It was good to hear Julen Lopetegui talking about the hard work required over the summer.
Outgoings are inevitable but I am concerned that the favourable points return since the manager’s arrival might translate to minimal recruitment.
The 1.5 points per game average we’ve achieved in the Lopetegui era would place us comfortably in the top half if extrapolated over a full season, but I think we all know that pleasing statistic masks what has been a long hard slog to safety.
None of our victories, with the possible exception of Liverpool, have been achieved with comfort and in between the good results we’ve seen some awful performances.
It needs to be foot to the floor again between now and August so the squad is battle ready from minute one next time.
We’ve taken care of our business and can enjoy this one, but Utd have come unstuck lately and Liverpool’s resurgence means they badly need to pocket a result.
Fortunately for them, three of their remaining games are at Old Trafford, which has reclaimed fortress status under Erik ten Hag. They’ve dominated there in all competitions and won 12 of 16 in the league, with just that single loss to Brighton right at the start blotching their record.
It’s their away form dragging them back with two defeats to Brighton and West Ham coming after they surrendered a two-goal lead to Tottenham. Winning just one of those games would have made a top-four finish close to inevitable.
Injuries and suspensions have at times pinched a thin-looking squad and it’s likely some of their better players are feeling the strain coming down the home stretch.
The goals aren’t flowing quite as freely for Marcus Rashford these days but the 29 he’s got in all competitions still makes for an exceptional season.
He came off the bench to win the reverse fixture at Molineux earlier in the season with a goal that showcased his capabilities but was way too soft from a Wolves perspective.
Will Julen stick with the team that’s delivered the goods or use these final games to give others a chance?
We certainly don’t want a repeat of the Brighton game so best to start with the tried and tested and go from there. The lop-sided 442 has worked nicely at home and given us good defensive shape but hasn’t yet translated to success on our travels.
Cunha was sacrificed at Brighton to get another body in the midfield, which has a certain logic, but that failed experiment must come into the manager’s thinking.
It’s certainly no coincidence that the players he’s marginalised lately – Ait-Nouri, Raul, Sarabia, Podence, and Jonny are all those that haven’t looked physically up to the challenge. Any or all of those players could leave in the summer.
The above XI plus Bueno, Collins, Gomes, Adama and Hwang seem to be the squad he’s relying on to see us home. I’m not sure what’s happened to Boubacar Traore? He was reportedly back in training a month ago and Lopetegui said he’d be a useful player, which he should be in this system.
Well done to Pauluswolf, vicsmith, Matt Cook and Sea Pigeon who all correctly predicted the winning scoreline against Villa.
Rich still holds a 4-point lead at the top of the overall table at the end of Gameweek 35.
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