How far can Nuno Santo take Wolves this season?

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 03 March 2020, 14:42

Those that stated Wolves would suffer from ‘Premier League second season syndrome’ have been made to look rather foolish.

While it’s true that Wolves, whose season started all the way back in July, made a stuttering start to their second successive Premier League campaign - failing to win any of their opening six games - they’ve since risen from 19th to 6th in the table, fuelling belief that they can now go on and secure a Champions League spot for next season.

The advent of European football for the first time since the dawn of the 1980s could well have derailed Wolves somewhat, yet Nuno Santo’s men have thrived in the continent, winning 11 of their 14 matches to date which has subsequently set up a tasty last-16 clash against Arsenal’s victors Olympiakos.

Now, with less than three months of the season remaining, we take a look at how far Santo can take his troops...

Premier League Prospects: Champions League in touching distance

A 95th-minute equaliser may have earned Wolves a point away at Crystal Palace in the backend of September, but the result meant that the club’s winless start to the season was extended to six games, leaving last season’s 7th-placed club second-from-bottom in the Premier League table.

The season was still in its infancy but the winless run raised eyebrows. However, the last-gasp point actually sparked an 11-game unbeaten league run, spanning three months. 

Fast-forward to March and Santo’s men remain in the top-six, level on points with Man Utd (5th), and just three points behind Frank Lampard’s Chelsea who currently occupy 4th spot. In the last five-and-a-half-months they’ve only lost to Liverpool, Spurs and a rejuvenated Watford in the top-flight.

With Man City’s participation in next season’s Champions League in doubt, a top-five finish could see Wolves enter the competition - in its current format - for the first time in their history. They last appeared in the European Cup back in 1959/60.

Wolves are currently undefeated in four games, during which they’ve held Leicester and Man Utd to draws and toppled Tottenham 3-2 in the capital. They now have a very winnable sequence of matches against the relegation-threatened quadrant of Brighton, West Ham, Bournemouth and Aston Villa.

A trio of crunch fixtures follow against Arsenal, Sheffield United and Everton, then the last month of May opens up with games against Burnley and Wolves before a potentially pivotal final day match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

There’s still a long way to go but Wolves fear no team, and they have every reason to believe that a top-four finish is on the cards, something they’ve not achieved in 49 years.

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Nuno Santo is chasing Europa League glory and a top-four Premier League finish

Europa League Prospects: History in their sights

Wolves’ reward for finishing 7th last season was a double-header against the Crusaders in the Europa League second qualifying round, with the first-leg taking place in July. 

They swatted away their Northern Irish opponents, then Armenian side FC Pyunik, and Torino from Serie A, as they booked their spot in the main stage of a European competition for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Wolves then accumulated 13 points from a possible 18 en-route to the last-32, where they dispatched of Espanyol 6-3 on aggregate and secured a spot in the last-16 of a major European tournament for the first time since 1971/72, when they reached the UEFA Cup Final. 

Only Man Utd and Inter Milan sit above Wolves in the outright market, who are priced at 6/1 to go all the way and win their first European honour.

Verdict

Nothing is off limits for this Wolves side. Already this season they’ve conjured up a stunning double over defending champions Man City, seen off Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham in London, and gone unbeaten in five games against Man Utd, Leicester and Arsenal.

Wolves have also been outstanding in Europe. They’ve been a joy to watch, firing in four goals on five different occasions, including consecutive 4-0 home wins over Besiktas and Espanyol. Olympiakos represent their toughest challenge yet - they’ve lost only one of their last 22 games - but Santo’s men are the odds-on favourites to progress.

Bet Victor are offering odds of 18/1 for Wolves to lift the Europa League and secure a top-five league finish, while they are priced at 36/1 to win the trophy and finish in the top-four. Santo can also be backed as a 66/1 outsider in the LMA Manager of the Year market.

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