Wolves boss Nuno striving for more at Aston Villa
It has gone pretty well for Wolves over the past week – but Nuno Espirito Santo, naturally, is still striving for more.
Having picked up victories over West Ham and Bournemouth ahead of tomorrow’s exciting encounter with Villa, fans have the right to feel confident.
But Nuno – always keen to remain level-headed – insists there is ‘a lot of space for improvement’.
What has obviously been a key factor in restarting the season in style is the potent partnership of Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez.
With the former setting up the latter to beat the Cherries on Wednesday night, they have now combined for 10 Premier League goals, which is more than any other top-flight pairing.
But while pleased with the delightful cross from Traore and towering header from Jimenez, Nuno is looking for his side to be more productive in the final third at Villa Park.
Reflecting on the winner at Molineux the other night, he said: “It was one of the good moments of the game.
“We’ll be reminded as it produced the goal, but we had a lot of things and there were many times we went to the byline and the cross wasn’t so good.
“So, there is a lot of space for improvement. We cannot only be judged by one situation. We produced a lot and didn’t finish all of them.”
It must be said, though, three goals from two games – and two clean sheets – is good going. And in beating the Hammers and Bournemouth, Wolves kept up quite the record, which they will hope is still intact after taking on Dean Smith’s outfit.
So far this campaign, they have achieved maximum points against the current bottom four.
It is also worth noting that they have picked up 26 points against the bottom six, as opposed to 14 last term.
They have found a way to grind out results against teams that set themselves up very defensively.
On top of that, Wolves are on a seven-game unbeaten run in the league, keeping clean sheets in six of those.
Taking all those things into account, you cannot help but fancy their chances of continuing their hot streak tomorrow.
Nuno, though, will flat-out refuse to take Villa lightly.
After all, Villa – albeit in different circumstances – have won the last two meetings between the sides on their own patch.
They won 4-1 at Villa Park in the Championship in 2018, and 2-1 against a massively-changed Wolves in the Carabao Cup earlier this season.
So, it will be interesting to see what system Nuno opts for – slightly more reserved, or going for the home side’s throat.
It was 3-5-2 from the off at the London Stadium, with a switch to 3-4-3 on the hour working wonders.
Then, on Wednesday, it was 3-4-3 from the beginning and once they eventually got the opener, they went to 3-5-2 to see things out.
Both provided the same result – three points – so Nuno could truly go either way.
“It’s about taking decisions, and I think we can be versatile enough to adapt,” he said. “We have to be really careful with the choices and decisions that we make as it’s a tough period for football players.
“And Wednesday was very, very hot. It was terribly hot to play football, so both teams were very brave for their efforts.
“It’s going to get worse, too, as the days go by.
“It is very demanding on the players and you could see it – both teams were giving everything they have, and it was tough.”
Whether it is 3-5-2 or 3-4-3, and whether he starts or comes off the bench, you would back Traore to have a significant influence on proceedings.
He will be keen to prove a point against his former club as well.
The speedster has improved immensely over the last year – let alone since his time in claret and blue – and would like to show just how far he has come.
Diogo Jota, should he start, will also be determined to get back among the goals.
The Portuguese has looked lively in the first couple of games, but been a bit guilty of trying to hard.
He held on to the ball for too long on a few occasions in the capital and was then often smothered by a few red and black shirts in midweek.
Jota has Pedro Neto, who has really caught the eye as substitute, breathing down his neck as well.
Jimenez will surely lead the line, with him now on 24 goals in all competitions this season – the most of any Premier League player. Ultimately, Wolves should be largely the same in terms of personnel, having no injury concerns.
“We’ve had just two days to prepare for Villa,” added Nuno. “It’s going to be very tough, so let’s prepare well.
“This is the only thing that’s in our minds now.”
So, it is a match of real significance for both teams, although for very different reasons.
For Wolves, another win would go a long way to sealing European football once more.
They have already created a nice four-point cushion between themselves and seventh-placed Tottenham, while Sheffield United and Arsenal have fallen away slightly.
As has been the case in the last two, Wolves may have to bide their time – stick to their principles and pick their spots. Let’s see if they can make it three from three.
Predicted Wolves XI
(3-4-3): Patricio; Boly, Coady, Saiss; Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Otto; Traore, Jimenez, Jota
Subs: Ruddy (gk), Kilman, Buur, Vinagre, Dendoncker, Jordao, Gibbs-White, Neto, Podence