Despite impressing in the Europa League this season, Wolves could only manage a second-place finish in Group K, but they will certainly fancy their chances in the last-32 – and beyond.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side suffered just the single defeat in the group phases and confirmed their progression weeks ago, putting the seal on a fine European campaign with a 4-0 humbling victory over Besiktas on matchday six.
The West Midlands club made light work of their group in the end, finishing as runners-up behind an undefeated Braga, while Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava exited the competition in uninspiring fashion.
As a second-placed side, Wolves enter Monday afternoon’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland as an unseeded club. But, as always, they cannot be drawn against other sides from their own domestic league or a club they faced in the group stages, taking Arsenal, Manchester United and Braga out of the equation.
As such, there are 13 possible clubs Wolves could face. The number may be unlucky for some, but can the Wanderers defy that particular myth? They will find out on Monday, and could be drawn against one of the following: RB Salzburg, Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Sevilla, Malmo FF, Basel, LASK, Celtic, Espanyol, FC Porto, Gent and Istanbul Basaksehir.
There are some exceptionally challenging clubs on the cards for Wolves, but who will Nuno be fearing most? And which club will he be praying for, in order to avoid a potentially nightmarish last-32 draw?
What’s the best draw Wolves could get in the Europa League last-32?
Best Europa League finish: Last-32 (2018/19)
Current domestic league position: 2nd in Allsvenskan
At this stage of the competition there are no routine fixtures for Wolves, but out of the devilish baker’s dozen on offer for the English club, a draw against Malmo would prove a very favourable outcome.
The Swedish club are performing well in the Allsvenskan this season, currently sitting second behind league champions Djurgardens, while also placing first in Group B ahead of Copenhagen, Dynamo Kyiv and Lugano.
However, there are one or two chinks to the Blue Ones’ armour. Of the club’s to finish first in the group stages, Malmo progressed with the third-worst goal difference (+2), and the second-least number of goals scored (8).
Moreover, Malmo also created the second-least number of chances (49) of the 12 group winners, and registered the least number of passes (2264) – and ninth-worst of all 48 clubs.
They are managed by a familiar face on these shores in Uwe Rosler, but considering Wolves could potentially face the likes of last season’s Champions League semi-finalists and a club who currently sit above Juventus in Serie A, Nuno will breath a huge sigh of relief if Wolves are drawn against Malmo.
What’s the worst draw Wolves could get in the Europa League last-32?
Best Europa League finish: Winners (1990/91, 1993/94, 1997/98)
Current domestic league position: 2nd in Serie A
As previously alluded to there are a few clubs Wolves want to avoid in Monday’s draw, but arguably the team to steer clear of is Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan.
Under the Italian tactician the Nerazzurri have been hard to break down and ferocious up-top, conceding the least-number of goals (13) in the Italian top-flight, while also notching home the third-most (31).
Defensive resilience is part of Conte’s creed and in his centre-back trident of Stefan de Vrij, Diego Godon and Milan Skriniar, the former Chelsea boss has three of Europe’s most intelligent and formidable defenders.
Playing in his preferred 3-5-2 formation, Inter would be able to match Wolves man for man, but the Italian club’s own iteration of the system has thus far proven the more fruitful of the two this season – at both ends of the pitch.
In fact, the Nerazzurri aren’t just rigid at the back, but also devastating in the final third. In Lautaro Martinez, Conte has one of the game’s most-coveted marksman at the minute, while Romelu Lukaku has so far proven the perfect strike partner.
Conte is also blessed with an exceptionally strong central midfield which boasts a complementary blend of creativity, passing brilliance, aggression and tenacity. Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves may struggle against the likes of Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic and Roberto Gagliardini.
Should Wolves face this worst-case-scenario draw, then they will have to play out of their skins to navigate past two gruelling fixtures against one of Europe’s in-form clubs.