Wolves v Braga preview: Ruben Neves taking on his best mate
Going up against Braga is extra special for Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves – because his best friend plays for them.
Neves and Braga winger Ricardo Horta know each other very well, and the Wolves man is wishing him ‘bon voyage, but, hopefully, the three points will be left here’, writes Joe Edwards.
“We played together in the national team, five years ago,” said Neves.
“We have a very good relationship, our families as well, so he’s a big friend of mine.”
Horta, it must be said, carries quite the goal threat going into the Group K encounter, having scored four goals in three qualifiers for Braga.
But Neves is not only familiar with him. He arrived at Wolves from Porto – who have a ‘good rivalry’ with Braga – and knows they must not be underestimated.
“I played against a lot of their players when I was at Porto,” said Neves.
“It was a good rivalry. The cities are close to each other, and it’s two of the big teams in Portugal.
“I’ve played with some of the players for the national team as well.
“We know that it’s going to be a difficult game against them. They’re a big club.
“We have to focus. It’s a big, important game.
“It’s good for me. It’s good for all the Portuguese players here.
“We know Braga, my best friend plays in Braga, so it will be special for me – and for him as well.
“But, on the pitch, you don’t have friends, you have team-mates, and we want to win.
“That’s what we want to do – focus on our game, try to get the first win in Europe.”
The game has added spice for Neves, as it does for Diogo Jota – who also used to play Porto – ex-Sporting keeper Rui Patricio, and former Benfica striker Raul Jimenez.
Willy Boly and Pedro Neto both played for Braga as well.
“Braga are a team that have been growing, and doing quite well in Europe over the last few years,” said Neves.
“As a team, we have the information that is necessary – and we focus on us, doing our best.
“Getting back to winning ways is the most important thing for us.”
Neves & Co clearly know all about Braga – a team who, like Wolves, have seen their league form take a dip while qualifying for the Europa League.
Wolves are winless five games into the Premier League season, while Braga have won only one of their first five games in the Primeira Liga.
Neves, though, says he and the rest of Nuno Espirito Santo’s charges remain in high spirits.
“It hasn’t been an easy start to the season because we’ve had extra qualifying games for the Europa League, and the truth is the Premier League is the best league in the world, so you’re always going to have these moments in a season,” he said.
“We need to return to winning ways as soon as possible and start playing to our level and start getting wins on the table and start putting Wolves where they deserve to be.
“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it. We’re all top players, we’re used to it and we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. We have a lot of confidence, from the fans, from our coach.
“We know what we can do. We’ve proved in the past what we’re capable of, so it’s about getting back to winning ways as fast as we can.”
All in all, Neves is determined for Wolves to prove themselves on this big stage.
He says making it to the group stage has been a ‘beautiful journey’ for the club – but they are not resting on their laurels.
“It’s going to be amazing for us because the club, a few years ago, was in the Championship,” said Neves.
“We haven’t had the start we wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey in the Europa League – this is a historic moment for Wolves, and we’re going to do our best in this competition.
“Now, we’re in Europe. It means a lot to us, it means we have done great work over the last two years.
“Fans have not been used to seeing Wolves in Europe since a long time ago.
“We have a great atmosphere in our stadium, and we have to play with that as well and I know our fans are going to be with us, like they are always.”
Personally, Neves would love to make his mark in the competition too – perhaps adding a couple more screamers to his already sizeable collection.
“I think every player thinks about that,” he added. “We all try to do our best on the pitch, no matter the competition.
“Our main objective is to help Wolves to grow.
“This is another game for that, another competition, and we’re proud to be playing in Europe.
“I think all the players are thinking about doing their best for the team.”
Wolves likely XI: Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Traore, Neves, Saiss, Moutinho, Otto; Cutrone, Jota