Wolves Are Heading To The Premier League With Big Ambitions

Wolverhampton Wanderers are on their way back to the Premier League, with Nuno Espirito Santo delivering promotion in his first year in English football. The Molineux outfit blitzed their way to the Championship title with three games to spare and are now gearing themselves up for a return to the top flight.

There is certainly a different feel around Molineux when compared to other promoted teams, with Wolves’ ambitious owners, Fosun, Nuno and his magnificent playing squad seeing the sky as the limit. Unlike many that earn promotion to the Premier League, survival will not be Wolves’ biggest aim – they will be aiming for the top half, with European football even on some people’s agenda.

That belief has come right from the top, with Wolves’ owners and the controversial Jorge Mendes, getting some of Europe’s finest young talent in alongside an inspiring young coach in Nuno.

The squad assembled at Molineux is perhaps the best the Championship has ever seen, with some experienced players like John Ruddy, Ryan Bennett and Danny Batth brought to a different level by the likes of Willy Boly, Helder Costa, Diogo Jota and, most of all, Ruben Neves.

Neves is the key that holds Wolves together, as he has shown all season. The 21-year-old midfielder, who cost Wolves a staggering £15.8m last summer, is going to be itching to get amongst the Premier League’s best and show his qualities, hopefully on the back of a successful World Cup.

Such is Neves’ talent, the likelihood is we will see him featuring in Portugal’s squad in Russia this summer, with the midfielder looking to help Cristiano Ronaldo and co, currently priced at 25/1 to win the World Cup with bet365’s international football betting market, back up the Euro 2016 they collected against the odds.

There is no doubt that Neves, formerly of Porto, has what it takes to play in an elite Premier League side, along with a number of his other teammates. They have shown an expansive style in the Championship this season, which has been combined with some gutsy defensive displays, notably when down to nine-men against Middlesbrough over the Easter period.

It is that mix of performances that will allow Wolves to compete in the Premier League, and also their ambitious owners, who it is impossible not to mention again. Over the last 18 months, they have gone big in the transfer window, bringing the likes of Neves, Helder Costa and Diogo Jota in, and it is likely we will see more big money spent in the coming summer.

Wolves are enjoying their moment, and rightly so, with the 2017/18 season one to remember. But now, focus will be slowly turning to the Premier League and an exciting journey that lies ahead.

Some of next season’s rivals will already be looking to get to that famous 40-point mark and guarantee safety, but that won’t be the case at Molineux. We might not have any real indication of the makeup of Wolves’ squad heading into the 2018/19 campaign, but one thing can be guaranteed, Nuno’s side will not be settling for 17th – they will want to make a lasting impression on the top flight.


The 2018 Championship promotion race is on!

Having lost just three league encounters during the 2017-18 campaign so far, Wolverhampton Wanderers have already made a positive start to 2018, opening the New Year with a convincing 3-0 victory against Brentford at the Molineux Stadium. Extending their lead at the top of the Championship to an impressive 12 points, the side managed by Nuno Espirito Santo are beginning to run away with the title race.

After extending their unbeaten run to twelve games, ahead of the fixture away at Barnsley on 13th January, it’s no wonder that that Championship betting odds mark Wolves as 1/20 favourites for the title, and 1/200 certainties for promotion to the Premier League. Boasting a much greater goal difference than any other team in the English second tier with +30 already, they practically have one hand on the Championship trophy already.

Nevertheless, there remains fierce competition amongst the chasing pack, in the battle for second position and automatic promotion, with Derby County mounting a serious charge to reach the Premier League this season, having finished the 2016-17 campaign in a disappointing 9th position. Gary Rowett’s side were unbeaten throughout December 2017 and started 2018 with a 1-1 draw against Sheffield United on New Year’s Day.

One of the early season favourites for promotion, Cardiff City struggled in December 2017 and slipped to a fourth consecutive defeat in their first Championship fixture of 2018, suffering a 2-1 away defeat at QPR. Their boss Neil Warnock will need to use every ounce of his vast managerial experience to turn things around, and quickly, if his side are to avoid missing out on promotion again, because their current position in the play-off zone is by no means guaranteed.

Riding high in the Championship table and exceeding all expectations are Bristol City, who have also been exceptional in the EFL Cup this season in their march to the semi-finals, eliminating several Premier League sides along the way; including a stunning victory against Manchester United. However, cup success may have also taken their eye off the ball in the league, having ended 2017 with a home defeat against Championship leaders, Wolves, then opening 2018 with a dismal 5-0 thrashing suffered away at Aston Villa.

Indeed, that convincing win for Aston Villa was an important return to form for the side managed by Steve Bruce, pushing them back into the play-off zone and restoring much needed faith in the bid to bounce straight back to the Premier League. December 2017 was a month to forget, with just one win in six games, and if they’re to achieve their objective, improved consistency will be required in the second half of the campaign.

Holding out in 6th position and the final play-off spot at the start of 2018, are Leeds United, who started the campaign superbly with a run of seven games unbeaten, but hit a disastrous run of form through between the end of September and the start of November, with seven defeats in nine encounters. December was positive, with four wins on the spin, but once again the doubts have returned, especially after the embarrassing 2-1 FA Cup defeat against Newport County, who are struggling for survival in League Two.

Outside the play-off zone, there are plenty of teams ready to pounce. Sheffield United, Middlesbrough, Preston, and even Fulham in 10th position at the start of 2018, are all within a couple of wins of rising amongst the top-six teams in the Championship. Indeed, between Derby County in 2nd position and Fulham, there’s only a difference of 10 points. That might seem like a wide margin at first glance, but with 60 points still to play for, the race for promotion remains completely wide open.


Real Madrid Facing the Unthinkable

While they’ve not always claimed their domestic league title on a regular basis, we’ve become accustomed to seeing Real Madrid dominate in Europe, taking three Champions League trophies in four seasons. They’re still in the mix for European glory in 2017/18 but issues in La Liga means that the unthinkable may become a reality.

Could Real miss out on qualification for the Champions League next season? As they returned from the Spanish winter break in fourth place, there is much work to be done to book their customary place amongst Europe’s elite.


Attention among the football betting community is starting to turn to the World Cup, with odds comparison site Oddschecker listing a number of free bet options for Russia 2018. Before that main event, there is much to be decided in Spain and in other domestic leagues around the world.

In La Liga, Barca started January with a 16-point lead over Real in what has been a dominant campaign so far for the Catalans. Real are a general 14/1 shot to win the title this season, but perhaps Barca are more concerned about the challenges from Atletico Madrid and Valencia, who sit in second and third respectively.

Meanwhile, fourth place would be enough to take Real Madrid into the early stages of the Champions League but they cannot afford to be complacent. Sevilla, Villarreal and Eibar all sit within five points of Zinedine Zidane’s men and harbour genuine ambitions of claiming that fourth slot.

Crucial Fixtures

A home defeat to Barcelona just before Christmas has rather summed up Real’s season so far as they went down 3-0 to their rivals while having Dani Carvajal sent off in the 63rd minute. If they are to stay in the top four, Zidane’s men simply must pick up points against the teams around them and January sees the side face crucial fixtures against Villarreal and Valencia.

Of course, the club can get back into the Champions League by winning it for the third time in succession. That would be an unprecedented event and Madrid’s form in the group phase makes that far from certain. Real were taken apart by Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, failed to finish top of their group and as a result face a tough tie against high-flying Paris St Germain in the last 16.

As a club known for a lack of patience, it’s a surprise to some that Zidane is still in the manager’s chair after such a poor start to the 2017/18 campaign. As one of Real Madrid’s greatest ever players, ‘Zizou’ is perhaps being given more time to resolve these issues than others may have been afforded.

Naturally, there is enough time to turn things around but with a successful defence of their La Liga title now looking doomed, the club simply must focus on their remaining games as the Champions League just wouldn’t be the same without Real Madrid.


Conte’s Chelsea in Driving Seat for Premier League Title Triumph

Simply put, Chelsea have been outstanding so far this season. Antonio Conte’s Italian revolution is well and truly underway at Stamford Bridge and the Blues are reaping rewards from his varied and extensive skillset in the dugout.

Since taking over at the helm, Conte has taken this Chelsea side from the brink of disaster to eleven consecutive Premier League wins. The Blues are now eyeing up Arsenal’s all-time top-flight record of successive victories and a fifth Premier League title could follow.

It is easy to forget that this is Conte’s first season in charge of a major club side outside of his native Italy – and that is testament to his ability to adapt and tweak his system and style to suit the English game.

Ultimately, Conte has managed to maintain his Italian principles of solid, consistent defending but has incorporated Premier League traditions of playing attacking, free-flowing football. This unique blend has confused their rivals and the Blues, who have now 11 on the spin, are looking unbeatable.

Chelsea’s recent run has been sensational to say the least but it is the manner of these wins that make them all the more impressive. Conte’s men have scored 25 goals during this spell whilst conceding just two – keeping nine clean sheets in the process.

If the former Italy boss can keep his players focused on the task at hand, the title race could be all but over by mid-April. The Blues have already built a six-point lead over nearest rivals Liverpool and both Manchester City and Arsenal are already feeling the heat.

As of December 22nd, Conte’s men are priced at 10/11 to win the title with Betway and plenty of neutrals will be backing Chelsea after their solid start to the campaign. The Blues have lost just once so far this season and that 3-0 defeat to Arsenal was the catalyst for Conte’s revolution to begin.

Prior to that defeat, the Italian was following English football’s tradition of playing four at the back but Chelsea have now reverted to a brand new 3-4-3 system and the rest of the Premier League just cannot figure out how to play against it.


Eventually, teams will grow accustomed to Chelsea’s system but the Blues have enough quality in their ranks to adapt if needs be. Conte has managed to take Victor Moses, a player who made just one solitary performance for the club last season, and transform him into a reliable wing-back in the space of just three months.

By the same token, former Bolton Wanderers star Marcos Alonso is holding his own on a weekly basis. While he was touted as a superb prospect for the future, nobody expected Conte to get this much out of the Spaniard in his first season at Stamford Bridge.

But without beating about the bush, it would be fair to state that the biggest difference-maker has been Diego Costa. The Spain star has always played with vigour and determination and his new manager has channelled that aggression into goals – and Chelsea fans are now back on the Costa wagon after a hit-and-miss 2015/16 campaign.

Costa has already notched 13 league goals this season; more than anybody else in the top flight. The Golden Boot is well within his sights but a Premier League triumph is the main objective; Conte has got him playing for the shirt rather than for his own glory…

Chelsea still have plenty of work to do in the second half of the season but Conte will be ready for the title push. He has been there and done it all during his stints with Juventus and Italy but a Premier League crown in his first year in England would certainly send out a statement of intent. At 47 years old, Conte is here for the long run and an early title triumph could signal the start of an era of Blues dominance.


Italy can progress in Euro 2016 despite a tough path

The Italian national team has awoken a sense of hope in the country that has been a surprise and certainly was not expected. The nation as a rule, grows slowly into a tournament just like its team and in some sort of bizarre unity, they historically culminate in the knock out rounds as a force on both parts. Now after a smash and grab group stage, where the Italians unusually topped their group after two games, they ironically face champions Spain in the round of 16.  Despite a defeat in their final game to the Republic of Ireland, there is reason to be positive before this titanic clash.

Written off

‘The worst Italian squad in 50 years’ this was the yoke that the Italian national team had around their neck as they travelled to France. The lack of quality in the forward area was obvious and the nation’s media and fans questioned whether GrazianoPelle, Eder and Ciro Immobile could produce the magic that their predecessors had. After all a country that had given birth to Giuseppe Meazza, Paolo Rossi, Christian Vieri and ‘Pippo’ Inzaghi could perhaps feel as though they had been put on a crash diet when it came to forward quality. Italy’s midfield to had been decimated, as injuries to Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti had meant that the team was now reliant on its three man Juventus defence backed up by the ever young ‘Gigi’ Buffon.

Belgium, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland stood in their way and as the Azzurri went into their opening game against the Red Devils ‘Golden generation’ there was not much hope given. Despite the prediction that Antonio Conte would play a very defensive game that operated solely on counter attacks, the team instead started with pace and a direct style that shocked their opponents. Despite commentators talking about Italy being a defensive unit they were ambitious and got their rewards for this.


The way that Conte had his team drilled was impressive and his team transformed from a 3-5-2 to a 3-3-4 when in attack and then a 5-3-2 when defending. Buffon was the antithesis of this as he played almost as a sweeper when the team was attacking, similar to Manuel Neuer. When the team defended as a five the veteran goalkeeper did not move out of his six-yard box but the understanding of when he would come for the ball was understood well by his Juventus team mates.

This was also evident against Sweden but despite Eder’s killer goal the team still do look a little bit lightweight up front. The rest of the team however, operate as a cohesive unit that arguably is the most fluid yet structured in the competition. Conte looks to operate with a ‘freedom within structure’ mentality and it has proved effective. He knows he hasn’t got the best tool in his tool box but he knows what kit he needs to do the job well.

It was the realisation of this that enthused the Italian public and media and even saw the GazzettaDello Sport say that ‘We want our Italy back’ after they lost their final group game to the Republic of Ireland. Conte made eight changes in this game and two if those were enforced as Buffon had the flu and Antonio Candreva had pulled his hamstring against Sweden. The rest simply were experimental and whilst the team came in for criticism, it did allow the coach to see what options he could call upon. Lorenzo Insigne was one of these players who, whilst given only a few minutes, showed that he could replicate his club form for Napoli on the national stage.

Italy have to face Spain and then if they progress they will face Germany but they should not be worried. The team has already impressed her apathetic fans and there is little expectation but yet there is room for optimism. Defensively the team are arguably the best in the tournament and if Lorenzo Insigne is given licence to roam then the Azzurri may be the may turn heads even if for cohesion rather than style.