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Nuno lauds the Portuguese as key to Wolves’ dramatic rise

Four of Wolves’ Portuguese contingent -from left, Rui Patricio, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and Diogo Jota.

Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo has praised his Portuguese players as they prepare to face a familiar foe in Sporting Club Braga.
Portuguese signings such as Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and Ruben Vinagre helped Wolves canter to the Championship title in 2017-18 in Nuno’s first season before the arrival of experienced internationals from the same country, Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho – who won the Europe League with Porto in 2011 and reached the final with Sporting in 2005 – saw them finish seventh in the Premier League last season and reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
This season those five have contributed to Wolves reaching the group stages of the Europa League, supplemented by another Portuguese import, Pedro Neto. Nuno believes his compatriots have been instrumental in the club’s dramatic rise over the last two years.
“Yes, without a doubt. They bring years of experience and it all helps,” said the head coach. “It helped us last season and back in the Championship. Everything helps – it’s the accumulated experience of these players playing a lot of high level games.
“What we have done in the past helps us in the future but this is not a new experience. We’re in our third season now and we’ve always had the same idea: The building of a highly competitive team that will be a match for any opponent.”
Braga have started their domestic season in similar fashion to Wolves. They lie third from bottom with four points from five games, while they have won all four Europa League ties to reach the group stages.
Given the sizeable Portuguese contingent at Wolves – there is Nuno and five of his six backroom staff, plus up to six players in the squad – there will be few surprises among the two teams about each other. Nuno insists nothing changes when they face a side from their own country.
Braga coach Ricardo Sá Pinto played with Wolves midfielder Joao Moutinho at Sporting in 2005-06 while he managed goalkeeper Rui Patricio at the same club in 2012. Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves faced Braga for local rivals Porto as recently as 2015-16.
Despite the familiarity between the camps, Nuno stressed the preparation has been the same as any other game. “Our analysis is the same, we will observe the team and I don’t think it’s any different,” he said. “Braga will know their opponents all the same. It will be different for the Portuguese players when we go to Braga because we’re going back to our country.
“But we’re not playing a country, not a national team, it’s a club – Sporting Braga – which are in the same group in the Europa League. So it’s an opponent we respect, we analyse and we want to compete against.
“I don’t know what Sporting Braga are going to do, but they have some very good players, they’re a very good team, very well organised, well managed by Ricardo and it will be a very good game. I think they’re a very balanced competitive team so I don’t think there are favourites.”
Wolves go into the tie on the back of successive Premier League defeats against Everton and Chelsea that have seen the yield an uncharacteristic eight goals, many of them caused by defensive errors. The 5-2 defea to Chelsea was the club’s biggest for three years, but Nuno suggests there shouldn’t be any mental scars from that thrashing because they have ‘parked’ it.
“This is the way we do things, from the beginning, game by game,” added the boss. “The last game is a reference for us to work on, to analyse to see what we did good and what we didn’t do so good. We will try to improve offensive aspects, defensive aspects, all the same. But the approach is to always go for the next challenge. This game is totally what we’re focused on. We want to compete. This is what we live for, to compete.
“Our idea is to go game by game, so each game, no matter what competition or what opponent, we just go to compete and play.”