Nuno's three years in charge of Wolves - Part three
Juggling the Europa League with the Premier League has been a problem for many teams over the years – but not Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves.
So far this campaign, Nuno’s charges have replicated the success they had in the league in 18/19 and established themselves as a European force, too.
Due to an unprecedented break in the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, Nuno’s men may well enjoy their best performance of 19/20 when the season resumes behind-closed-doors in a couple of weeks.
But Wolves set a pretty high bar before the action was suspended in March.
The big-time feel of European football returned thanks to successfully making it through the Europa League qualifying rounds, and a 4-0 win against Espanyol in the last 32 was a fine night at Molineux, with Diogo Jota grabbing a hat-trick and Ruben Neves throwing in a screamer for good measure.
Wolves have also managed to prove that the points they picked up against the classic top-six clubs last term were no fluke.
Another victory arrived at Tottenham – this time at their swanky new stadium – and put Nuno’s lot firmly in the Champions League race.
Draws have come against Manchester United and Arsenal while, most notably, Wolves have done the double over reigning champions Manchester City.
The second of those was remarkable, coming back from 2-0 down to beat Pep Guardiola’s outfit 3-2 in December.
But the first was even better. It was an example of a game-plan being executed to complete and utter perfection, with Wolves frustrating the hosts for large periods before hitting City with two sucker-punches towards the end – Adama Traore grabbing a brace.
You cannot ask for a better away-day display than that. Nuno outfoxed Pep.
Most influential player
If you are team looking to go places, you need a top-drawer striker in your ranks.
And in Raul Jimenez, Wolves certainly have one of the best centre forwards around.
So far this season, the Mexican has scored 22 goals in 44 games in all competitions – so, a goal every two games.
It is a remarkable feat – even more so when you consider Jimenez barely had a pre-season because of winning the Gold Cup with his country.
He is not the only one to have caught the eye this campaign, of course.
Traore has been a lethal weapon for Wolves with his blistering pace and sheer strength.
Having improved his end product immensely, the only way to stop him for defenders has been to foul him – but he has never moaned.
His attitude as well as ability has been a delight to watch, but you have to say it is Jimenez who has been the most crucial to Wolves’ success over the past several months.
The club-record £32million paid to Benfica to get him in on a permanent basis was a marvellous bit of business.
Not only a scorer, Jimenez is also one of the most unselfish forwards in the league, with six league assists to his name as well.
He will be looking to break the 30-goal barrier when Wolves restart the term soon.
An unfortunate injury to defensive rock Willy Boly in training – a broken ankle which kept him out for a few months – gave Nuno a selection poser.
Who would fill the void on the left of the back three?
Jesus Vallejo had failed to impress and Ryan Bennett had sustained a few niggling injuries, so Nuno turned to Romain Saiss. And, boy, did it pay off.
Apart from a couple of shaky showings on the right of defence in 18/19, Saiss had not been seen at the back in gold and black, but having played on the left of defence for Morocco, he took to the role straight away.
So much so, in fact, that when Boly eventually recovered, he came back into the side on the right – Saiss still on the left.
Reading the game brilliantly and not being afraid of a physical battle, Saiss has excelled.
Another midfielder, like skipper Conor Coady, who has been transformed into a fantastic defender by Nuno.
Nuno went on an impassioned rant about VAR earlier this term – but let’s not focus on the controversial technology too much.
Instead, let’s look at what he said when asked if he could offer fans any assurances while talk of a new contract was rife. Nuno is yet to sign fresh terms but the matter is expected to be prioritised once this season is over.
He said: “They can be totally assured that every day, this is my obsession. Wolves is my obsession. It’s my life. I don’t think about anything else. I’m 100 per cent here and give everything to help my players and improve the club.”