July 2, 2020 / 4:45 PM / a month ago

Wolves flying high as 'Nuno' prepares for 150th game

LONDON (Reuters) - Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters could have been excused feeling a little sceptical when Nuno Espirito Santo was unveiled as their latest new manager three years ago.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Aston Villa v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Villa Park, Birmingham, Britain - June 27, 2020 Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Nuno Espirito Santo after the match, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Laurence Griffiths/Pool via REUTERS

He was, after all, the third manager in 10 months employed by new Chinese owners Fosun. He was tasked with restoring the Midlands club back into the Premier League after departing in 2012.

Wolves had just finished 15th in the Championship under Paul Lambert and were going nowhere fast.

The day Espirito Santo walked through the door, however, might just be the most important in the club’s recent history.

This Saturday, Wolves host Arsenal in what will be the 46-year-old former Porto boss’s 150th game in charge.

Win it and they could move level on points with third-placed Leicester City in the Premier League and the truth is few people would be surprised

Espirito Santo, born on the island of Sao Tome and Principe, had a spell playing under Jose Mourinho at Porto.

To Wolves fans he is already their “special one”.

Backed in the transfer market, ‘Nuno’ turned to his own country to bring in Portuguese midfield duo Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota and French defender Willy Boly.

Wolves amassed 99 points when winning the Championship in 2017-18 with a silky brand of football which proved tailor-made for the Premier League in which they finished seventh in their first season back, qualifying for the Europa League.

The craft of veteran playmaker Joao Moutinho helped blend Espirito Santo’s mixture while the signing of winger Adama Traore, a Barcelona reject, was a masterstroke.

His high-speed dribbling is a terrifying sight for defenders and the Spaniard is living proof of how a gifted player needs a visionary manager to unlock his potential.

The same could be said of captain Conor Coady. The former Liverpool youth product typifies the Wolves approach, re-inventing himself as a cultured ‘sweeper’ in a back three.

“When I first came here, it was tough because the club was totally different to what it is now,” Coady, who joined in 2015, told the club’s website. “The Premier League seemed like a million miles away when I first came.

“Looking back, it’s been amazing. Since the owners and manager came in, it’s been incredible.

“Everybody knows their roles and responsibilities; everyone in that changing room is a clever footballer. It’s a unique group we’ve got.”

Wolves have won all three games since action resumed following the three-month stoppage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have won five of their last six matches and are unbeaten in eight league games since a 2-1 defeat by Liverpool in a humdinger of a fixture.

Much is made their panache and pace, but Espirito Santo has taken a leaf out of Juergen Klopp’s book and ingrained a high work rate and collective defensive responsibility.

They have conceded only twice in eight games.

Yet Espirito Santo strives for more.

“There is always room to improve and the most difficult is to sustain your level of performance,” he said.

“We’ll have to find new solutions and we’ll have to reinvent ourselves for a tough challenge.”

Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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