Inside Track: Wolves

By SFC Media time Thu 11 Apr Saints v Wolves
Photo by Matt Watson | Wolves' Joao Moutinho

The Express and Star's Wolves correspondent Tim Spiers gives us the inside track on Nuno Espirito Santo's side ahead of Saturday's meeting at St Mary's...

What kind of reaction are you expecting from Wolves following Sunday’s defeat to Watford at Wembley?

For the past two seasons we've witnessed a steep and continuous rise for Wolverhampton Wanderers, from Championship also-rans to challenging in the top half of the Premier League, while playing sumptuous football along the way.

The fans have been spoiled beyond their wildest dreams and for the players it's been the highlight of many of their careers. What they haven't had to deal with, though, is many setbacks. And this wasn't just a setback - it was a crushing disappointment. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 07:  Leander Dendoncker of Wolverhampton Wanderers looks on during the FA Cup Semi Final match between Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Wembley Stadium on April 07, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
A two-goal lead spurned in the FA Cup semi-final means Wolves will be looking to pick up the pieces of their season at St Mary's.

Since Nuno Espirito Santo took charge, Wolves have played 92 matches and only once lost after scoring first (2-1 at Cardiff in November). They've become experts at leading from the front - and no one expected them to blow a two-goal lead at Wembley with just 11 minutes left.

The reaction at full-time was one of stunned silence. Knowing Nuno, he won't tolerate any distractions from the immediate task at hand, which is finishing as high as possible in the league to top off what's been a wonderful season.

In spite of that defeat, can you summarise the mood around the club at the moment?

Before the Watford defeat the general mood has been one of excitement, frequent euphoria and a tangible feeling that this is only the start of what could be a very special journey.

Sunday shouldn't derail that. Wolves are a club going places - they are run by ambitious, wealthy and intelligent owners who see the bigger picture while financing transfers (£100m worth of transfers sanctioned since the start of last summer) and improvements to Molineux and the training ground.

Wolverhampton Wanderers' Mexican striker Raul Jimenez celebrates after scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Burnley at the Molineux stadium in Wolverhampton, central England on September 16, 2018. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /         (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexican striker Raul Jimenez agreed a permanent transfer to the club last week after leading the way for Wolves on an initial loan deal this season. 

Many of their big money signings, such as Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, are still young and improving, so the feeling is there's more to come from this team as well as having the financial clout to make improvements to a small and tight-knit squad this summer.

There are already 5,000 fans on a season ticket waiting list and Wolves easily sold out a 34,300 allocation for Wembley, which tells you how excited the fans are about what's next.

Nuno revealed he would take the squad away to recharge for a final European push, do you make them favourites to seal seventh place?

A few iffy results in the league in the past six weeks - notably defeats at Huddersfield and Burnley - have seen their rivals for seventh place close the gap. Only one point now separates a resurgent Leicester, Wolves, Everton and Watford so I wouldn't place Wolves as favourites.

There are just six games to go and with Nuno's team heading to Anfield on the final day of the season, if they're to finish seventh they will more than likely need it wrapped up before then. If Nuno can get them back on track after Sunday then they've got enough in their armoury to finish 'best of the rest'.

A trip to Watford on April 27, which will now also be a revenge mission, will be the key match. Either way, the message from the players is that they don't want the season to peter out from here. Finishing in the top 10 would be a wonderful achievement for a newly-promoted club and that's the minimum aim from here.

Saints will field a totally different side to the one that lost at Molineux earlier in the season, what kind of game are you expecting?

Wolves found it tough to break down a resilient Southampton at Molineux. Saints played 4-4-2, packed the midfield and did a good job of nullifying Wolves' main threats before two late goals saw Nuno's team earn a hard-fought victory.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29: Nathan Redmond of Southampton during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton FC at Molineux on September 29, 2018 in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images)
Late disappointment for Saints at Molineux in September where goals from Ivan Caveleiro and Jonny Otto secured the points for Wolves.

A lot's changed at Southampton since then but Wolves have also evolved - the formation changed from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2 with the introduction of physical Belgian midfielder Leander Dendoncker in late December helping the two Portuguese artisans alongside him, Ruben Neves and particularly Joao Moutinho, to flourish.

The most effective change, though, has been up front. Moving Diogo Jota into a more central position and partnering him with Raul Jimenez has allowed both players to blossom.

They've engineered an almost telepathic partnership, scoring eight of Wolves' last nine goals, with Jimenez adding a prolific goalscoring touch to his already impressive all-round game, based on hard graft and clever link-up play.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09:  Diogo Jota of Wolverhampton Wanderers (L) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal Conor with Ruben Neves during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers at St. James Park on December 9, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Diogo Jota (L) has flourished in recent weeks alongside strike partner Jimenez.

Wolves have struggled against sides in the bottom half of the table this season, why do you think that is?

Where they have come unstuck is against teams who pack the midfield and stop them playing. They've earned some deeply impressive results against the big six, particularly in beating Manchester United twice in 17 days including in the FA Cup quarter-finals, but also in beating Chelsea and Spurs and drawing against Manchester City and Arsenal.

Conversely they contrived to lose twice to Huddersfield and Watford, Burnley and Cardiff adopted similar tactics to good effect. Against the better sides Wolves are allowed more freedom, particularly in the final third where Jota, Jimenez and the two wing-backs have been able to isolate opposition defenders one-on-one.

Against teams lower in the table they've struggled to prise defences open and that's something they'll be looking to change next season.


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