Wolves vs Spurs: Predicted starting line-up
Pedro Neto and Ruben Neves train before the away defeat to Burnley. Both should feature against Spurs | Photo by Peter Powell - Pool/Getty Images.

The apprentice against the master. A Porto goalkeeper with a Champions League medal against the manager who led him to it. Nuno Espirito Santo against Jose Mourinho.

The next fixture in Wolverhampton Wanderers' festive schedule sees them host Tottenham Hotspur at Molineux in the Premier League, with the Wolves boss facing off against his old coach.

The two have a great degree of mutual respect, and the honours were even between them last season, with each manager taking three points from the home ground of the other through last-gasp winners by Jan Vertonghen and Raul Jimenez. The latter, thankfully, is recovering from the awful skull fracture sustained away to Arsenal a few weeks ago, and he can now attend his first match since the incident.

Despite Tottenham's struggles in recent weeks (W1-D2-L2 in their last five games), they remain a force to be reckoned with, capable of shutting the opposition down then scoring for fun. In the wake of a failed tactical experiment and a frustrating loss away at Burnley before Christmas, what is Nuno likely to try in order to take at least a point this time?

The opposition

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Spurs are set up to hurt teams on the counterattack - much like Wolves have been in recent seasons - and their constant presence at or near the top of the table this season is evidence of their ruthless efficiency.

A brilliant attacking partnership and almost telepathic understanding between Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min has been key to this, with Kane's intelligent playmaking and Son's blistering pace overpowering defender after defender.

This game will be won or lost out wide - according to whoscored.com, 73% of Spurs' attacks come down the flanks. With Matt Doherty and Serge Aurier as options at right-back, Mourinho always looks to have an attacking full-back to back up the right winger.

A key area to watch through the game will be the attempts to overload the right, with the full-back overlapping and the winger - likely to be Steven Bergwijn after Gareth Bale picked up a minor injury against Stoke City - drifting just infield.

Given that Wolves sit deep to absorb pressure so often in the first half of matches, Mourinho is likely to use a second attacking full-back in Sergio Reguilon for the majority of the game.

Right wing-back Nelson Semedo has often been targeted by opponents as a potential weak link in the Wolves defence when facing more than one man, so combination play between Reguilon and Son down the Spurs left is likely going to be used to pin Semedo back and cut off the attacking option he gives Wolves.

Ben Davies provides Mourinho with an excellent option for countering the attacking threat of Adama Traore. Davies may not be the fastest defender in the league, but his physicality is a major strength.

With Son using his pace to track back and apply pressure, and one of the pivots moving to cover the central passing lane, Davies should be able to win the ball from Traore frequently, presuming that he does not leave too much of a gap in behind for Traore to exploit.

On the injury front, Spurs will be without midfielder Giovani Lo Celso (thigh) and centre-back Japhet Tanganga (shoulder) in addition to Bale.

Tactics and formation

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As a result of the attacking strength Spurs have at their disposal in the wide regions and their lethality in the transition, Nuno is likely to play it safe with a back five. As usual Rui Patricio will start in goal, with captain Conor Coady ahead of him likely to be flanked by Willy Boly and Romain Saiss.

Boly may not be in the strongest run of form of his career, but with Leander Dendoncker (knock) still injured and Ki-Jana Hoever too inexperienced at the top level to be able to handle such a potent attack, Boly is still the best option at right centre-back.

Of Wolves' two left centre-backs, Saiss has the strong case for starting. He and Kilman are alike in most ways as players - both are very capable defensively; both offer an imposing physical presence and both are able to play line-breaking passes out from the back.

However, Saiss can expect to start due to his experience, positional versatility and his tendency to match the aggression and roughness with which Mourinho's side will be playing.

At right wing-back, Semedo will almost certainly play in order to build his confidence, but he will be forced to stay deep by the combined attacking powers of Son and Reguilon.

On the other side, Fernando Marcal will most likely start - one of the bargains of the season, when the consistent quality of his performances is looked at in the context of the £1.8million Wolves paid Lyon for him in the summer.

If the wing-backs are forced to stay deep, the front three will have to be creative in looking exploitable space in and around the Spurs defence. The good current form and admirable work rate of Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto will earn both of them places in the starting line-up - both have played consistently well through the first part of this season, and both are too good to drop at the moment.

The long, driving runs that the forwards will have to make will suit the strengths of both players, as Neto is brilliant when given license to sprint past defenders, while Podence excels when he can outthink his marker in one-on-one situations.

Both will have to be flexible - without the guarantee of attacking width coming from the wing-backs, they will have to judge in each attack whether they would make the most progress by staying out wide or by drifting central and threatening Hugo Lloris' goal.

Whenever Wolves play without a specialist centre-forward, the attack looks a little uncoordinated, missing a major aspect of the build-up play and without a focal point to direct the play towards.

To avoid this problem, Fabio Silva should be one of the first names on the team sheet, despite his inexperience and despite the lack of cover to replace him from the bench. His confidence levels will have received a boost after he scored his first senior goal against Burnley, and surely more goals will follow with continually good delivery from the wingers.

Owen Otasowie should start as well, again despite inexperience. Dendoncker may be injured, but Otasowie is already showing many of the same qualities as the Belgian workhorse - he is strong, a good runner, defensively gifted, and able to push forward to threaten the opposition from just behind the forward line.

Most of the minutes he played in his debut start against Burnley were played in Dendoncker's occasional 'spare forward' role, pushing high during attacking build-up play, then hovering around the edge of the box waiting for a cross when possible.

Although he was singled out for some rough treatment from the Burnley players (with one replay facing the wrath of an infuriated Podence on Instagram after the match), he played well and showed that he would not be bullied or pushed around.

The quality of his performances at youth and senior level has been excellent, and his attributes will be needed against a Spurs midfield which will likely be packed out with five or six players at times.

In the centre of midfield, Ruben Neves will likely start, with his mentor Joao Moutinho offering multiple tactical options from the bench. It would be unwise to start the two together, as their styles of play overlap too much and each one can easily get in the way of the other, harming Wolves' attacking prospects.

The wing-backs cannot be expected to go forwards as often as usual, so the main responsibility of the creative central midfielder will be to look for the wingers and accurately lob the ball forward to them, or to pick out Silva, who can then act as a kind of false nine.

Neves has plenty of experience of doing this from his Championship days, and he always seems the more likely of the two to look for a massive cross-field diagonal. With Otasowie acting as his bodyguard and allowing him to dictate the direction and tempo of the attack, Neves will be perfect for this role.

Adama Traore is an interesting case at the moment. His season is yet to properly get started and his attacking contributions have been nothing like what they were last season, so his case for starting over Neto or Podence is currently non-existent.

However, his pace threatens teams, and forces them to pull extra players back and to the left to deal with him, opening up extra pockets of space for his Wolves team-mates to operate in.

Against Spurs, his introduction from the bench may force Mourinho to replace Reguilon with Davies to limit the number of times the left-back ventures forwards and leaves space behind him, and it could also see Son pulled back so that someone can keep up if Traore accelerates.

Bringing Traore off the bench in the final 20-30 minutes of the game could kill Spurs' left-sided attack, leaving them fairly reliant on Doherty/Aurier and Bergwijn for rapid progression of the ball if possession changes hands high up the pitch.

This makes their attack easier to close down fully if Marcal, Otasowie and Neto are able to keep the ball from reaching the Spurs players on that flank.As a result, if Wolves are down by one goal and chasing the game by the 70th minute, there is an argument to be made for putting Traore on and withdrawing a centre-back.

Mourinho teams are naturally defence-minded, and against a front four of Traore, Podence, Silva and Neto, Spurs would drop even deeper, further limiting their attacking options.

Predicted line-up: 5-2-3:

Patricio; Semedo, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Marcal; Neves, Otasowie; Podence, Silva, Neto.


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This should be a very close, cagey affair. Spurs will look to control the game early on, and as usual Nuno's men will probably inflict damage later on - given Spurs' attacking firepower, Wolves will likely have to come from behind.

If Wolves do their defensive duties properly, which a back five formation will facilitate, Spurs should struggle to score more than one goal, though any lapses in concentration will be brutally punished on the counter, and if a couple of Wolves defenders have off days, Spurs might be looking at a demolition job.

It is difficult to argue that Wolves ought to win this, or that it will end goalless - Wolves fans should see a 1-1 or 2-2 scoreline as a great result.