Wolverhampton can be forgiven if they felt the international break came at an inopportune time since they picked up a victory instead of a draw. Looking to run their unbeaten streak in league play to eight matches, Wolves face Bournemouth at Dean Court on Saturday in a clash of top-half sides.
It has not always gone smoothly for Wolves (3-7-2) as they juggle European and domestic commitments for the first time in nearly four decades. But Nuno Espirito Santo's team appear to be finally adjusted to the usual Thursday-Sunday grind and have claimed 13 points during their unbeaten run to vault to eighth in the table.
"It was something we wanted to do," centre back Connor Coady told the club's official website about the uptick in play. "We knew we had to improve in certain areas and we spoke about improving at the start of the game because we wanted to come out on the front foot and I thought we did that in the last two weeks.
"I think it's important that we're ruthless in front of goal as well and give ourselves something to hold on to."
Coady and the Wolves will be counting on Raul Jimenez to display that ruthlessness, something the forward did for Mexico during the international break by recording a brace in their 3-0 CONCACAF Nations League victory over Panama. Jimenez leads Wolves with 13 goals in all competitions, and there is little worry the additional travel burden of crossing the Atlantic will affect him.
For him to travel to Mexico all the time is tough, but he knows the team. He knows the way we play," Ryan Bennett told The Express and Star. "He's the focal point, and he knows what he has got to do, what's expected of him and what everyone is going to do around him.
"He's very fit. He's a professional lad. He's never found it a problem. "He'll get rest at the right time - when he can. If you speak to him, there's a not day he will want to miss.
Matt Doherty also opened his international scoring account for Ireland, netting the equaliser in a 1-1 draw versus Denmark as Eire will enter the March playoff for one of the final four European Championship spots.
Bournemouth (4-4-4) are trying to attain that level which Burnley first reached in 2017-18 before Wolves did as a promoted side last term - to play in Europe. The Cherries trail Wolverhampton on the slimmest of goal difference but also have just one win in their last six matches (1-3-2) after going into the international break on a 2-1 loss at Newcastle United on Nov. 9.
Eddie Howe's team also had a 393-minute shutout streak end in the defeat as they conceded in a 10-minute span bridging halftime after Harry Wilson staked Bournemouth to a 1-0 lead on 14 minutes. Bournemouth, though, could get a boost from the return of midfielder Dan Gosling, who has yet to feature due to injury. He did not play in the loss to Newcastle but logged a full 90 minutes with the Under-21 squad against Reading to get closer to match-fit.
"It's great to have him back in the ranks," Howe told the Bournemouth Echo about Gosling, whose next match will be his 150th overall for the Cherries. "Dan is very much a leader based on how he conducts himself and his positivity. He is so well-liked in the dressing room. If he speaks and says something, then the other lads will follow.
"You can't have enough leaders in your team. I actually think we are developing nicely in that side of the game. We had a few people who had the captaincy, which would have been a great experience for Dan last season. That experience of leadership can only help develop those sides of your personality."
Wolverhampton took four of a possible six points in the first two top-flight meetings between the clubs last term. The sides split the points at Dean Court in February, with Jimenez converting a penalty seven minutes from time to cancel out one by Joshua King in the first half.
Updated November 21, 2019