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Socceroos vs China, FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers, result, analysis, talking points, stats, standings, ladder, Graham Arnold

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Winless in three games, the Socceroos’ hopes of automatically qualifying for the Qatar World Cup next year are hanging by a thread.

With four games to spare – and the next match not until January – there is plenty of time to improve, and equally as much room for improvement.

Here are the biggest talking points from the 1-1 draw with China on Wednesday morning.

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SUPER SUB MAKES STATEMENT

Mitch Duke has forged a reputation as Australia’s striking super-sub. But today he made a massive statement to coach Graham Arnold that he should be the starting centre-forward in the crucial qualifying games to come.

After Australia’s attack struggled to make inroads against Saudi Arabia and Japan, Arnold was rewarded for his decision to turn to the 30-year-old to reignite things. Duke threw himself about tirelessly in attack and defence, leading from the front – literally – with his workrate and physicality. He had precious few chances, but made no mistake with a bullet header to open the scoring seven minutes before the halftime break.

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Duke has regularly played the super-sub role to perfection, sparking the Socceroos to life late in games both in offence and with his defensive pressing. His two goals in six substitute appearances this year for the Socceroos are a strong return.

But his record as a starter is superb – after a brace against Chinese Taipei back in June, Duke now has three goals from as many starts in 2021.

In total, he boasts seven goals from 15 appearances in the green and gold – and five in just 358 minutes of action in 2021. That’s a goal every 71.6 minutes.

With Adam Taggart missing, Graham Arnold needed someone to step up. Against China it was Duke – not Jamie Maclaren, who hardly touched the ball when he replaced Duke in the second half. Arnold might just regret bringing Duke off the bench against Japan and Saudi Arabia as the Aussie offence was stifled – and he shouldn’t leave him on the pine for too many crucial games going forward.

DEGENEK DOUSES DEFENSIVE CRISIS

When Harry Souttar went down clutching the back of his knee against Saudi Arabia on Thursday night, serious concerns were immediately raised – not just over the future of the gifted 23-year-old who looked set to receive Premier League transfer bids in January, but also for the Socceroos’ defence.

But Milos Degenek put many of those fears to bed with a fine performance at the heart of defence. From the opening minute he was focussed, making tough tackles and outmuscling what was a very physical China side. His passing was crisp and composed, especially important given he had to take over from Souttar’s role as primary ball-player when playing alongside Trent Sainsbury. Sainsbury looked nervous at first but settled into the game as the first half wore on, and the Socceroos could easily have had a clean sheet if not for the unfortunate penalty.

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The cover provided by central defensive midfielder James Jeggo was also crucial to the defensive solidity. It would be easy to write off China as a ‘weak’ team offensively, especially given their slow start to this stage of qualifying. But with the trio of Brazilian converts starting together for the first time, plus the 12-goals-in-14-games of Wu Lei, it was clear this China side was significantly more dangerous than the one the Socceroos outclassed 3-0 in September.

Degenek and Sainsbury will likely be the starting combination for the next nine to 12 months as Souttar recovers from his ACL injury, though Bailey Wright and Ryan McGowan are both more than capable of performing on the international level. It is always hard to fill a Souttar-sized hole – nearly two metres of Scottish-born brawn – but the early indications are that Degenek can build a solid Socceroos wall at the back.

BOX BOMBARDMENT WORKS…VERY RARELY

Bomb the ball into the box and hope it finds an Aussie head, or rebounds kindly to a Socceroo. That’s been the primary attacking tactic in many of the Socceroos’ recent games – and it’s simply not an effective one.

When Duke headed home in the 38th minute, he was assisted by the 15th cross by the Socceroos in the game. Yes, it’s a reflection of the upper hand that the Australians had in the match, but it’s not necessarily the best approach – especially against well-drilled defences of teams like Saudi Arabia and Japan. That’s particularly the case given where many of those crosses were delivered from: not behind the defensive line of China, but from significantly deeper positions, typically from well further back than the edge of the penalty area. That was clearly not an accident, with the strategy aimed at crossing early and catching China’s defensive line in motion, only the Socceroos’ tempo was far too slow to push the issue or unsettle defenders.

China and Australia go head-to-head | 00:39

Martin Boyle’s assist was an anomaly, and a reflection of his crucial ability to exchange quick passes and get behind the defence before delivering the ball. But time after time the crosses were rushed, wayward, or both. And when the crosses were pinpoint, all too often the players weren’t in the right spots to get on the end of them. On one occasion, Duke exchanged passes with Aziz Behich and played the fullback behind the defensive line. But when Behich perfectly fed a square ball along the six-yard line – a golden opportunity for someone to poke home – no one had filled Duke’s gap and made the run to the near post. On another occasion, Jackson Irvine DID run toward goal as Behich squared the ball to his feet, only for Irvine to miss the easy finish, just like he did with an identical chance against Saudi Arabia.

The stats (courtesy of Fox Sports Lab) lay the issue bare: 15 crosses against Japan, 23 against Saudi Arabia, and 19 against China — 57 combined crosses creating just one goal, and just one point from a possible nine. It might work against teams who aren’t defensively disciplined, as was often the case in the Socceroos’ recent 11-match winning streak. But to get beyond tougher tests, the Socceroos must get far more out of their box bombardment – or find a more effective path to goal. Right now, the Australian attack is less of a razor-sharp knife than a nicely rounded river rock trying to hammer opponents into submission.

SLUGGISH STARTS AND STRUGGLING SUBSTITUTES

The Socceroos have recently made a habit of starting slowly and finishing even more sluggishly. Against Japan, they conceded inside both the opening ten minutes and the final ten minutes. China’s best periods of the match came in the opening ten minutes, and in the final 20 after the penalty shock changed the game after which Australia attempted zero shots to their four. Against Saudi Arabia, both teams started in a frenetic fashion, but the Socceroos were out-shot 5-1 in the final 15 minutes. That momentum swing late in the game came after Harry Souttar’s ACL injury, while the penalty massively shifted the China game. Both moments understandably rocked the Socceroos. But on both occasions the Socceroos suffered a late fade-out – and substitutions did nothing to turn the tide.

Against China, Graham Arnold made all five allowed changes in the space of just 12 minutes (72nd to the 84th). Against Japan and Saudi Arabia, he also made five changes but, in both cases, the final two substitutions occurred in the 87th minute or later – a last roll of the dice. Some substitutes have unfortunately been forced, like Souttar last game or withdrawing Duke after he copped a knock today. But the back-up brigade have struggled almost as one, and it’s been a major factor in the Socceroos’ inability to close out games from strong positions.

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Iran goalkeeper threatens Zohreh Koudaei legal actions after Jordan gender accusations

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The goalkeeper for the Iran women’s soccer team has hit back after the Jordan Football Association (JFA) accused her of being a man.

Zohreh Koudaei, 32, defended herself when responding to the JFA’s request for a “gender verification check”.

“I will sue the Jordan FA,” Koudaei said, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. “I am a woman. This is bullying from Jordan.”

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The allegation came after Iran beat Jordan in Uzbekistan on September 25, to qualify for its first ever Women’s Asia Cup. Koudaei saved two penalties in the 4-2 shootout victory.

A team manager for Iran denied the gender allegation and said the Jordanian team was looking for an “excuse” for losing the match.

After the game, the JFA reportedly approached the Asian Football Federation (AFC) about Koudaei’s gender.

Iranian goalkeeper Zohreh Koudaei saved two penalties in the 4-2 shootout victory against Jordan. Photo by Talibjan Kosimov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Iranian goalkeeper Zohreh Koudaei saved two penalties in the 4-2 shootout victory against Jordan. Photo by Talibjan Kosimov/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

In a letter dated November 5, the JFA cited doubts over the “eligibility of a participating player” and claimed the Iranian women’s team “has a history with gender and doping issues”.

The JFA requested for the AFC to “initiate a transparent and clear investigation by a panel of independent medical experts to investigate the eligibility of the player in question and others on the team”.

The President of the JFA, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, addressed the letter in a tweet on the weekend, calling the allegations “very serious issue if true”. He also called on the AFC to “please wake up”.

A spokesman for the AFC said, “The AFC does not comment on ongoing investigations and/or proceedings, whether actual or potential.”

Iran’s coach, Maryam Irandoost, told sports outlet Varzesh3: “The medical staff have carefully examined each player on the national team in terms of hormones to avoid any problems in this regard, and so I tell all fans not to worry.

“We will provide any documentation that the Asian Confederation of Football wishes without wasting time.”

The 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup will begin in January in India.

Jordan has called for an investigation over Zohreh Koudaei. Photo: Twitter.Source: Twitter

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission

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Kheira Hamraoui French football attack: Eric Abidal, wife Hayet phone call theory

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Paris Saint-Germain football player Kheira Hamraoui has recalled the horrific events that left her bloodied, black and blue during an attack that has shocked the world.

Speaking publicly for the first time about being attacked by masked assailants outside her home, Hamraoui says she was beaten with an iron bar.

The incident had shaken one of the world’s biggest football clubs to its core after her teammate Aminata Diallo was initially detained by police in connection with the attack.

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Aminata was detained on suspicion of playing an alleged role in the attack but was released without charge, having been held for 36 hours.

She denied any involvement in the incident, releasing a statement that denounced a “totally artificial suggestion of a rivalry between her and Kheira Hamraoui”.

Aminata also expressed in the statement she will not hesitate to launch legal action against any defamation.

Kheira Hamraoui on Instagram, Eric Abidal and his wife Hayet Abidal. Photo: Jean Catuffe, Getty Images, Instagram, @kheirahamraouiSource: Getty Images

Aminata’s legal representative Mourad Battikh said last week police had moved on to “more serious theories”.

According to multiple reports, new suspects have emerged — former Barcelona and French international defender Eric Abidal, along with his wife Hayet.

On the night of the attack, Hamraoui and another teammate got a ride home from Aminata Diallo, a midfielder for PSG, following a team outing in Paris.

When they arrived at Hamraoui’s home, two masked men approached the vehicle.

“They immediately start yelling: ‘Open the door! Open the door!’ The one on my side grabbed me and pulled me out of the vehicle,” Hamraoui said. “Before, he grabbed a rectangular iron bar that he had hidden in his pants or under his sweater.”

She told L’Equipe: “My attacker hit me with an iron bar several times. I saw that he was mainly targeting my legs and I was trying to protect myself with my hands. At that time, I didn’t see a weapon.”

The French newspaper also obtained photos of the injuries sustained by Hamraoui.

Hamraoui, according to The Sun, was “punched, kicked and beaten with an iron bar.”

The 31-year-old was taken to a hospital and required stitches for leg and hand injuries, ESPN reported.

The focus of the investigation has now shifted.

The Abidals appear to be at the centre of one theory being explored, The New York Post reports.

Eric Abidal was Barcelona’s sporting director when Hamraoui signed with the team in 2018, and was fired in 2020 after the men’s team suffered an 8-2 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich.

This combination of file photographs shows France’s midfielder Kheira Hamraoui and Aminata Diallo. Photo by Franck FIFE and Paul VERNON / AFP.Source: AFP

On Tuesday (AEDT), prosecutor Maryvonne Caillibotte said the 42-year-old will be “quizzed soon” by authorities as part of the investigation, ESPN reported. Hayet may also be questioned by the police, sources told the outlet.

Police reportedly discovered that Hamraoui had called Abidal on the morning of her attack while investigating her phone records.

L’Equipe said a number of PSG players that were questioned by police said Hamraoui also called Abidal the day after the attack. The phone and SIM card, in which the alleged calls were made, are reportedly registered in Abidal’s name.

The new reports have increased rumours that Abidal and Hamraoui were engaged in a romantic relationship. The outlet Marca said it’s been confirmed that, at some point during the attack, one of the attackers mentioned something about sleeping with married men.

Hamraoui on Wednesday made an appeal to the media to respect her privacy amid speculation about her relations with Eric Abidal.

Abidal is a household name in France. He made a stunning return to his playing career in 2013, a year after undergoing a liver transplant.

The Versailles prosecutors’ office, which is leading the investigation, said investigators could soon question the married couple, while saying it was “just one lead among many”.

Hamraoui was advised by doctors not to return to soccer for three weeks after the attack. There is no timetable for her return.

It’s remains to be seen if Diallo will return to the team. Both players missed PSG’s 6-1 win against title rivals Lyon on Monday.

— with AFP

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EPL news 2021, Manchester United, Liverpool FC, Chelsea, Arsenal, Leeds Utd, Man City, fixtures, report card, latest

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We’re just returning from the final international break of the year as the teams prepare to enter the busiest time of the season with the games coming thick and fast throughout the Christmas and New Year period.

A quarter of the managers in the league have already been sacked with more teetering on the brink and a January transfer window just around the corner to look forward to.

With that in mind, we’ve put together an early-season report card to see where all of the teams are currently sitting and what they need to do going into that period. And it’s better reading for some than it is for a lot of others.

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(Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)Source: AFP

ARSENAL (5th, 20 pts)

A torrid start to the season had left Arsenal breaking unwanted record after unwanted record and Mikel Arteta with four games to save his job, according to some reports. However, a kinder fixture schedule since then has allowed the Gunners’ young squad time to gel and that’s exactly what they have done. Arsenal’s tactical identity still isn’t as evident as Arteta would have hoped but the results are there and have taken them to the brink of the top four – something which seemed impossible a few months earlier.

GRADE: B+

ASTON VILLA (16th, 10 pts)

It was always going to be tough for Aston Villa this year without Jack Grealish. They’re not the first club to lose their best player for a huge amount of money and try and replace him with a number of other lower-grade stars and they won’t be the last – just look at Spurs when Gareth Bale left. Unfortunately for Dean Smith, Villa’s owners were quicker to act that maybe Arsenal or Manchester United’s have been and he paid the price for the slide in results. Now Steven Gerrard is there after an impressive managerial debut at Rangers and all eyes will be on him to see how he progresses in the Premier League.

GRADE: D

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

BRENTFORD (14th, 12 pts)

It’s been a great start for Brentford and could have been a whole lot better had they not finished up before the international break by becoming the first and so far only team to lose to basement club Norwich. Brentford certainly look like they’ve got enough firepower to stay up this season and if they can keep this momentum going then there is no reason why they can’t be here next year. High-octane results like the thrilling 3-3 against Liverpool have been great to watch for the neutral.

GRADE: B

BRIGHTON (7th, 17 pts)

What a start Brighton have had. They have spent much of the season in or around the top four and have only dropped to seventh very recently as head coach Graham Potter’s tactics continue to push Brighton to greater heights. Just the two defeats so far this season have seen them continue to pick up plenty of points and now the target isn’t a question of avoiding relegation, it’s a question of how high can they finish?

GRADE: A

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

BURNLEY (18th, 8 pts)

The question gets asked every year, but is this the season that Burnley’s modest spending finally catches up with them and even the sternest coached defence can’t keep them up? So far it appears that way, with just eight points to their name and just the one win. They have two worse teams below them at the moment in Newcastle and Norwich, but both have new managers and will be hoping for the new-manager bounce that comes with them. What is more concerning is that there appears to be 17 better teams above them right now. Don’t rule them out, but it’s getting tougher and tougher for Burnley.

GRADE: D

CHELSEA (1st, 26 pts)

Chelsea are top of the Premier League by three points and have lost just the once in 11 Premier League games this season. Only a surprising draw against Burnley has stopped them from going into the international break five points clear. This is all without really getting Romelu Lukaku fully firing yet too. The reorganisation of the defence has been a triumph and they arguably have the most complete squad in the league. You get the feeling that while it’s a clear three-horse race, whoever finishes about Chelsea will be champions.

GRADE: A

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

CRYSTAL PALACE (10th, 15 pts)

Who could have expected this when Roy Hodgson announced his retirement last season and a plethora of long-serving players exited the club at the end of their contracts? But Patrick Vieira has done a wonderful job of gelling this new, young squad together to make Palace look as exciting a prospect as they have been for a long time. Midfielder Conor Gallagher has been a revelation, while Wilfried Zaha has stepped up another level with his leadership and Odsonne Edouard looks an exciting addition from Celtic. Crystal Palace fans can finally watch on with optimism once again.

GRADE: B+

EVERTON (11th, 15 pts)

It’s been a mixed bag for Everton so far this season. A decent start under Rafael Benitez appeared to win him over a number of fans still concerned by his Liverpool affiliation but then three consecutive defeats has seen the progress halt somewhat. The underwhelming signings of Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray have proved anything but as they have produced some excellent performances so far this season in a year where they were unable to spend as they’d like due to Financial Fair Play.

GRADE: C

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

LEEDS UNITED (15th, 11 pts)

Second-season syndrome hit Leeds United hard and it wasn’t until October 3rd that they finally got their first win of the season – against a struggling Watford. Their second win came against Norwich a month later and until then they were teetering just above the relegation zone. It appears teams have figured out how to combat Leeds’ all-action style of football and while the defence hasn’t improved from last season, the goals aren’t as free flowing as they were. They certainly have enough not to be troubled by relegation but it’s not been the step up Leeds fans would have hoped for after such a bright return to the big time last year.

GRADE: D

LEICESTER CITY (12th, 15 pts)

Leicester City seem to have hit that glass ceiling this year. For two consecutive years they missed out on Champions League football on the final day the season having been in the top four for most it, and now it looks like the tank is beginning to empty. Injuries have played their part and while Jamie Vardy is still finding the net consistently, they have one of the leakiest defences in the league. Brendan Rodgers has done a brilliant job but links with Manchester United might prove too much to ignore come the end of the season if they don’t see a marked improvement from here.

GRADE: D

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

LIVERPOOL (4th, 22 pts)

This looks like the Liverpool we’ve come to know under Jurgen Klopp in the Premier League again. Last season injuries ravaged them and the hangover from finally winning the title was evident but they’re certainly back at it again this year. Mohamed Salah has become arguably the best player in the world and they were going unbeaten until their last match against West Ham. No one has scored more than free-scoring Liverpool and they have one of the tightest defences in the league now Virgil van Dijk has returned, even with a current injury list of eight players all ruled out. It’s going to be a very closely run race for the title this year and Liverpool will be right in the thick of it.

GRADE: A

MANCHESTER CITY (2nd, 23 pts)

They don’t have a striker, but it still doesn’t really seem an issue for Manchester City, who are perhaps the favourites to reclaim their crown despite being three points behind Chelsea at this stage. While Liverpool thumped Manchester United for five, City could and should have scored more. The complete ease with which they swept aside and dominated their biggest rivals at their own home should strike fear into the rest of the league.

GRADE: A

(Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)Source: AFP

MANCHESTER UNITED (6th, 17 pts)

It was a season which promised so much and has so far delivered so little. The Cristiano Ronaldo debate has been the stick used to beat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for Manchester United’s poor performances but ultimately it’s the manager’s inability to know how to use him to compliment the rest of the squad which is the reason for their current plight. Ronaldo has probably kept him in a job longer than he deserves to be and even he can only do it for so long. It already appears like a wasted season for United and only securing Champions League football for next year – or an unlikely run in the competition itself this season – can realistically save it now. Solskjaer has done a great job in repairing the club to this point, but now the clock is ticking down on him.

GRADE: F

NEWCASTLE UNITED (19th, 5 pts)

Newcastle are now the richest club in the Premier League, but if they’re not careful they will be the richest club in the Championship. They are the only team in the league without a win this season and they’re going to get a reality check in the January transfer window when players won’t risk going to a club heading towards relegation for the promise of an extra zero at the end of their paycheck. New manager Eddie Howe has an almighty challenge on his hands and while they certainly have enough to stay up, they need to make a start of it very soon or the new owners will be the butts of the jokes at the next billionaire club meeting.

GRADE: F

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

NORWICH CITY (20th, 5 pts)

There is a glimmer of hope for Norwich with their first win of the season just before the international break and they’ve secured a coup in bringing in Dean Smith following his Villa sacking. Daniel Farke was clearly an excellent manager to get them out of the Championship but keeping them in the Premier League looked a step too far. Todd Cantwell’s lack of availability has hurt them but they’re going to need to see a serious upturn in results if they are to stay up. It looks very unlikely at this stage, especially with only five goals scored and 26 conceded (league lows and highs respectively).

GRADE: F

SOUTHAMPTON (13th, 14 pts)

There were fears for Southampton ahead of this season given how they finished the last one and the loss of two of their best players, including goalscorer Danny Ings to Aston Villa, but it’s been a case of so far so good for the Saints so far. That’s thanks in part to a run of three wins and a draw in their last four games. Draws with Manchester United and Manchester City have helped too as the Saints have proved far tougher to beat than many thought they would be. Ralph Hasenhuttl has proved his worth as coach yet again and Southampton can aim for a mid-table finish this year.

GRADE: C

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (9th, 16 pts)

After a start comprised of three 1-0 wins, including one over Manchester City, there was a touch of Jose Mourinho 2.0 around Nuno Espirito Santo but a barren run since then, with Harry Kane struggling to find any semblance of form during a run of five defeats and two wins, ultimately cost the Portuguese his job. Now Antonio Conte is in and will shake things up, starting with the players’ diets and banning Ketchup from the canteen. It won’t be an immediate fix but expect a completely different Spurs team to end the season from the one that started it in terms of mentality, grit and hunger. Chairman Daniel Levy realised he made a mistake with Nuno and quickly rectified it and Spurs will reap the rewards as a result.

GRADE: E

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

WATFORD (17th, 10 pts)

It’s not officially a Premier League season until Watford change their manager and they got their first sacking of the season out of the way early this time, with Claudio Ranieri returning to the Premier League. It’s hard to say if too much has changed since, he started with a 5-0 defeat to Liverpool and followed it up by hitting Everton for five before settling down a bit to two 1-0 defeats. At the moment Watford are two points clear of the drop which is where they were targeting to be so are at least achieving their goal for now. A run of Manchester United, Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester City in their next four games isn’t an ideal place to continue however.

GRADE: C

WEST HAM UNITED (3rd, 23 pts)

Third in the league, one of the best attacks, one of the best defences and one of the best managers at the helm. David Moyes has repaired his reputation following what happened at Manchester United and proved his doubters wrong by guiding the Hammers into the Champions League places and just three points off the top of the table. Michail Antonio has been outstanding up front and Declan Rice is proving himself as one of the best midfielders in the league. They’re building something special at the London Stadium and if they can bring Jesse Lingard back in from Manchester United on a permanent deal to boost their season run-in then there is every reason that West Ham could be a Champions League club by this time next year.

GRADE: A+

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (8th, 16 pts)

After so long under Nuno Espirito Santo, it was always going to take time to come to terms with a new man at the helm and a slow start of three consecutive 1-0 losses as part of a run of four defeats from the opening five games with just two goals scored was a big worry. Results have picked up since then, with just the one loss in their last six as they’ve moved into the top half of the table. Raul Jimenez’s return and link-up with new signing Hwang Hee-chan has been a big positive for Wolves and a partnership they will hope develops throughout the season.

GRADE: C

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