Victor Sanchez’s red card 20 minutes from time when 2-1 up, put the Budgies under a barrage of pressure and they were unable to hold out.
With the pace of Wolves in behind the Espanyol defence, I would expect to see them look to sit deep once again, and try and utilise the counter, and crucial to this will be ex-West Ham striker Jonathan Calleri up front, who’s hold up play against Sevilla allowed the onrushing attackers to link the play.
However, coming up against Connor Coady, in particular in Wolves’ back three, he risks being isolated, and with the covering work of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho in front, it could be a long evening for the Spanish side’s defence.
Adama Traore should be raring to go, whilst Nuno Espirito Santo may be tempted to hand a start to Daniel Podence or Pedro Neto on the opposite flank. These are ready-made replacements for Wolves’ wingers, and will be keen to cause problems for Espanyol’s backline, who could be left exposed if attackers don’t track back.
Suso was able to cause problems throughout down Espanyol’s left side on Sunday, so Traore will be looking to do the same, all be it a contrasting style to Suso as an inverted winger.
Cards are no stranger to the full backs up against Traore as Ben Chilwell found out on Friday, and the left back for Espanyol will either be Didac Vila or Adria Pedrosa, and Pedrosa’s price at 4/1 (Bet365) is one to keep in mind when the line-ups are announced.
Getting in behind the Espanyol backline will be crucial to Wolves’ hopes and is indicative of their playing style, especially with Raul Jimenez to pick out in the middle, and it was his wastefulness in front of goal that cost them the three points against 10-man Leicester.
Wolves will look to control possession, which has been a theme in Europa League games compared to their Premier League clashes, where possession increases from 48.2% to 53.4%, and a dominant Old Gold should have enough creativity to break down a side that has conceded 42 goals domestically.
The betting angles
Despite the investment in January for Espanyol, they are still struggling to find the back of the net without de Tomas, so whether hit fitness will have a huge bearing on the game.
I do think Wolves pose a strong enough threat to break down La Liga’s bottom side, and as ever, are well equipped defensively to cope with their threat. Priced at 11/10, I’d be looking at Wolves to win and Under 3.5 Goals in the game, especially when considering some of the cagey first legs in Europe we are used to seeing.
Considering the wide threat as ever from Wolves, and deep backline they will be up against, they should expect to rack up the corners, much like against Leicester last Friday when pressing on.
With Espanyol also expected to sit back, and damage limitation potentially playing a part rather than looking to press on and chase given the two-legged nature of the game, I’d expect Wolves to have the most corners comfortably.