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Seventh heaven again Wolves – Thelwell outlines PL challenge

Sporting director Kevin Thelwell insists Wolves have been challenged to repeat last season’s Premier League finish – despite the added congestion of the Europa League.

Wolves surpassed expectations last term by claiming seventh and qualifying for Europe for the first time in 39 years on their return to the top flight. They were the highest finishing promoted club for 18 years, since Ipswich were fifth in 2000-01.

Wolves’ Chinese owners Fosun are ambitious however, and want a similar performance again in 2019-20.

We can’t wait. The last two years have been incredible in terms of the seasons we’ve had, so it’s very much about trying to hit that repeat button, which I’ve said before,” said Thelwell.

With the added spice of the Europa League, I think everybody’s just generally excited about pre-season, going to Asia, the Europa League, and then of course doing the very best we can to do exactly what we did last year in the Premier League.”

Wolves start their season 16 days earlier than most other Premier League teams because of the Europa League, which sees them face either Crusaders or B36 Torshavn in the second qualifying round on July 25 and August 1. Wolves’ only pre-season friendlies are in the Premier League Asia Trophy in China, where they face Newcastle on July 17 and either Manchester City or West Ham three days later.

The club face six games before the knockout stages of the Europa League, should they progress. But Thelwell stressed it is seen as business as usual, rather than an added pressure in terms of needing more players because of the earlier start and extra games.

Most Wolves players returned to start pre-season training last Thursday, while Portugal internationals Rui Patricio, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and Diogo Jota, Belgium’s Leander Dendoncker and Matt Doherty from Ireland were back in on Monday, and Raul Jimenez and Romain Saiss are still on international duty.

We’re aware of the Europa League and there’s an early start in terms of games, but generally we’re trying to treat it as business as usual,” said Thelwell. “Everybody’s back in nice and relaxed, so we’re looking forward to getting started.

We’re integrating the Europa League games into the fixture plan. Usually we’d have six or seven friendly games before we take on competitive action, but it’s impossible to do it this time around.

It’s about incorporating the Europa games into the overall plan, building towards the Premier League.”

Wolves have placed a lot of importance on the trip to China, not least because it’s where their owners Fosun are based. They plan to open a club shop in Shanghai when they are over there. Thelwell says everyone at the club is relishing the excitement of being there as a group.

It’s fantastic for us to be involved, by the very fact our owners are Chinese and based in Shanghai,” he said. “It’s a big deal for everybody – we want it to be a great environment and a great tournament, but also want it to be a roaring success.

It’s something brand new for us, to be able to travel to Shanghai as a team, although many of us have been individually before, so it’s another exciting part of what’s being achieved here.

We’re under no illusions it’s going to be a busy time; there’s going to be lots for the team and staff to contend with, but it’s something we’re looking forward to.”