By Tom Nash.
Nuno Esprito Santo’s ambitious Wolves team were the source of intrigue as the new Premier League season kicked off.
They lost a couple of key players who were part of their Championship promotion campaign then consecutive 7th place finishes, and added a few new names in August.
Their summer was also entirely disrupted by their journey to the Europa League quarter-final in Germany, so they didn’t even play a friendly before the action started in September.
The chips seemed stacked against Nuno fighting for a top-four spot, but so far several shrewd bets have come good and leave his side in a position to challenge the established order at the top of the table, as they did last year.
Rather than one superstar signing in the James Rodríguez mould, notable progression in a handful of existing players is propelling Wolves up the league.
The former futsal player Kilman has been part of the squad for several years now. The defender made occasional appearances last season, mainly in domestic cups, but has recently won himself a spot in the starting XI alongside Conor Coady after his fantastic display away to Leeds.
Young, fast, and athletic, his game fits naturally into the frenetic pace of the English Premier League and gives Wolves some needed pace in the back three.
The Belgium international used to be considered the third-best of Wolves’ three central midfield options behind Ruben Neves and João Moutinho.
Recently, however, his career has peaked and he has become an essential part of Nuno’s team after showing some real authority and helping Wolves dominate matches.
He gives Wolves added bite in the centre of the pitch, which appears to compliment Neves well and allow the Portuguese to get on with his extraordinary passing game.
It’s currently hard to imagine Nuno leaving him out for many matches.
When Diogo Jota left for Liverpool in September a few people wondered how well Wolves were prepared for his departure.
Nuno seemed unnerved, however, as he knew what wide forward Neto would offer down the left in the 2020-21 season.
The young winger offers speed and directness and is able to cover huge ground moving Wolves up the pitch, then getting back to lend a hand in midfield.
He also chips in with goals.
— Scouting Portugal (@ScoutingPT) June 20, 2020
So far so good for Nuno, who recouped a handsome return on investment when Jota left for over £40m several years after he was signed for £15m.
Another of Wolverhampton Wanderers’ growing collection of talented Portuguese forwards, Podence arrived from Olympiacos in January.
He barely featured in the early months, and fans were left wondering why the club spent over £15m on a player who wasn’t ready to offer anything in the tight race for Champions League football.
Post-lockdown, Podence has shown exactly why Nuno brought him in. His control and ball skills are second to none, and his trickery continues to unlock defences time after time.
— Wolves Português (@WolvesPRT) October 26, 2020
His goal and assist on Friday night vs Crystal Palace helped move Wolves temporarily level with Everton and Liverpool at the top of the table.
Wolves will need to improve at wing-back where Nelson Semedo replaced the excellent Matt Doherty on the right, and left-back Jonny Otto suffered a cruciate ligament injury in August.
If they can transition those positions smoothly they will again be part of the race to qualify for next season’s Champions League.