MX23RW : Tuesday, September 22 05:30:37| >> :60:274:274:
Jul 25, 2019 at 7.45pm UK at Molineux
Attendance: 29,708
WolvesWolverhampton Wanderers
Jota (37'), Vinagre (93')
FT(HT: 1-0)

Preview: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Crusaders - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of Thursday's Europa League qualifier between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crusaders.

Wolverhampton Wanderers begin their attempt to progress through to the Europa League group stages by facing Crusaders in the second qualifying round.

The Northern Irish outfit - who have not got past this stage in Europe since 1997 - earned a meeting with the Premier League side by overcoming B36 Torshavn 5-2 on aggregate.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Nuno Espirito Santo  during the Premier League game between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City on January 19, 2019© Reuters

Wolverhampton Wanderers have been on an upward curve ever since the arrival of Nuno Espirito Santo in 2017, but few predicted that the Portuguese would be able to guide the West Midlands outfit into Europe at this stage of their development.

Despite the club's owners having ambitions to break into the Premier League's top four, there is an argument that Europa League football has come a year too early, although that will not stop Wolves placing considerable emphasis on trying to go as far as possible.

Nuno's tightly-knit squad will have to come through three two-legged ties in order to reach the group stages, starting with a double-header against Crusaders which comes after just two pre-season friendlies in China.

However, Nuno made it clear in the games against Newcastle United and Manchester City that preparation was already underway for this tie, having named the same starting lineup for each outing.

There were many positives to take from thrashing Newcastle by a 4-0 scoreline, although holding Manchester City to a goalless draw before prevailing on penalties would have filled Nuno with extra pride.

As a result of a lack of business in the transfer market, Wolves ended the fixture against the Premier League champions with over half-a-dozen academy players, and it highlighted why the club continue to stress that there will always be a pathway from the Under-23s to the first team.

Nevertheless, Wolves are aware that they will become a more attractive option for experienced players later in the transfer market if they can show that they are capable of having a prolonged run in this competition.

While the current crop may not be able to prove that against a side like Crusaders, the minnows represent a potential banana skin, and Wolves must show their professionalism over the two legs in order to reach the next stage.

Recent form: WD


Crusaders have been regular participants in the early qualifying rounds of European football since 2009, but the Hatchetmen have regularly fallen short when faced with the pressures of capitalising on their opportunities.

Aware that Wolves were the prize for the winners of their double-header with Torshavn, there would have been concerns that another chance would pass them by, having suffered heavy aggregate defeats in three of their previous four European ties.

However, Crusaders got it right in the first leg by registering a 2-0 success, and that gave Stephen Baxter's side a certain level of freedom for the reverse fixture in the Faroe Islands, which they effectively wrapped up with two away goals in the opening half-hour.

Those performances have set up a mouth-watering showdown with the English side, and Baxter has already stressed that his players cannot afford to be in awe of what is currently occurring at Molineux.

That may prove easier said than done, especially given Wolves' imposing style of play on their home patch, but Baxter knows that there is a window of opportunity with Wolves having just returned from China.

With a desire to remain in the tie ahead of the second leg, Baxter will have to show a large amount of caution, but his group of players will be up for the challenge in what could be perceived at the biggest match in their history.

Wolves may view Crusaders legend Paul Heatley as the biggest threat going forward, with the long-serving winger having netted twice against Torshavn last week.

Nevertheless, this is a united squad who will relish the chance to showcase their ability on such a big stage, and they can keep Wolves on the edge in this tie providing they play to their full capabilities.

Recent form: WW

Team News

Raul Jimenez applauds the Wolves fans on May 12, 2019© Reuters

Romain Saiss and Raul Jimenez both returned to pre-season training earlier this week, although only the latter is expected to take his place on the bench on Thursday night.

Rui Patricio sustained a cut under his eye during Saturday's fixture with Man City, but the goalkeeper should take his place in the starting lineup.

Adama Traore is likely to get the nod over Ruben Vinagre at wing-back, while Matt Doherty continues to recover from a knee injury sustained earlier in pre-season.

As for Crusaders, Baxter could name the same XI that began in the Faroe Islands last week, barring any late selection issues.

Wolverhampton Wanderers possible starting lineup:
Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Traore, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny; Gibbs-White, Jota

Crusaders possible starting lineup:
O'Neil; Burns, Beverland, Hegarty, Ruddy; Caddell, Lowry, Forsythe; Heatley, Clarke, J.Owens

Head To Head

These two clubs will be meeting in a competitive fixture for the first time, while Wolves have never squared off against a team from Northern Ireland on the European scene.

However, Crusaders faced a side from England as recently as 2011, with Fulham prevailing 7-1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round of this competition.

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We say: Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 Crusaders

Despite being huge favourites to win on Thursday night, we feel that Wolves will have to work hard. They will naturally be feeling the effects of a week spent in China, which could lead to Nuno and his players being content with a narrow success.


Who will win Thursday's Europa League fixture between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crusaders?

Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolverhampton Wanderers
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Ruben Vinagre in action for Wolverhampton Wanderers on September 30, 2017
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