Wolves are playing in Europe for the first time since 1980, but here’s the thing - they’re one of the most experienced sides in the competition. How so, I hear you ask?
Well, it turns out Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, who were playing in the Championship just two seasons ago, boast a squad packed with players with real Europa and Champions League pedigree.
And it’s paying off, Wolves have qualified for the knockout stages with a game to spare, meaning tonight’s match with Besiktas is a dead rubber.
The secret to their success? Recruitment. It’s been sensational over the past three transfer windows, with the likes of Ruben Neves, Rui Patricio and Raul Jiminez all joining to propel the club up the Premier League. They are now establishing themselves as challengers to the big six and a genuine European threat, improving every season.
And their European experience must not be underestimated. Rui Patricio, at 31-years-old, has now played 97 games in European competition across his career and will hit 100 if Wolves can progress into the last 16. Having a keeper with such experience gives the back five security and solidity in those tricky away ties, which can be so pivotal in the knockout stages.
In the defence Willy Boly also boasts European experience, having played ten games for Braga but it is in midfield where the class really shows for the Molineux side. Ruben Neves was the marquee signing and is still the youngest captain of a Champions League side after he played for Porto at the tender age of 18.
Now just 22, he has 18 appearances to his name in the Champions League and ten in the Europa league fairly impressive for such a young player. If age comes before beauty then Joao Moutinho certainly comes ahead of his fellow Portuguese midfielder. The 33-year-old has now played a quite ridiculous 129 matches across all European competitions making him the wise head in midfield.
He has seen it all with Sporting CP, Monaco and Porto and will now pass on his wisdom to his less experienced teammates. His calming nature at the heart of this side cannot be underestimated and he will be vital to this side if they are to go deep into this winnable competition.
Patrick Cutrone is another squad player with huge Europa League experience having been crucial to an AC Milan team who have often frequented this tournament in recent years. Diogo Jota played eight Champions League games for FC Porto, while Raul Jiminez is also no stranger to the format. The Mexican has 22 appearances in Europe’s premier competition and has found the net in the Europa League before as he looks to lead the line on the continent.
Of course, the likes of Ajax, Manchester United, Inter Milan, Arsenal and Sevilla will be tough to beat, but Wolves have all the components to go far into this competition. They may not win the whole thing, but they are certainly a dangerous side the big boys will be looking to avoid.
At first glance, Wolves seem like an inexperienced outfit. When you delve deeper that simply couldn’t be further from the truth.