Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 7/10
European club competitions of the 2019/20 season resume this week after a five-month break, and Wolverhampton Wanderers are set to welcome Olympiacos to the Molineux stadium on Thursday in the second leg of their Europa League round of 16 tie. The first leg, played on March 12th in Athens, ended in a 1-1 draw with Youssef El Arabi giving the Greek side the lead in the 54th minute only to see it cancelled out by Pedro Neto’s equalizer 13 minutes later.
The Premier League campaign ended in a disappointing fashion for Wolves. They lost 2-0 away to Chelsea in the final round and finished in seventh place, which meant they had to hope for a Chelsea triumph in the final of the FA Cup last week to be able to play in the Europa League next season again. However, ninth-place Arsenal took the trophy and that place for themselves, and Wolves can now compete in Europe next season only if they win the Europa League this summer and book a place in the Champions League.
But in order to be able to even think about taking that path, they have to dispose of Olympiacos first. The away goal from the first leg puts them in good stead in that aspect, but they’ll need to keep their defence water-tight to prevent the visitors from getting an away goal too.
Looking at their last six games in all competitions, all of them being Premier League matches played in July, Wolves’ form is far from great. They won twice, drew once and lost three times. This would be a very good time for Nuno Espirito Santo’s team to start changing that around.
With the Portuguese tactician preferring three players in his back line and being in need of a solid defensive performance, he’s likely to employ a 3-5-2 shape which should see captain Conor Coady joined by Willy Boly and Romain Saiss in that line. Joao Moutinho should return to the starting XI alongside Ruben Neves and Leander Dendoncker in the middle of the park, flanked by wing-backs Matt Doherty and Jonny Otto. Diogo Jota is likely to get the nod to pair up with Raul Jimenez upfront, which would mean Adama Traore, Neto and Daniel Podence all starting on the bench.
Olympiacos started their European campaign in the Champions League and finished third in their group, behind Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur, and only Red Star Belgrade looked up on them from the bottom of the table. They were consequently transferred into the Europa League, where they shocked Arsenal to go through the round of 32.
Their domestic season was certainly successful. In a 14-team system, they finished top of the pile and went into the so-called Championship playoffs, where they achieved the same result and are now the champions of Greece for the 45th time.
Their form over the last six matches is very good – four wins, one draw and one defeat, but with the difference in quality between their opponents and those of Wolves, it shouldn’t mean much here.
Coach Pedro Martins won’t be able to call upon defender Ruben Semedo, who was sent off early in the first leg and is now suspended. Senegal international Pape Abou Cisse came in to fill the gap in that game and is likely to start in Semedo’s place at the Molineux.
Knockout stages of all football competitions can be unpredictable, as Arsenal fans will tell you. Surprises are always around the corner, and you can never be certain of the team to go through, but with all due respect to Olympiacos, it’s very likely that their European journey for the 2019/20 season ends on Thursday.
Wolves are simply team of higher quality, and they’ll be eager to prove that to their supporters who will be watching, not from the stands, but on their TV screens.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 7/10