Lopetegui braced for his biggest challenge yet as Wolves fight to stay in Premier League
Wolves head coach Julen Lopetegui thinks getting the final results needed to secure their Premier League status could prove the most difficult step yet.
Back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Brentford had put safety in sight for Wolves. But their progress was halted with a 2-1 defeat at relegation rivals Leicester City, where Lopetegui’s side had gone in front early on.
Wolves welcome Crystal Palace – who are in great form under Roy Hodgson – to Molineux on Tuesday night. A win for the hosts would take them to 37 points and this could well be enough to keep them up.
The current six-point gap to the relegation zone is certainly a more positive outlook at Molineux than when Lopetegui was appointed in November when Wolves were second bottom.
The former Sevilla, Real Madrid and Spain boss, though, knows the job is not yet complete – and getting over the line might just prove the biggest challenge to date.
“We have fought very hard to have this possibility (to stay up), so it’s a good thing to think about four months ago where we were and now the chance that we have,” Lopetegui said.
“But in football, the most difficult thing is always the step that you have to do. We have to put the focus there.”
Of their six Premier League games remaining, three are at home, with relegation-battlers Everton coming to Molineux on May 20.
Lopetegui feels having the crowd fully behind them could prove the difference.
“The spirit and the energy our fans can build is going to be key for us, but especially in the bad moments in the match because you are going to have those as you are playing against very good teams,” he said.
“We have to feel this spirit and this energy and I’m sure that they understand that we have arrived in the key moments of the season.
“It’s very important to create this atmosphere around the team that pushes you when you are tired and you have doubts.”
Lopetegui knows Palace will arrive determined to continue their progress under Roy Hodgson.
“The last matches they have played away, they have won in a big way and have very clearly overcome their opponents, that’s why the quality of their players is undoubtedly very high,” Lopetegui told a press conference.
“As you get closer to the end of the season, each match becomes more important.
“We know that, but we have to put the focus to be ready in our work, how we want to play and how we are going to develop our idea on the pitch tomorrow, so it is important to think about us.”
Wolves will check on midfielder Mario Lemina, who was forced off at half-time against Leicester because of a hamstring problem.
Captain Ruben Neves had to be content with a place on the bench following his return from suspension, replacing Lemina for the second half.
Lopetegui defended his team selection, as well as the influence of Neves, as he looks to find the right balance over the closing matches of the season.
“We have won with Ruben and have won without Ruben. The important thing is to highlight how the team works,” the Wolves boss said.
“Ruben is a very good player for us, but we have competition (in the squad). Fortunately the other midfielders have stepped up (during his suspension).
“Now it is up to us to choose the right line-up for each match and to be able to compete, but I always want to highlight the team work above the names.”
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