This post started life thinking about the players who’d feature in a best-ever Nuno eleven.
What I found more interesting as I went along though was the individuals who’ve contributed significantly under our illustrious leader yet wouldn’t make it into the first-choice XI – the ‘B Team’ if you will.
See if you agree with my preferred 11, the B-Team and the rationale behind those decisions.
For both teams I’ve chosen the 343, purely to accommodate the players I think should feature.
There’s no strict, scientific criteria here. I’m weighing up their contributions over the last 3 years and mixing it in with my take on their overall quality to form some conclusions.
John Ruddy was pivotal in getting Wolves back to the Premier League in 2017/18. 45 league appearances and for the most part a steady, reassuring presence between the sticks. He’s since been a reliable understudy to Rui Patricio, a consummate professional and overall outstanding member of the squad. He might leave this summer when his contact is up and if he does, will be a big miss.
But sentiment aside, Patricio has played more games for Wolves at a higher level and is unquestionably the superior goalkeeper, so the decision becomes straightforward.
The A-Team – Rui Patricio
The B-Team – John Ruddy
This is where opinions may begin to diverge.
My first choice back three is Willy Boly, Conor Coady and Romain Saiss. Two of those players are indisputable, so there’s no point even discussing their inclusion.
Saiss makes it into the back three on the basis he won’t get into the midfield and to leave him out completely and ignore his steady contributions throughout the Nuno era would be wrong.
The Morrocan has made over 100 league appearances for Wolves, chipped in with 8 goals and looks better than ever right now.
For the B Team I’ve gone with Ryan Bennett, Leander Dendoncker and Roderick Miranda.
Both Bennett and Dendoncker can count themselves unlucky not to make the A team of course.
Bennett fought his way into the Championship-winning side and stayed there. In 2018/19 he started 34 out of 38 league matches, keeping Romain Saiss in the shadows, and deservedly so.
But if we’re going over the whole period, I feel Saiss’ combined efforts in defence and midfield outshine Bennett’s ability to defy the odds. Saiss has also developed into a more complete defender and improved the team as a consequence.
Dendoncker is a phenomenal player and more than anyone else, it pains me to leave him out of the A-Team, but it ultimately came down to shape and whether or not to include Traore. It’s a coin-toss really.
But the A-Team’s loss is the B-Team’s gain, with the Donk more than capable of spraying around those long diagonal passes that Coady continually executes with little fuss.
The inclusion of Roderick Miranda over Danny Batth or even Max Kilman may also raise a few eyebrows.
The rationale is that Miranda played more league games in the Championship than Batth, despite being fazed out halfway through the campaign. Yes, he was error-prone but in my book had more in his locker than Batth and was harshly overlooked.
In a Nuno team you’ve got to be able to play on the deck, so for my B-Team, I think Miranda also brings greater balance.
Kilman simply hasn’t played enough games yet.
The A-Team – Willy Boly, Conor Coady, Romain Saiss
The B-Team – Ryan Bennett, Leander Dendoncker, Roderick Miranda
It’s Neves and Moutinho in The A-Team.
For the B-Team there isn’t a huge amount of choice, given that I’ve used Saiss in defence for the As and Donk in defence for the Bs.
But there’s Alfred N’Diaye who I still think would be a useful player to have around the place even now. Just 13 starts in the Championship but a further 20 from the bench. He was a good alternative to Saiss and offered some much-needed protection to Ruben as he found his feet in English football. I remember him playing a blinder in a 2-0 win at Carrow Road and scoring a late winner at home to Barnsley – contributions that won’t make many people’s highlight reels but remain important.
Then I think it’s got to be Morgan Gibbs-White, despite the fact his career has yet to properly ignite. He was outstanding in the home win over Chelsea in 2018/19 and several other cameos around that time but has since found the going tough. The fact he’s got on the pitch on a semi-regular basis is enough to get him in, given the lack of competition, but that achievement in itself, given his age is still a worthwhile achievement.
The A-Team – Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho
The B-Team – Alfred N’Diaye, Morgan Gibbs-White
The easiest pick is Matt Doherty who was already great in the Championship and has proven many wrong by growing with the team and looking every bit an elite Premier League performer.
Barry Douglas had one phenomenal season in the Championship, featuring 39 times in the league, scoring 5 and assisting countless others with sublime dead-ball delivery. There’s no doubting he was a major factor in our success in 17/18.
There were certainly times early in the following season when we wondered if selling Douglas to accommodate Jonny was the right move, but ultimately the Spanish international has proven Nuno emphatically correct. You’ll always miss the type of delivery Douglas provides (although Joao Moutinho’s arrival softened the blow) but the overall unit has been improved by Jonny’s superior defensive work and link-up play.
The other contender is Ruben Vinagre, who has played a key supporting role in all three seasons, making it hard to believe he’s still only 20. He started 8 games in the Championship, 7 in the Premier League last season and 5 so far this time, making it a drip-feed of contributions rather than something more meaningful. Nuno said it was ‘massive’ to get him back from injury recently, so he’s valued highly in the group but will he eventually make that left-hand side his own though?
The A-Team – Matt Doherty, Jonny Otto
The B-Team – Ruben Vinagre (will have to play on the right), Barry Douglas
In leaving out Benik Afobe, Leo Bonatini and Patrick Cutrone from both XIs I think it shows far we’ve come under the leadership of the great one.
The B-Team isn’t really operating with a traditional centre forward as a consequence so I suppose that’s an area some may focus on, but I’ve gone with Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Pedro Neto.
The only lock is probably Cav who made consistent contributions in both 17/18 (42 appearances and 11 goals in the league) and 18/19 (23 appearances and 3 goals), despite never really being a first-choice pick.
Costa can count himself a touch fortunate but 36 appearances and 5 goals in the promotion clinching year put his stock high, despite a largely poor showing in the Premier League. He did make 25 appearances though last season and raced away at Wembley to seal the deal against Spurs, for which I will always be eternally grateful.
Has Neto done enough in his 35 appearances this season to warrant a place above Bonatini, whose goals started the journey way back in 2017? That’s debatable but I think he’s just that good you can’t leave him out and scoring in a last 16 European tie probably puts him over the top. He could easily graduate to the As before too long.
As it stands currently though, the A-Team trio of Jimenez, Jota and Traore should leave less room for argument.
Traore may have missed out had I opted for a 352 and used Dendoncker instead, but the fact he’s been so good this season has meant Nuno has had little choice but to use the 343 more often. He’s a unique talent and whether he remains at Wolves or goes somewhere else, this has been his breakthrough season.
The A-Team – Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota
The B-Team – Helder Costa, Ivan Cavaleiro, Pedro Neto
Patricio, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Doherty, Otto, Neves, Moutinho, Traore, Jimenez, Jota.
Ruddy, Bennett, Dendoncker, Miranda, Vinagre, Douglas, N’Diaye, Gibbs-White, Costa, Cavaleiro, Neto
Agree? If not, you know what to do.