Ruben Neves continued his exceptional season with Wolverhampton Wanderers by putting in another outstanding shift that was littered with upside against Sheffield United.
Throughout his team's 3-0 mauling of the Blades, Neves' impact was keenly felt, as his contribution was tremendous on both sides of the ball. Obviously, his most eye-catching moment came via his scintillating first half strike, where he blasted home a perfectly placed rocket from 25 yards to propel the home side into an early ascendancy. But the inordinately gifted 20-year-old's output extended far beyond the aforementioned, however. On a quick side note, his wonder strike, which was his fourth goal of the season, means he interestingly keeps up his streak of scoring all his goals for Wolves from outside the box.
To start with his attacking work, and the Portuguese maestro did an outstanding job of organising, constructing and animating Wolves’ offensive phases. Using a combination of his astute movement, spatial awareness and innate ability to read the play, Neves' intelligent positioning persistently afforded him the ideal platform from which to influence proceedings.
He performed his customary well-timed drops towards his central defenders to assist them in building out from the back to good effect. Indeed, this not only gave his team additional numerical superiority but also gave the outside centre halves vast opportunities to dribble upfield due to Sheffield's first line being occupied predominantly by Neves and Conor Coady. By doing so, Willy Boly, in particular, had a sound base to burst forward and subsequently provoke an opposition midfielder into pressing him, something that would consequently create space for a Wolves’ attacker to exploit. Neves would notably stay higher near the centre of the pitch to ensure his marker would be pinned by his presence to manufacture room for said centre back dribbles too.
Another avenue the former FC Porto starlet found fruitful was the when opting to move into the deep left half space, where he cunningly drifted occasionally during build-up to open up the field for himself to use his sublime passing qualities in a less congested area of the pitch. Wolves' second goal offered a fine testament to this tactic's success, for Neves' venture into this zone served as the catalyst for the move that culminated in the Wanderers’ wonderfully crafted second goal.
Once in possession, the sublime technician weaved his magic with his distribution to find colleagues in advanced locations, switch play with consummate ease or play intricate combinations in close quarters. Moreover, his remarkable composure saw him hardly make any mistakes, in a match where his press resistance made him a very elusive proposition for the Blades.
Meanwhile, defensively, his positioning echoed into this side of the game, with the four times capped Portuguese international remaining concentrated to take up strong stopping locations to deal with his adversaries. This was vital in him being able to use his cover shadow to block potential passing lanes and remain in good body orientations to press or support teammates.
Full of poise, polish and class, Neves' statistics illustrate his multifaceted body of work suitably, as he successfully made 13 of his 14 long balls, completed a tidy 94% of his 89 attempted overall passes, while also chiming in with four tackles, one blocked shot, two won aerial duels and one key pass.
Talented teammate Matt Doherty fittingly explained Neves' significant impact when speaking recently by asserting: “Last year I made a lot of runs and maybe didn’t quite get on the end of it – the quality of player we have this year is unbelievable in terms of passing. Neves’ passing is the best I’ve played with. It’s a joy to play with players who have that vision.”
To get a further insight just how highly rated he is both at Wolves and back home, his former Porto B coach in Luis Castro summed up Neves' wizardry up aptly. “People talk about his technical and tactical talent, but Ruben Neves has extraordinary talent in terms of his mentality. He plays the game with incredible calmness and knows what each passage of play asks of him," he divulged.
Even though many initially questioned his £16 million move to the Championship, the man who was the youngest ever player to captain a side in the Champions League and youngest Portuguese player to feature in the competition, is certainly proving all his doubters wrong with his consistently mesmerising displays.
His latest 90 minutes of action against Sheffield United was just another glowing example of his immense, game-changing capabilities.