BRAMALL LANE — Nuno Espirito Santo, a jazz musician moniker if ever there was one, is on to the difficult fourth album with Wolves, and this one certainly seems like it is going to be a fair bit more experimental than his nothing-but-success discography to date.
How Wolves can aim higher after two successive seventh-place finishes, having returned to the top flight after a six-year absence in 2018, remains to be seen, but Nuno, with much the same side that trawled to all corners of Europe last season, has been spending his short break getting the creative juices flowing to make Wolves a more unpredictable beast altogether.
The chatter in the press box for much of the first half as Wolves frolicked in glorious sunshine at Bramall Lane – becoming the first Premier League side to score two goals inside six minutes on the opening day of the season – was just what formation Nuno was deploying.
Where was Leander Dendoncker actually playing? Was Adama Traoré really at wing-back? Daniel Podence did not seem to have a position at all, as he simply drifted around focal point Raul Jimenez.
The Sheffield United backline were in a similar daze.
That blistering opening was all the more breathtaking, even for those sat around watching, given the circumstances. Wolves’ season only finished on 11 August, a campaign which was anything but ordinary. Fifty-nine games were taken in over 383 days, with Wolves travelling to 10 countries. What’s more, Wolves endured such a gruelling campaign with one of the smaller squads in the Premier League.
Sheffield United, famed for their effervescent style, with players all willing to give everything for their supreme leader – Chris Wilder – will have been hoping the same weary Wolves legs would not be able to cope in the tropical South Yorkshire temperatures. But they, as many have, underestimated this incredible Wolves unit to their peril.
Jimenez is the embodiment of the Wolves spirit. Despite having played 55 games in just one season last time out, the Mexican was darting down the channels, dragging defenders left, right and centre, as well as doing what he does best – finishing chances when they came his way.
Even with club record signing Fabio Silva waiting in the wings – with the deal to bring in the 18-year-old far exceeding the previous record capture of Jimenez himself – the 29-year-old remains undeterred, glaring second-half miss aside.
The damage was done early on, with Wolves having to dig in defensively in the second half, but you will struggle to find a team who replicate more readily on the pitch the work put in with their manager on the training ground.
Wilder’s side are not exactly put together haphazardly. Their own rearguard, especially at home, is not easily breached, but in six, wonderfully unpredictable minutes, Nuno, using every inch of his tactical acumen, showed just how many facets this Wolves side possess.
All is most certainly well at Wolves. Keeping hold of their star names – Ruben Neves, Traoré and Jimenez – in this transfer window is as big a boost as any big-name signing can provide.
But it is their ever-thinking manager who can make all the difference. With the ink just about dry on his new three-year deal, Nuno is settling in to orchestrate further improvement in the West Midlands.
Thinking that such an upstart could break into the elite of the top six seems fanciful to some, but without the air miles accumulation of the Europa League to contend with, Nuno’s experimentation could well turn out to be music to the ears of the ambitious Wolves faithful.
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