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Wolverhampton Wanderers

The Nuno Revolution: Why this Wolves side are one of the best in Championship history

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Wolves
Photo: Reuters

It is fair to say that Wolves have dominated the Championship ever since the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo as manager this summer, replacing Paul Lambert.

Whilst Lambert did a steady job at Molineux and stabilised the club after a difficult period under Walter Zenga, it was clear that the Chinese owners, Fosun International, themselves having only taken over in the summer of 2016, wanted a marquee name to push them onto the Premier League.

Chairman Jeff Shi is highly ambitious and wants to push the club on towards the Champions League in the future, and Nuno, who managed Porto in the competition last season, was their number one target.

However, the events that have occured since the Portuguese’s appointment has been nothing short of remarkable.

They have had money to spend, but they have recruited quality top division talent from other leagues, rather than following the blueprint other clubs aiming for promotion typically follow: recruiting proven Championship players.

Perhaps the biggest coup of the summer was signing Portuguese international Ruben Neves from Porto for a fee of £15.8 million.

Whilst the fee was high, Neves is only 20 years of age and captained Porto just two seasons ago. He has been one of the Championship’s best players since joining, netting his latest goal – a free kick from just outside the area – in Wolves’ 3-0 win over Brentford on Tuesday evening.

Nuno also secured the signature of Atletico Madrid winger Diogo Jota on loan, a deal that could be made permanent this January. The Portuguese winger has netted 11 goals since his arrival at Molineux, just one behind the club’s top scorer Leo Bonatini.

Bonatini was also signed on loan, from Saudi Arabian club Al-Ahli, and it is believed the club can make his move indefinite in the current window, with the Birmingham Mail reporting a fee of just £5 million would be sufficient to secure his services in the long-term.

If there is any weakness in the squad, it is up front, with Bonatini and youngster Bright Enobakhare the only players who are truly comfortable playing in a central role.

However, there have been substantial contributions from other areas of the pitch. Ivan Cavaleiro has weighed in with seven goals and wing-back Barry Douglas, who is pivotal in providing Wolves with width and crossing ability, has contributed four, with a further nine assists.

With all this attacking talent at Nuno’s disposal, Wolves look simply unstoppable, sitting on top of the Championship by 12 points over second-placed Derby with 61 points from 29 games.

During the festive period, known for its challenges, the Midlands club won three and drew on one occasion, with those dropped points coming via a late equaliser scored by Millwall.

They have not lost a game since the 29th October – a 2-1 defeat to Ian Holloway’s Queens Park Rangers – and have only tasted defeat three times all season – one of which came against 3rd placed Cardiff.

When signing players from big clubs as a lower division side, there is always a worry that the players may think themselves too big for the club. However, this has not been the case at Wolves.

Neves was tracked by Chelsea and Liverpool before his move to Molineu, according to the Mirror. Although it is unclear whether that interest was concrete as of last summer, he was obviously convinced by the long-term project that is now underway at Molineux.

Do not be surprised to see the club pushing for the upper reaches of the Premier League in the next few years, even if promotion is not achieved by the end of this current campaign, with extra funds to be surely made available to Nuno.

New owners in the Football League are generally ambitious but it seems that Fosun International will stop at nothing to realise their dream of elite level football, having recruited experts to oversee recruitment in what will be a pivotal month.

With one of the most talent-packed squads in Championship history, that dream may not be too far away.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves must not let success stunt the progress of Morgan Gibbs-White

The England youth international has a bright future ahead of him in the game.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers will be playing Premier League football again next season. Nuno Espirito Santo has led the club to the Championship summit and top-flight football now awaits.

It is certainly what they deserve after a brilliant campaign. Wolves have been by far the most consistent team in the second-tier and whilst the likes of Cardiff City, Fulham and Aston Villa have tried, none have managed to keep up.

Of course, much of their success has been down to the investment from the Fosun Group. Together with a partnership with Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes, Wolves have brought in some excellent talent at Championship level.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The likes of Ruben Neves, Diego Jota and Willy Boly are all Premier League standard and Wolves have relished in their presence.

But this should be a concern for one 18-year-old talent. Morgan Gibbs-White is one of England’s brightest talents. The midfielder has been tipped for greatness at Wolves and has shown his ability with the England youth set-up. Last summer, he played a key role as England’s under-17s won the World Cup in India.

The performances of Gibbs-White had tongues wagging in the summer and he has been involved for Wolves this season. Gibbs-White has played 13 times for Wolves and looks a real talent for the future.

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

But this summer the Fosun Group and Mendes will be looking to bring some more talent to Molineux ahead of an assault on the Premier League. Rightly so. If Wolves are to stay in the top-flight, investment will be necessary.

However, in the form of Gibbs-White, the club already have a player who looks capable of playing at this level. The teenager is a top talent who should not simply be pushed aside by Wolves as they seek to assemble a side full of foreign talent.

Wolves are ambitious and wealthy so new faces are bound to arrive. But the club must make sure there is a space for a young talent like Gibbs-White to thrive in the future.

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Championship

Conor Coady shows Liverpool what they’re missing in masterful Wolves campaign

The Wolves captain was tipped for big things at Liverpool but never made the grade.

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Back in 2011, Liverpool had one of their young starlets being tipped to become the ‘next Steven Gerrard.’ It was a tag being occasionally branded around the club about young talent Conor Coady. With good reason as well. The teenager was looking like the most natural successor to Gerrard yet.

The summer previous, he had helped England win the UEFA under-17 Championships, which is where the hype all began. Liverpool had unearthed a gem who immediately found himself tipped to become a future Kop captain.

But it never happened for the young man.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

Instead, he headed to Sheffield United on loan – where he excelled. After getting a taste for regular football, the idea of returning to the reserve life with Liverpool clearly did not appeal to the utility man. Therefore, he left Liverpool in 2014, joining Huddersfield Town.

Liverpool fans soon forgot about him. Just another hyped up youngster who could not match the expectations laid at their door?

Well, this season Coady has finally looked like the real deal.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

The Melwood talent did not stick with Huddersfield for long. In 2015 he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers and he is now looking like the talent Liverpool thought they had at Molineux.

One issue with Coady has always been his position. Often moved around the park, this season he has played as a settled central defender. The results have been exceptional. Coady has been one of the best players in the Championship this campaign. That was highlighted by his inclusion in the Championship team of the season. The 25-year-old is now looking like a future Premier League star and will be playing in the big time next season after captaining Wolves to the Championship summit.

When Liverpool sold Coady to Huddersfield, they did so for a fee reported to be just £500,000 by the Liverpool Echo. The Reds obviously felt he would not live up to those once lofty expectations.

Based on his form this season, Liverpool could be rueing this mistake in the not so distant future.

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Championship

As others complain Millwall have taken full advantage of Wolves investment

Ben Marshall, George Saville and Jed Wallace have all become key players for Millwall.

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Whilst Wolves have romped away with the Championship this season, there’s may not be the biggest story from the second-tier this season. Millwall look like they could be the extraordinary tale of the 2017-18 season. Despite nobody tipping them to do so, the London side are currently in the play-off places after an exceptional second-half of the season.

Neil Harris has led his side of misfits and outcasts to an incredible run of form and Millwall are now firm promotion candidates.

But the two events should not be considered mutually exclusive.

Wolves’ rise to the top of the Championship table has come at a cost for many players. The Fosun era at Molineux saw the club sign some of the best talent the Championship has ever seen.

(Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

The problem this presented for several Wolves players, however, was simple – where would they go?

Millwall have certainly taken full advantage of that situation. Firstly there is the midfield pair of Jed Wallace and George Saville.

Both were signed from Wolves as first-team opportunities at the club dried up with the influx of new recruits. The pair, who are both young combatant midfielders, have become key members of the Millwall team. Wallace has played 40 times in the Championship this season, scoring six times and registering nine assists. Saville has performed just as well. In 43 league games, he has 10 goals and one assist.

Then there is Ben Marshall. Paul Lambert brought Marshall to Wolves last January. When he was replaced by Nuno Espirito Santo and a whole heap of Jorge Mendes lads started arriving, Marshall was pushed down the pecking order.

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

In January, he headed to Millwall on loan and has been in great form since. The 27-year-old has three goals and five assists in just 13 appearances.

Put those totals together and the trio of Wolves rejects have contributed 19 goals and 15 assists to the Millwall cause this season.

Whilst many of the teams in the Championship have moaned about Wolves’ apparent transfer disparity, Millwall have taken full advantage of it.

The end result could see Neil Harris’ side joining Wolves in the Premier League next season.

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