Wolverhampton Wanderers Season Preview: another adventure under Nuno?

With the 2018-19 Premier League season drawing nearer, The Football Lab spoke to Wolverhampton Wanderers fan Reg Probert (@Reg1981).

You produced one of the greatest ever sides in second-tier history last season, cruising to the title with 99 points. It must have been a joy to behold?

There are Wolves fans that have been going since the 1960’s and they were saying that last season was the best they had ever seen. It was that good. I’ve been a season ticket holder for over 25 years and nothing comes close the quality we were watching, it felt like a real privilege to go to games.

Not many people will have seen better footballers at Championship level than deep-lying playmaker Ruben Neves in 2017-18. Would you agree that he would improve any squad in world football?

I find it almost impossible to believe we have a player as good as him at Wolves and for him to be with us in the Championship just made it all the more surreal. He is an absolutely fantastic footballer and would not look out of place in any team, certainly in England. His passing, vision and technical ability are a different level to anyone I’ve seen.

One of the things that Nuno Espirito Santo sometimes gets thrown at him is that the Jorge Mendes link made his job easier. Given the number of players who had previously looked quite ordinary but found another level under Santo, is that fair?

We have clearly benefited from the link with Jorge Mendes, as we simply wouldn’t have attracted players like Neves and Jota to the Championship, however there is so much more to the current Wolves setup. You only have to look at the team last season and the improvement in certain players to see how good Nuno is.

Norwich fans were laughing when we signed Bennett but he was an excellent defender, we picked up Douglas from Turkey and his set pieces and assists were key to our success, Doherty was so improved at right wing back, that I’d be happy for him to stay in the side for the coming season and special mention for Conor Coady who couldn’t get a game under Lambert but would have been my player of the season, if it weren’t for Neves. Nuno doesn’t take the spotlight and clearly rubs some up the wrong way with his touchline antics but he is an absolutely brilliant head coach.

The goalkeeper position looked, potentially, an area to improve this summer. Are you happy with the signing of Rui Patricio?

Happy?! I still can’t quite believe it. He looks a brilliant signing and if his performances for Portugal are any guide we have a brilliant number one. I presume we are going to get hit with a big transfer fee for him but either way – he looks some signing.

We expected Willy Boly to be one of the best ball-playing defenders in the Championship last year, but perhaps not Conor Coady. Given that he had looked like a basic ball-winner beforehand, how impressed have you been with his development?

Early in pre-season Nuno moved Coady into the backline and he was brilliant from then on. His reading of the game, his drive and determination and his positional sense often meant he was our last line of defence and he did not let us down. As for Boly, he is a fantastic centre back – he occasionally switches off but I’m not sure if that wasn’t because it was all a bit too easy for him.

You could perhaps do with another centre-back, considering you used a three-man defence the previous campaign. Is Ryan Bennett good enough to be a top half Premier League player, or do you see Romain Saiss dropping further back like he did for Morocco?

From pre-season it looks like Nuno is dropping Saiss back into the back three and I’m ok with that. He and Neves formed a brilliant centre midfield last season but I’m glad we’ve found another partner for Neves for this season. I would see Saiss and Coady competing for the one centre back position, and we have Boly as a definite starter if fit. I’d like to see how Hause gets on this season as there is an excellent centre back in there somewhere.

It’s difficult to judge fact from fiction with the transfer rumours but I would be surprised if we don’t add another centre back. It sounds a cop-out but I am happy to leave Nuno to decide.

Matt Doherty made some powerful, driving runs last year. Amid the influx of foreign talent, is it important to keep one or two players who have that connection with supporters?

I’m not sure football is about connections with supporters anymore, as long as the team are doing well I’m not sure Wolves fans care where the players are from.

Doherty will only stay in the team based on his performances and he certainly hasn’t let anyone down so far. Nuno has always used younger Wolves talent but they have to be good enough to get in the team. It is certainly a big season for Gibbs-White and Hause.

It seems surprising that the club are happy to let assist-king, Barry Douglas, leave for Leeds – but are you excited to see what Atletico Madrid loanee Jonny Castro can do?

I genuinely don’t know a lot about Jonny, however he seems to have a decent pedigree and if Simeone and Nuno rate him he must be doing something right. If Douglas does go, I would be disappointed as I think he deserves a chance to be a Premier League player with us, however again I would trust Nuno to make the right decision.

At least based on international tournaments, Joao Moutinho appears to have evolved from a forward-thinking, box-to-box midfielder into someone who plays with a bit more maturity and awareness. He should be the perfect foil for Neves?

I think this is an excellent signing, as he is a great player who would appear to fit perfectly into our system. Saiss and Neves did fantastically last season, however we need to improve the side as there is an obvious step up in class in the Premier League. I am optimistic that our centre midfield will not be bettered by many next season.

There’s rumours of a move for Adama Traore, arguably the best non-Wolves player in the Championship last year. Would you welcome competition for Diogo Jota, Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa in the wide forward positions?

We definitely need more options going forward and competition for places is needed, as is more quality players. We were mostly lucky last season with injuries and whilst it would be great if we could replicate that this season, realistically we need better backup options. As for Traore, he clearly has pace and confidence to take players on, I’ve not been convinced by his final product but he would be a decent option off the bench to change things up.

Leo Bonatini’s form dipped slightly in the second half of last season and Benik Afobe has gone to Stoke. Do you see Benfica loanee Raul Jimenez starting up top?

Until the transfer window shuts its hard to predict the starting eleven, however I am pleased we’ve added a striker who appears to suit our system. I’m pleased we’ve signed Leo as he didn’t cost a lot and showed enough pre-Christmas to suggest he is a good player. With Jota, Cavaleiro and Costa we have some real quality in attack.

Wolves aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole? How do you rate your competitors?

With West Brom in the Premier League and Wolves in the Championship (or lower) I’ve largely avoided the division for the last five years. I’ll be moaning by October about how TV changes all the kick off times but I guess its where all English teams want to be.

I presume Man City will win the league and they will be followed by Man Utd, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, in some order or another. Leicester and Everton will be fine and any of the others could be in the bottom 3 or the top 10. I think Palace and Cardiff might struggle. It will be good to see how Fulham get on as I think they’ve had a good summer.

Where will you finish?

Until the window is closed its difficult to know what our team/ squad will look like for the season so its tough to call where we will finish. Some Wolves fans (on Twitter) seem to think we could finish 6th, others (also on Twitter) think we’ll go down. If I had to guess I’d say 12th-14th.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

There’s not a better deep-lying playmaker in England than Ruben Neves, who is the ideal fulcrum to build this Wolverhampton Wanderers side around. Elite footballers Rui Patricio, Jonny Castro and Joao Moutinho have joined last season’s title-winners, who play with incredible technical proficiency. The Midlanders won’t have the European distractions, nor the pressure, that comes with being part of the establishment. While world-class head coach Nuno Santo is around to elevate players to new levels, the possibilities, at Molineux, are endless. 4th