Why Wolves ARE ready to gatecrash the top four this season: Frightening power of Adama Traore, Conor Coady’s dogged defence and a kind fixture list mean wily Nuno Espirito Santo is all set to shock the big guns in Champions League race
- Wolves are pushing for a spot in the Premier League top four this season
- Their win at Tottenham on Sunday means they are just three points off Chelsea
- With a kind domestic run-in, Wolves could prioritise this over the Europa League
- Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez are working brilliantly as a strike partnership
- Adama Traore continues to impress and Conor Coady leads a sturdy backline
For some time now, it has been a case of expect the unexpected from Nuno Espirito Santo’s increasingly impressive Wolves side.
Championship winners the year before last, the Midlands club were last season’s surprise package as they qualified for the Europa League, sneaking seventh spot in the Premier League to make up for their blowing of a two-goal lead in the FA Cup semi-finals.
This time round, whilst a deep run in the Europa League has been the primary focus of onlookers, Sunday’s 3-2 victory at Tottenham may mark a shift of priorities – they’re now sixth in the Premier League, three points off fourth-placed Chelsea.
Raul Jimenez, Wolves’ top scorer this season, celebrates his winner against Tottenham Hotspur
The manner of the win in north London, coming from behind on two occasions, displayed in essence the key attributes valued at Molineux: resilience, efficiency and composure, and it could spur them on to even greater heights in the remaining two months or so of the season.
The Champions League is in sight. Can they really do it?
Since an anomaly of a defeat at Watford on New Year’s Day, Wolves haven’t led the form table, but have consistently been right up there.
WOLVES’ LAST SIX
Feb 1: D vs Man United, 0-0 (PL)
Feb 14: D vs Leicester, 0-0 (PL)
Feb 20: W vs Espanyol, 4-0 (EL)
Feb 23: W vs Norwich, 3-0 (PL)
Feb 27: L vs Espanyol, 3-2 (EL)
March 1: W vs Tottenham, 3-2 (PL)
With a 1-1 draw against Newcastle sandwiched in between two FA Cup games against Manchester United, which ultimately ended in elimination, Wolves showed their powers of recovery most notably on the south coast.
Two down at half-time against Southampton, Wolves came storming back in the second-half, with Pedro Neto’s strike and Raul Jimenez’s double snatching all three points.
And even though they failed to win in three games after that, they were more than a match for all three lofty opponents: Liverpool, Manchester United and Leicester.
Against the league leaders at Molineux, Wolves were somewhat unlucky to leave the contest empty-handed, with spurned opportunities coming back to haunt them.
Two goalless draws, at Old Trafford and at home to the Foxes, did not set the world alight but highlighted their doggedness in defence, spearheaded by captain Conor Coady.
Yet it is since the winter break where Wolves have flourished and in particular the lethal attacking pairing of Jimenez and Jota.
Diogo Jota scored a terrific hat-trick against Espanyol in the Europa League on February 20
A four-goal dismantling of Espanyol in the Europa League last-32 saw Jota notch an impressive hat-trick, and the Portugual international followed that up with a double against Norwich.
He scored again on Sunday, as did Jimenez, and both have been pivotal in the club’s excellent recent run.
As mentioned previously, Jota has recently caught the eye, with six goals in his last three appearances.
As well as his composed finishing, his work-rate and sheer pace has in recent weeks swung matches in Wolves’ favour, none more so exemplified then for the match-winner on Sunday.
Receiving the ball half-way inside his own half, he exquisitely turned Lucas Moura before accelerating away from Serge Aurier, and cutting inside to find Jimenez in acres of space.
The Mexican, Wolves’ top scorer this season with 16 goals in all competitions, did the rest, selling Japhet Tanganga in the box before striking into the top corner with his left foot.
WOLVES IN 2019-20
- Points: 42
- Position: 6th
- Wins/Draws/Losses: 10/12/6
- Goals scored/conceded: 42/34
- Clean sheets: 7
- Shooting accuracy: 32 per cent
- Pass accuracy: 79 per cent
- Tackle success: 55 per cent
Statistics according to the Premier League
It was a move encompassing all the quality and precision of Wolves’ forward pairing. And the support on the flanks isn’t half-bad either.
One of the most explosive players in the country, Adama Traore’s powerful direct dribbling and frightening speed have been a constant threat this season.
For Wolves’ second goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the 24-year-old bounced – quite literally – off Tanganga’s fierce challenge, opting to stay on his feet before finding Matt Doherty on the right, who set up Jota for a tap-in.
Yet what has been most notable watching Traore this year, in contrast to recent seasons both at Wolves and Middlesbrough, is his end product. He boasts six goals (including a match-winning brace at the Etihad Stadium in October) and 10 assists in all competitions.
Adama Traore has matched his raw pace with an end product in a breakthrough season
In midfield, the Portuguese core continues with twin playmakers Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves experts in ball retention and the undervalued knack of finding the right pass at the right time.
Supported by the sturdiness of Leander Dendoncker, Wolves’ centre of the park is rarely out-run or out-thought, no matter the opponent.
Defensively, Coady’s captaincy is a standout feature in this side, with the flying wing-back pair of Matt Doherty (who has already scored six goals and two in his last two) and Jonny boasting bags of stamina.
Wing back Matt Doherty scored his sixth goal of the season at Tottenham on Sunday afternoon
Nuno Espirito Santo has assembled a splendid crop of players at Wolves since his arrival at the club in 2017.
The Portuguese should not be underestimated. With his wily touchline demeanour, he demands a high work-rate and level of concentration from all his players.
Speaking recently to Sportsmail, he said: ‘You say Wolves is a team of counter-attack. OK, no problem! But how do we counter attack?
‘If you want to prepare your counter attack, you have to first prepare where you are going to recover the ball, who is going to recover the ball. You are determining the moment of your counter-attack.’
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo has assembled a formidable squad at Molineux
Clearly, his attention to detail is exceptional, reflected in the way his team play with an openness in attack while seemingly never caught short at the back.
This season, his side have drawn more games than they have won in the Premier League – 12 to 10 – and that just about sums up the mentality of Nuno. If you can’t win, don’t dare lose.
After such a brilliant first season in the Premier League, many predicted a backlash this campaign, a case of second-season-syndrome if you will. But, if anything, Nuno has propelled his team to even greater heights.
With a Europa League last-16 tie against Olympiacos on the horizon and a Champions League spot now within reach, his next challenge will be to prioritise a competition, as going for broke in both could perhaps be too much for a squad who have already amassed 46 games this season, stretching back to July.
With 10 games to go in the Premier League, Wolves’ run-in could just work in their favour, particularly with their European commitments.
An ever-present at the back, captain Conor Coady will be crucial to Wolves’ top-four chances
WOLVES’ NEXT SIX
March 7: H vs Brighton (PL)
March 12: A vs Olympiacos (EL)
March 15: A vs West Ham (PL)
March 19: H vs Olympiacos (EL)
March 22: H vs Bournemouth (PL)
April 4: A vs Aston Villa (PL)
Out of the supposed top-six elite, they only have to play Arsenal at home in mid-April, and Chelsea on the final day of the season at Stamford Bridge. What a finale that could turn out to be.
Outside of those games, where they will fancy their chances anyway, Wolves’ trickiest fixtures are a trip to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United on April 19 and a game at home to Everton six days later.
Their games in and around the Olympiacos tie are kind, and they will expect to pick up nine points out of nine in clashes against Brighton, West Ham and Bournemouth.
In a race for the Champions League spots which seemingly no team wants to grasp, could Wolves join Leicester and break into the top four this season?
Judging by their run-in, their core of in-form players and the supreme astuteness and attitude of manager Santo, they certainly can.
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