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First team

Media view: Expert insight on Wolves

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be looking to maintain their impressive home record when they host Wolverhampton Wanderers at Vitality Stadium on Saturday (3pm kick-off).

Wolves head to Dorset on the back of a seven-match unbeaten run in the Premier League and also boast the sixth-best away record in the top flight.

The Midlanders have beaten Aston Villa, Manchester City and Watford and drawn with Arsenal, Newcastle, Southampton and Crystal Palace.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s team have also made good progress in the Europa League and are currently second in Group K having won three and drawn one.

A solitary goal separates Wolves and the Cherries in the Premier League with the visitors one place above Eddie Howe’s team in eighth, both clubs having taken 16 points from their first 12 games.

Ahead of the clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Tim Spiers, who covers the fortunes of Wolves for The Athletic.

afcb.co.uk: Is eighth place and 16 points after 12 games a fair reflection of Wolves’ season so far?

TS: After a poor start, which included a heavy 5-2 defeat to Chelsea as their unbeaten home record ended in spectacular fashion, Wolves have rallied impressively to embark on a run of only one defeat in 12 games in all competitions (and that was in the Carabao Cup where Nuno Espirito Santo made 11 changes at Aston Villa).

To be honest, with a fair few draws and a number of average performances, it hasn’t felt like an ‘eighth-placed season’ so far, which is potentially a tantalising prospect for the months ahead as there’s so much more to come from this Wolves side.

Then again, the table is tighter than two coats of paint – if they had lost at home to Villa in their last league game they would be 16th now. The next six fixtures before Christmas are important to establish a solid position in the top half.

afcb.co.uk: Wolves played seven games in the Europa League before they gained their first win in the Premier League. Do you think involvement in the Europa League played a part in this?

TS: It has definitely been a factor. Not so much the physical exertions (Wolves are one of the fittest sides in the league and score a high proportion of late goals), more the lack of preparation time for league matches and the chopping and changing of his team that Nuno has been forced to do.

Wolves stormed to seventh in the second half of last season playing pretty much the same team every week. With the Europa League, that’s not possible now, so consistency suffered initially.

That said, this is Wolves’ first European campaign for 39 years; if the league form suffers a bit, so be it.

They’re enjoying what’s already been a wonderful European journey, with victories at Torino and Besiktas that will live long in the memory.

They’re on the verge of qualifying for the knockout stage and fans are dreaming of a long run in the competition. With the quality they possess, why not?

afcb.co.uk: On current form, who is Wolves’ player to watch?

TS: The human Road Runner that is Adama Traore (pictured above) has enjoyed a prolific few months.

Nuno has helped transform his game – last season he was all pace and no end product, whereas now he’s actually probably a bit slower (deliberately, to help exert more control when in possession) and, having worked with former sprinter Darren Campbell on how to conserve his energy, he can produce a 90-minute performance rather than just an explosive 20 minutes off the bench.

Crucially, his crossing has improved and he doesn’t just head for the byline. Traore’s pace is unique – he’s almost impossible to legally stop when in full flow.

If he continues with this form, which has earned him a first call-up to the Spain squad, Wolves have a superstar on their hands.

afcb.co.uk: Wolves failed to win any of their first six games in the Premier League but are now unbeaten in their past six. What do you think has been behind the turnaround?

TS: A tweak in the formation back to 3-4-3 has enabled Nuno to play two of his most potent attacking players – Adama Traore and Matt Doherty – in tandem down the right flank and Wolves look much better for it.

Traore has been a revelation this season, providing eight assists already (three last season) while Doherty’s form in the past 18 months will be as good as almost any right wing-back in European football.

The system change has also enabled Ruben Neves to push further up the field to work his voodoo Portuguese magic. 

Raul Jimenez has scored in three of those games, with his goals earning four points, as well as scoring in their last two Europa League victories. The Mexican is now on 32 goals for the calendar year for club and country.

afcb.co.uk: In your opinion, what would represent a successful season under Nuno Espírito Santo?

TS: While the club’s ambitious owners are in a rush to gatecrash the top six, there’s an acceptance that their Europa League exertions (if Wolves earn the one point they need to reach the knockout stages, they are guaranteed to play at least 55 matches this season) will make a repeat of their extremely impressive seventh-placed finish in 2018/19 very difficult.

On average, teams who qualify for the Europa League tend to drop three or four positions in the following season.

There are signs that Wolves can buck that trend, but they’ll probably need a couple of smart January additions to do so.

Overall, a top-10 finish combined with reaching, say, the last eight of the Europa League would be a great season. They’re fifth favourites to win the whole damn thing as well.

afcb.co.uk: Which player do you think has made the most eye-catching progress from last season?

TS: Traore would answer that too, but instead I’ll go for goalkeeper Rui Patricio (pictured above).

After a mixed first season in English football when Patricio’s kicking was poor and he occasionally struggled against aerial bombardments, he’s now become a model of consistency and has barely put a foot wrong since Wolves’ season began in July. His shot-stopping is up there with anyone in the division.

afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?

TS: Wolves have a tendency of struggling after an international break so a victory may be beyond them.

Bournemouth have scored a league high 67 per cent of their goals in the first half of matches, while Wolves are the best in the league for second-half goals (81 per cent), so logic suggests the Cherries to take an early lead before Wolves equalise after the break. I’ll go for 1-1.

You can follow Tim on Twitter – @TimSpiers

Match officials: Simon Hooper (referee), Simon Beck (assistant), Derek Eaton (assistant), Antony Coggins (fourth official), Lee Mason (VAR), Mark Scholes (assistant VAR).

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