Football Features

“He was a titan” – Five things learned as Wolves overcome Olympiakos to make Europa League quarter-final

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:21, 6 August 2020

In a tight and tense night of football, Wolves outlasted Olympiakos at Molineux to make the Europa League quarter-finals.

The game finishes 1-0, so the tie was 2-1 on aggregate and Wolves are through to their first European quarter-final for 48 years. What did we learn?

1. Daniel Podence haunts his old club

The no. 10 is the most important shirt in world football, yet Wolves gave theirs to someone few will have heard of: Daniel Podence. Yet the 24-year-old Portuguese forward took his chance to impress tonight against Olympiakos and put on an incredible showing that will announce him as very much a big part of the Wolves attacking corps.

Of course, Podence could have been extra motivated to perform against Olympiakos because they are his old club. In fact as recently as earlier this season, Podence was wearing the red and white of the Greek side. He only joined Wolves in January of this year – he’s played European football for Olympiakos! Not the Europa League, of course, but the Champions League.

In fact Podence scored one of the two Olympiakos goals as they came from behind to draw 2-2 with Spurs. But now he’s doing work for an English side and he ran his old employers ragged all night. The ceaseless energy on display as he led the press from the front was genuinely impressive. He created the tie-deciding goal out of nowhere by refusing to give the ball up, pressing it from midfielders to defenders all the way back to the goalkeeper who he harried into an error.

It was an awesome bit of pressing and shows just what he can add to Wolves going forward. His only poor moment was a weak finish when 1v1 with 20 minutes to go, but he was flagged offside anyhow. Well, that and the fact that he got booked for coming off the field too slowly instead of taking the quickest route, and will now miss the quarter-final against Sevilla. Oh dear.

2. Precision offsides are horrible

Olympiakos equalised against Wolves in the first-half. A wonderful bit of play from Youssef El-Arabi down the right saw him slide the ball across for Mady Camara to slot home (via a deflection). It was a lovely equaliser and promised to set the tie up on a real knife-edge as both sides knew that the next goal could be killer.

Except it was ruled out for offside. Not from Camara, but from El-Arabi in the build-up. The razor-thinnest of razor thin calls as the Moroccan striker ran back from an offside position and curved his run to try and stay onside. It was the opposite of a player trying to gain an advantage, it was just that he didn’t judge the call to perfection, so VAR intervened.

To be clear: this isn’t a VAR problem. It’s a problem in the offside law that VAR has highlighted. The spirit of the offside law is there to stop players from goal-hanging, not deny the game goals because a striker’s shoulder and head were a couple of inches offside. The rule has got to change or these kind of nonsense decisions (the likes of which already robbed us of an incredible Raheem Sterling goal in last season’s Champions League) will continue to plague us.

3. A tale of two goalkeepers

Rui Patricio was spectacular against Olympiakos, he really was. Portugal’s no. 1 and Wolves’ no. 11 was constantly on-hand to stop anything that the Greek side could throw at him. He made saves from long shots and saves from point-blank. The only goal that beat him came via a deflection (and was ruled out anyway). Patricio was a titan in the net, defending his goal from all attacks.

Contrast this to Benoit Allain, who was only playing because José Sa – the goalkeeper who could replace Patricio as Portugal’s main stopper – missed the game with injury. The Frenchman would have been desperate to make an impression and unfortunately for him he did.

Hesitating when pressed by Daniel Podence into turning the ball over, he then needlessly barged into the Portuguese’s back to concede the penalty. There was just no need for such nonsense, and even though he played well after the error, ultimately the margins are so thin in European knockout football that Allain’s one error ended up costing Olympiakos.

4. The defensive colossus creaked

Wolves’ defensive unit – three-centre-backs, two wing-backs and one goalkeeper – is a true colossus that will be key to any Wolves prosperity in the Europa League this season. But today they relied heavily on their goalkeeper because the defenders got overwhelmed.

Obviously Olympiakos bombarding the Wolves goal had something to do with it, but the back three – Conor Coady anchoring things and flanked by Willy Boly and Romain Saiss – weren’t as dominant as they should have been. The fact that Matt Doherty led the side in tackles (4) and Ruben Vinagre in clearances (5) despite being the wing-backs was troubling. Too often the Wolves centre-backs were a half-second late and although none of them were disastrous, that they needed such repeated interventions from Rui Patricio wasn’t good.

5. Wolves will need to step-up against Sevilla

Wolves are into the quarter-finals of the Europa League for the first time since 1972 (when they made it all the way to the final). 1972! That is a phenomenal achievement for Nuno Espirito Santo, but if Wolves don’t raise their game then that’s where their 378-day-long Europa League journey will end.

Obviously a one-off tie will have a different kind of momentum than a second-leg where you already have an away goal, but the way Wolves shut up shop after scoring but then failed to bag a second on the break (ostensibly their strength) does not bode well for the next around where they will face the mighty Sevilla.

With all due respect to Olympiakos (who did eliminate Arsenal, remember?) they are nowhere near the level of Sevilla, who are a slick outfit coached wonderfully by Julen Lopetegui. If Wolves don’t play with more potency than they showed tonight, both in terms of defensive solidity and attacking potency, they will be made to suffer by a slick Sevilla. If they do step up, however, then who knows how far they could go?