JOE JONES CONSIDERS LIFE WITHOUT RUBEN NEVES
Rewind the clock before the World Cup break and we were a team struggling with identity, delivering lacklustre performances bar maybe a few standout moments on the pitch that were too infrequent. Questionable transfers out, management uncertainty followed by new transfers in that by and large have failed to impress or deliver consistently. All topped off with a huge change of leadership from a stalwart member of the old guard. Not ideal.
Fast forward to 2023 and the performances have still not married up to the new investment spent and the goals are still too sparse. Relegation is the naughty safe word on everyone’s lips – we hate to say it for fear it might become reality. Our game results have not helped the cause, we did not have an established starting XI and the there have been some minor injury scares. Neves has been a worthy leader but the results have not been forthcoming.
Then Ruben Neves picks up his final yellow card to receive a 2-match suspension at a time we start playing higher position teams and desperately need to secure a few 3-point games. Disaster! But as it turns out we go on to deliver back-to-back, strong top flight performances where players are putting in a real shift, playing with grit and passion. Convincingly Wolves take 6 points from teams who have had a better season than us. Where has this been all season?! Ironically, all of which comes when Neves has not been in the matchday squad.
So, life without the talented Ruben Neves… it’s the elephant in the room and something we as Wolves fans have to face up to sooner rather than later most likely given his contract timeframe. I feel Julen Lopetegui has found a balanced starting XI at last, and despite the heresy of saying it: that does not include Neves right now. I would see him on the bench in place of Moutinho as a late game sub to shore up tired midfield legs when we are holding a lead. Whatever J Lo is doing on the training ground without Neves is working for the team style and harmony of the players in those crucial 90 minutes.
There is evidence that sentiment can be put aside and I would use Raul Jiminez as the example of this – not even making the match day squad when we are already atmosphere thin for strikers right now. So, at the approaching 11th hour, has J Lo settled on a group that will continue to deliver? Ultimately guaranteeing not only safety, but a reasonable finish in the table given we were actually dead last at one point?
If we are to move forward without Neves then I feel Wolves still have an established midfield, and a good developing defensive group, playing as a 4 or with wing backs. Our forwards are the only remaining area of concern, since scoring goals is still our biggest problem (aside from VAR but that’s another article). The talent is there in our squad depth, but it’s a numbers game to select those that can play on the day. I wonder if J Lo feels forced to play Neves given his obvious talents and wearing the captain’s armband making him un-droppable? Possibly. But without him does that free the manager up to try other combinations? Definitely, and it’s working.
ARTICLE BY JOE JONES
A 37-year-old ex-pat living in China. Discovered Wolves around 8 years old and started going to Molineux with my dad to watch them when we could. Rugby lured me away in my teens but I never stopped being a Wolves faithful, very much enjoying the McCarthy era seeing Wolves make the premiership. Not a football expert on tactics or systems I enjoy the game for what it is and will no doubt be wrong in my opinions sometimes.