As the January transfer window nears its conclusion, Nuno Espirito Santo has become increasingly busy strengthening his squad ahead of this season’s final sprint.
The Midlands side currently sit joint-fifth in the Premier League, below Tottenham and Man Utd only on goal difference and just six points adrift of Chelsea in the final Champions League spot — Wolves are currently 8/1 with William Hill* to finish the season in the top four.
Furthermore, Wolves have a Europa League last-32 tie against Spanish strugglers Espanyol to look forward to, so increasing squad depth has been absolutely paramount.
Leonardo Campana and Enzo Loiodice are already through the door and Daniel Podence looks set to follow. Although Espirito Santo will still be sweating a little over the futures of Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez until the window is firmly shut, his squad is absolutely set to end the month stronger than it started it.
So, just how could Wolves line-up once the deadline passes? Let’s take a look at some options.
Given the level of success he’s had with it, it’s safe to say Espirito Santo will be sticking to his tried and tested 3-4-3 formation. Furthermore, the Portuguese tactician isn’t a man known for his love of rotation so, even despite Wolves’ new arrivals, expect a pretty similar line-up to the one we’re used to heading into February.
The only obvious change to be made would be Willy Boly’s return to the line-up following his recovery from an ankle injury. Other than that, expect Traore, Jimenez and Diogo Jota to continue wreaking havoc up top, Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves to run the midfield and Conor Coady to keep playing those raking passes out of defence.
Sure, Espirito Santo prefers to keep a settled side, but with a long Europa League campaign rolling on and a place in the Champions League at stake, some rotation is going to be required.
Granted, this XI is heavily rotated, but it perfectly illustrates the squad options available to the former goalkeeper, especially once he’s concluded his January business.
Coady would remain at the heart of the defence, with his “libero” role playing a key part in Wolves’ style of play. Either side of him, though, Ryan Bennett and youngster Max Kilman can come in to rest the likes of Leander Dendoncker and Romain Saiss.
Matt Doherty is Espirito Santo’s outright first choice at right-wing-back and although the likes of Traore can operate there, nobody offers the same balance between defence and attack as the Irishman. Portuguese youngster Ruben Vinagre gives Jonny a well-earned break on the other flank.
Morgan Gibbs-White is edging ever closer to fitness and fans will be anticipating seeing the England U-21 international in action once again. A midfield pairing of him and newly-signed French youngster Enzo Loiodice would offer Wolves a wonderful mix of creativity, energy and solidity.
Up top, Portuguese teenager Pedro Neto has already shown supreme attacking and creative capabilities and although he’d start on the left, he would likely have a licence to roam right across the forward line, picking up pockets of space and finding holes in the opposition defence. Jimenez is Wolves’ unquestioned centre-forward but should be need a rest or pick up an injury, young Ecuador international Leonardo Campana may well be thrown into the deep end — his tall frame and physical edge make him an ideal understudy to the Mexico international.
And completing the forward line, Daniel Podence can work in tandem with his compatriot, Neto, drifting across the forward line and using his pace to isolate and drive at unsuspecting defenders — his arrival from Olympiakos is hotly anticipated around Molineux.
Nothing kills a good team quite like predictability and given the players at his disposal, maybe Espirito Santo might one day be tempted by a change of system.
The Wolves squad is absolutely fit for a 4-3-3 formation, with Coady and Dendoncker just as defensively solid as they are comfortable playing out from the back — they don’t need to rely on a third centre-back for passing options or back-up out of possession.
Their job — and that of Jonny and Doherty, who remain tasked with bombing up and down the flanks — would be made much easier by Moutinho dropping deep to receive possession, but also plugging any gaps left when a member of the back four ventures forward. The veteran midfielder has completed more passes (1076) and made more tackles (65) than any other Wolves player in the Premier League this season.
Alongside Moutinho, Neves will continue to pull the strings with his seemingly endless range of passing while complementing his compatriot with his mobility. Saiss can be pushed into his preferred midfield berth thanks to Espirito Santo fielding just two centre-backs.
And do we really need to say more about that Jota/Jimenez/Traore front three? Pace, strength, power and creativity, this terrifying trio has it all and would make any Wolves side a nightmare to defend against with their unpredictability. Just as they’re suited to a 3-4-3, they’re absolutely made for a 4-3-3 in the mould of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.