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Wolves can be number one at Christmas

Sky Bet Championship
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Wolves have topped the Sky Bet Championship table since the end of August and can guarantee they will be there on Christmas Day by beating Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.

The season of goodwill to all men is fast approaching but Wednesday manager Carlos Carvalhal has been pretty grumpy in recent weeks and will have to watch from the stands as he serves a one-game touchline ban.

Carvalhal feels his team have been getting a raw deal from referees and could not contain himself when a penalty appeal was turned down during the 2-2 draw at home to Hull 13 days ago, leading to a red card and a touchline ban which was handed down earlier this week.

The Portuguese is feeling the pressure with Wednesday ten points adrift of the playoff places.

Calls for a change of manager have been increasing and Carvalhal's side appear ill equipped to cope with the league leaders, who have looked a class above the rest of the second tier.

Wolves drew 0-0 at home to struggling Sunderland last Saturday but they played well enough – winning the shot count 23 to one – and were ultimately frustrated by defensively-minded opponents, who went even deeper into their shell following the 62nd-minute dismissal of Lee Cattermole.

Previously Wolves had won six games in succession to put clear daylight between themselves and their promotion rivals.

The big worry for the rest of the division is that they seem to be getting better as the season progresses.

Wolves will have to get used to teams setting up to frustrate them but that may not be the case against Wednesday, who will feel the need to play positively and push for the three points.

The Owls have won just six of 21 league matches this season and only victories are going to get them into the playoff zone.

Wednesday usually play with two strikers and there is no shortage of options for Carvalhal, who has six senior forwards (Gary Hooper, Steven Fletcher, Jordan Rhodes, Lucas Joao, Atdhe Nuhiu and Fernando Forestieri) on the books.

Hooper – with ten goals from 21 league games – leads their scoring charts but most of the others have struggled and Forestieri, who reached double figures in the last two seasons, has been injured.

Wolves have fewer attacking players but Nuno knows his strongest line-up and is getting the best out of them.

The front three of Ivan Cavaleiro, Jota and Leonardo Bonatini have contributed league goal tallies of six, nine and 12 but the man who makes them tick is playmaker Ruben Neves, a Portuguese international who will almost certainly be going to the World Cup next summer.

Defensively, they look solid, having conceded just 17 league goals, and it is hard to find many weakness.

Wolves put in a couple of poor away performances earlier in the season – losing at Sheffield United (2-0) and QPR (2-1) - but have won on each of their last three road trips and look good value at odds-against to bank another three points.


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Match in Focus

11:30 Su 17Dec BT1

Verona v Milan

Home Win Draw Away Win
Expert verdict
Milan are turning the corner under new manager Gennaro Gattuso and can make it three wins in a row by banking three points at second-bottom Verona. The Rossoneri are up to seventh and advanced to the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Wednesday by beating Verona 3-0 at the San Siro.