Tottenham Hotspur last played Wolverhampton in mid-December, post-Pochettino but before Spurs were without their two best offensive weapons. It was a happier time. Lucas Moura opened the scoring at the Molineux after just 8 minutes, only for Adama Traore to find the equalizer midway through the second half. But it was Jan Vertonghen — Super Jan — who was the hero on the day, thumping home a header off of a cross in the 91st minute and giving Spurs a 2-1 win and an important three points away from home.
In many ways, not much has changed about Wolverhampton in the two months since Spurs last played them. They are still a dangerous team with a formidable attack, spearheaded by Traore, Diego Jota, and Raul Jiminez. Wolves have cooled off a little from the unbeaten streak that Spurs broke in mid-December — they’ve taken just nine points from their last 24, a stretch that includes two narrow losses to Liverpool but scoreless draws against Leicester and at United.
They’re eighth in the table, one point behind Spurs, and a real threat for top four, much less top five. Statistically they’re seventh in the league in xG, and fifth in xGA, well above Spurs in both metrics, and with the added bonus that they’re slightly underperforming in both categories. They take more shots per game than Spurs, and concede fewer. They also have the added bonus of not missing their two best offensive weapons.
Despite that Wolves are still slight underdogs for Sunday’s match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and I’m not sure why. If you’re a league rival competing with Spurs for a Champions League position, you must be looking at Tottenham’s performances the past two weeks and licking your chops. In the two matches since Son Heung-Min was injured, Spurs have failed to score (their only goal being a Chelsea OG) and have been outshot 33-17. The Chelsea match with its ultra defensive tactics may be an outlier, but there hasn’t been a whole lot to be happy about if you’re a Spurs fan, and Tottenham are welcoming another dangerous team to their ground for an important match. At least they’ll have the crowd on their side.
How will Tottenham line up against Wolves?
Mourinho’s tactics since Son Heung-Min went down has been negative, but in some ways pragmatic. The idea against RB Leipzig was to defend at all costs and play on the counterattack for the first 60 minutes, try and keep the scoreline low, and then bring on the half-fit pressbreakers and attempt a smash-and-grab. The idea against Chelsea appeared to be to park the bus and play for a 0-0 draw. Neither worked.
The hope is that Mourinho can use this past week, a rare one without a mid-week fixture, to rest some key players and work on tactics against Wolves, including who’s going to generate the offense and how they’ll do so. It seems unlikely that we should expect swashbuckling football on Sunday, but it’d be nice if someone could find a way to put the ball in the back of the ol’ onion bag, right?
The broad strokes of the lineup against Wolves seem pretty easy to suss out. It’s tempting to wonder if Mourinho will switch to a back three to combat Nuno’s 3-4-3 formation, but doing so would require removing an attacker, and frankly Spurs need all the attacking firepower they can get.
Consequently, I expect Mourinho will attempt to get his best offensive players onto the pitch at the same time, and that probably means a fluid front three of Steven Bergwijn, Dele, and Lucas Moura. Another possibility is to push Giovani Lo Celso into the attacking band into a wide position as he was against Chelsea, but it feels like he’s more effective centrally and it’s not clear who would make way in that situation.
It would be lovely if Tanguy Ndombele can shake off being kicked for 65 minutes and put in another start alongside Harry Winks in central midfield, especially since he’s a natural foil for Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves.
Defensively, the injury to Ryan Sessegnon likely means that Ben Davies will retain his position in the starting lineup at left back, especially after a full week with no matches. It’s possible that Japhet Tanganga could play as a rotation option for either this match or the FA Cup 5th round match against Norwich, but the odds are Davies will just play both. Serge Aurier is likewise a lock at right back, and I’d expect to see a CB pairing of Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez.
That’s my predicted lineup for Tottenham Hotspur against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday. What’s yours?