In a tight night of football, Wolves drew 1-1 away to 10-man Olympiakos in front an empty stadium in Athens.
The result and performance would have pleased Nuno Espirito Santo, even though his personal belief is that the match should not have gone ahead due to the Corona virus pandemic sweeping through Europe right now. Now there is talk that the competition may be suspended or postponed, meaning that a long Europa League campaign is about to get even longer.
Wolves have been playing Europa League football since the last week of July, having entered the competition in the second qualifying round. First they beat Crusaders 6-1 on aggregate, then came Pyunik who were dispatched 8-0 on aggregate in August. They closed out that month, as most teams were finally starting their seasons, by beating Torino home and away to notch a 5-3 aggregate win in the play-offs.
That win put them into the group stage, where they opened up with a home loss but then won four of their next five to qualify second in the group behind Braga. The Portuguese outfit crashed out in the last round whilst Wolves are still going strong and have a great chance to qualify for the quarter-finals, whenever the second leg of this tie is played.
A score draw away from home is always impressive in European competition as away goals play such a huge factor. Obviously anything can happen at Molineux and Olympiakos progressed to this stage by beating Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, but with all due respect to the Gunners, Wolves operate with a much more canny style.
In fact one could argue that of all English clubs, in both Champions and Europa League, no one plays with the kind of defensive solidity and game managing maturity and overall serenity that Wolves do. Liverpool are close, obviously, but even they have a sense of anarchy about them in Europe – and the other Premier League clubs are all over the place.
Wolves, meanwhile, just know how to get it done. They surrendered possession but still dominated the game in Athens, having twice as many shots as their hosts. Obviously when Ruben Semedo got sent off they could have pushed up and tried to go for the kill, but that would have exposed them to the counter-attack and, moreover, Nuno is trying to balance two competitions and avoid the burnout that usually follows Europa League games, nevermind if you’ve been playing competitive football since July.
So Wolves carried on probing, trying to find a weakness. They couldn’t generate anything, though, and did get caught cold by a counter from the home side as Conor Coady didn’t close Guilherme down quick enough and allowed him to escape into the box. Did Wolves panic, though? No, they kept on searching and eventually found an equaliser through Pedro Neto’s long-range strike. Deflected, sure, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Conor Coady’s post-match refrain of “we’ll take it to next week,” shows that Wolves approached this tie fully aware of the fact that it was a two-legged tie. They were going to try and score an away goal, but not at the risk of exposing themselves at the back.
Qualifying here would be enormous, especially as Olympiakos have already proven how dangerous they are by eliminating Arsenal. Well thanks to a mature and composed display in Athens, Wolves have now got the perfect platform to put on a show at Molineux and make the Europa League quarter-finals for the first time in 48 years.
And if UEFA extend the season because of the Corona virus pandemic, and Wolves manage to go all the way to the final (with the composure and maturity they play with, don’t rule them out) – who knows… we could have a Europa League campaign that spans an entire year.
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