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First Team

Opposition View: Wolverhampton Wanderers

Tim Spiers of the Express & Star previews tonight's game at Molineux

2 January 2018

Wolves are by far and away the best team in the Championship this year and are starting to pull clear of closest rivals Cardiff and Bristol City. Can you summarise what you’ve seen so far?

Near perfection so far. No one really knew what to expect when Nuno Espirito Santo and 12 new players arrived in the summer. What's followed has been beyond supporters' wildest dreams it's now at the point where if promotion isn't achieved it would be a disaster. Wolves have produced some of the best football seen in this part of the world for many decades (perhaps the best ever in terms of style). But they can win ugly, too, which is why they've managed to forge such an impressive lead at the top. They've overcome a host of different teams and styles.

The have recorded some narrow victories of late, though - they can’t throw away promotion can they?

The sumptuous free-flowing football has been in shorter supply in recent weeks but that's understandable given this is the first season in English football for a number of young players, mostly from overseas, who have been playing week after week in a relentless, unforgiving division. So of late it's been Wolves' sturdy defence that's helped them continue to grind out results. Since day one Nuno has set about organising a resolute back line in a team that defends from the front. If they don't do what he wants, they don't play.

Who is the standout player in this Wolves squad?

It's difficult to pick out one - Ruben Neves is the best passer of a ball almost anyone can remember seeing at Molineux, Leo Bonatini has performed beyond expectations with 12 goals, Willy Boly has been imperious at the back and 'old guard' Conor Coady and Matt Doherty have proved invaluable in the new era. However Diogo Jota is probably the standout. The 21-year-old Portuguese forward has been a revelation, netting 10 goals, providing a number of assists and being the magical creative spark that's edged a few tight games. He's been kicked to kingdom come but keeps getting up (and giving it back) and has adapted brilliantly to the league.

What’s the aim for the season from here on in?

In the league, finishing what they've started it the sole aim. They had accrued 54 points from their opening 23 matches, putting them on course for a record Championship points total.

While that will prove mightily difficult, Wolves will certainly be gunning for the title, not just a top two finish. An FA Cup run may also be a target. Wolves reached the fourth round of the Carabao Cup and exited the competition despite having not conceded a single goal in four games (they were beaten on penalties after a 0-0 draw at Man City) which suggests their squad can handle a few extra games.

Is Nuno looking to strengthen in January? If so, in which areas?

Signing a striker is imperative in January. Bonatini has been a revelation so far but he remains their only recognised senior out-and-out striker, owing to a cock-up in late August when Wolves tried and failed to sign a host of forwards. If the Brazilian were to pick up an injury (and fatigue has looked an issue of late) then Wolves would be in trouble. The same scenario is true of right wing back, where Matt Doherty is the only obvious choice. So it's back-up options in these positions that they'll most likely be looking at.

How do Wolves set up?

It's 3-4-3 every single game with Doherty and Barry Douglas almost always the marauding wing backs. Conor Coady is the central sweeper - a masterstroke from Nuno as the popular Liverpudlian midfielder had never played there before - and Romain Saiss and Neves sit in midfield. Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro have usually been the ones to provide the magic either side of Bonatini, although last season's star man Helder Costa returned to the XI recently and hinted he could be getting back to his best after an injury-hit campaign.

What’s your score prediction for the first game of 2018?

Brentford are a good team to watch and always seem to cause Wolves problems. Personally I'm surprised they're stuck in mid-table. However it's hard to look past a Wolves win, probably by the odd goal. 2-1.

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