Nuno's three years in charge of Wolves – Part two
All eyes were on Nuno Espirito Santo and his side as they took on the Premier League after taking the Championship by storm.
No-one needed have worried about how they would have coped – as they won plaudits up and down the country for their attacking style as they claimed a place in Europe in a campaign that will live long in the memory.
Just as they were in the Championship, Wolves fans were spoilt for choice when it came to top displays.
After all, Nuno’s lot developed quite the knack for picking up points against the proverbial ‘big six’.
A 2-1 win over Chelsea at Molineux is looked back upon as the game that sprung Wolves into life after a difficult run through October and November of 2018.
The 3-1 victory against Tottenham at Wembley was something to really savour, with a second-half masterclass seeing them seal a fantastic triumph at the national stadium.
The topsy-turvy 4-3 success against Leicester and the 3-1 home win over Arsenal were both a lot of fun, too.
But the undeniable highlight of the term came in the FA Cup – the magical clash with Manchester United under the Molineux lights.
Such a big occasion and such an amazing atmosphere, Wolves rose to the test and progressed thanks to some unforgettable goals from Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota.
We all know what happened at Wembley – losing to Watford being the low point of the season – but the win over United is still reflected upon with the utmost fondness.
It was a night where Wolves announced themselves as being back among the elite.
Most influential player
The aforementioned Jimenez proved to be a sensational striker.
There was a little bit of scepticism when he arrived on loan from Benfica, given he had mainly been used as an impact substitute by the Portuguese side, but any fears were soon allayed with a spate of goals.
A proper No.9 with no obvious weaknesses, his signing was a superb piece of business.
But when it comes to shrewd moves, you will not find a better example than the capture of Joao Moutinho.
His arrival was a departure from what had mainly been seen under Nuno – bringing in fairly young players who had the potential to grow.
A few perhaps feared Euro 2016-winner Moutinho was past his peak years given he was 31 at the time, but there was never any need to worry.
Signed for just £5millon – a snip given the astronomical fees we have seen in recent years – Moutinho instantly brought a hefty portion of pizazz to the Wolves fold.
A master craftsmen with the ball at his feet, and a Jack Russell Terrier when looking to win it back, supporters were taken aback by the Portuguese’s sheer quality.
Partnering the excellent Ruben Neves in the middle of the park, a master and apprentice relationship was formed.
Moutinho only scored once – a cracker at Old Trafford – but his eight assists saw him top the Wolves chart.
An artist who put a smile on so many faces over the course of the campaign.
Although Moutinho shone so much, it was not all plain sailing for him and Neves in the middle of the park.
That run of six without a win in October and November saw Nuno come up with a new formation, going from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2.
Leander Dendoncker was added to the midfield to bring more bite, while Jota and Jimenez wreaked havoc as a front two.
The tactical tweak saw Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro get a lot less game time and would lead to their eventual departures, but it brought the best out of Jota, who had developed such immense chemistry with Jimenez. And with Dendoncker having bundles of stamina, Moutinho and Neves were able to work their magic.
Ultimately, Wolves had become less predictable. Nuno’s plan B worked a treat.
Nuno’s words after the quarter-final victory against United made it all the more sweeter for supporters.
With a smile on his face, he perfectly summed up the importance of the win and the sheer happiness felt by the fans who had longed for such a momentous night.
“What pleases me more is when I walk down the stands, there are people who say they saw the 50s and the 60s – and they are still coming to the stadium. To give them back this joy, seeing our friends going out of the stadium with this smile, with a lot of beer, of course, it feels good,” said Nuno.
“They did their part. The noise was amazing throughout the game, the atmosphere was fantastic. We did it together! It’s so good. It means a lot, of course. The FA Cup is the oldest competition there is.
“We played well and achieved it with the amazing support of our fans, pushing us and believing in us.
“The noise was fantastic. We achieved it together.”
Hopefully, it will not be too long before the gold and black faithful can make their presence felt at Molineux again.