Europa League preview: FC Pyunik v Wolves
A 4,600-mile round trip to Armenia before the Premier League season gets under way at Leicester on Sunday is not exactly ideal.
But ‘it’s the reality’ for Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo and his players – and a challenge they are embracing, writes Joe Edwards.
FC Pyunik are the opponents in the Europa League third qualifying round first leg, and Nuno said: “It’s tough because it’s very far and there are lots of hours of flight, but we have to do it and we have prepared well, and we’re going to play, then we’re going to think of Leicester.
“It’s the reality. We’re going to fly and make this time useful, trying to rush the recovery of the players with good food.
“It’s a challenge for us, and we have to embrace it by doing our best. It’s what we do.
“It’s going to be tough. They did well in the previous round.
“We’ve analysed it, and they’re always a tough team, and they have good players. It will be a tough game.”
Wolves should win – but Nuno, as ever, is taking nothing for granted.
And tomorrow they will train in preparation for Leicester, so that means no beers on the flight back home.
“That’s the worst mistake you can make,” warned Nuno.
“Have a good meal, get rest and avoid alcohol.
“We take our own chef. It’s trying to take care of all our details. All the small details are important.
“The players, the discipline they have, is fantastic. A player’s body is their tool. They know that.”
Nuno’s not worried about a potential mental toll on his players either.
“I don’t think so. We prepare well. The rest will happen naturally,” he said.
“The mental and physical aspects, we try to take care of everything. Let’s hope for the best.
“Everything is ready. We just have to travel, rest and play. That’s what we did in Asia – we prepare ourselves well as a club for these new things that are going to happen, and happening now.
“We are ready to do it, and do it well. I am happy.”
So, we know FC Pyunik are from Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan. But what else is there worth knowing?
Well, they clinched their Europa League qualifying opportunity through finishing second in the Armenian Premier League last season, and beat FK Jablonec of the Czech Republic to set up this two-legged tie with Wolves.
They finished only a point worse off than title-winners Ararat-Armenia in the nine-team division, which also includes the likes of Banants, Alashkert and Shirak.
Aleksandr Tarkhanov is Pyunik’s boss.
He took charge in April but the 64-year-old has had plenty of managerial reigns over the years – 19 to be precise. Tarkhanov has had three spells at the Khimki helm in Russia, and managed better-known Russian sides Kuban Krasnodar and CSKA Moscow.
He was briefly CSKA’s club president in 1996 too.
And in terms of the players Tahanov has at his disposal, unsurprisingly, most of them are Armenian.
Skipper Karlen Mkrtchyan, a defensive midfielder, has played 52 times and scored two goals for his country.
Pyunik have some players from overseas as well though.
Nigerian forward Steven Alfred has been signed this summer, from Sochi in Russia.
They have an Albanian defender in Kristi Marku, a Macedonian right-back in Antonio Stankov and a Ukranian utility man in Serhiy Shevchuk too.
And what about the ground?
The Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium is Pyunik’s home.
It is also home to the Armenian national team and city rivals Ararat Yerevan.
The capacity of the all-seater stadium is 14,403, with a running track between the pitch and the stands.
And unlike the artificial pitch at Crusaders’ Seaview ground in the last round, the ground boasts natural turf under foot.
Good news for Nuno is that Matt Doherty has travelled for the game.
The Irishman started training again this week after a knee injury hampered his pre-season preparations.
Doherty was joined by new signings Jesus Vallejo and Patrick Cutrone – signed from Real Madrid and AC Milan respectively – on the flight.
Pedro Neto and Bruno Jordao – signed last week – have not gone.
Morgan Gibbs-White is likely to miss out after picking up an ankle knock at Crusaders.
Raul Jimenez, who also picked up a knock in that game, is fit and ready.
Pyunik (4-2-3-1): Dragojevic; Stankov, Marku, Zhestokov, Manucharyan; Mkrtchyan, Yedigaryan; Simonyan, Efimov, Shevchuk; Miranyan
Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Traore, Neves, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Otto; Jimenez, Jota