It was a memorable night for all concerned with Wolverhampton Wanderers as the club reached a quarter-final of a major European competition for the first time in almost 50 years. It was a nervy night as fans watched on from home with Molineux still rapped in fan flags, banners and mosaics, but Nuno’s men stood firm to deny the Greek champions. Wolves now travel to Germany to take part in the ‘Finals’ tournament, facing Spanish outfit Seville on Tuesday evening.
Wolves v Olympiacos reaction
Wolves (3-4-3): Patricio, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny, Traore, Jimenez, Podence (Subs Used: Vinagre, Jota, Dendoncker)
Olympiacos (4-3-3): Allain, Elabdellaoui, Ba, Cisse, Tsimikas, Guiherme, Camara, Bouchalakis, Masouras, Valbuena, El Arabi (Subs Used: Forounis, Randjelovic, Hassan, Cafu)
Nuno stuck with the 3-4-3 formation and named a largely unsurprising line-up, with the only real area to note being Daniel Podence’s selection to play against his old club in place of Diogo Jota whose best form this season has come in the Europa League. Wolves, however, lost Jonny in the first half to a serious-looking injury. Although there has been no confirmation on the type of injury he sustained and therefore the amount of time he will be out of action for, it looks very unlikely that he will play any part against Seville on Tuesday. Ruben Vinagre took his place and did very well up against the pace and trickery the Greek side possess on the right-hand side. Olympiacos were without their own Portuguese goalkeeper Jose Sa who was injured, while they also had to field a makeshift centre back pairing of Ba and Cisse.
Wolves certainly started the brightest and took full control of the tie after Daniel Podence won a penalty which Jimenez dispatched. However, Wolves’ control did not last as they fell on the back foot. Toskas Tsimikas’ impressive run from left-back resulted in an excellent save from Rui Patricio. The shot was certainly travelling but the goalkeeper managed to turn it around the post. This chance would be a sign of things to come as shortly after Olympiacos found joy out wide once again, this time down the right-hand side as Al-Arabi crossed for Camara to finish from the edge of the box, only for VAR to rule the goal out for offside. The half time whistle was certainly welcomed by Wolves but in truth, the second half did not change much. Olympiacos made a double substitution at half time and had certainly planned to target Ruben Vinagre. However, the young wing-back did extremely well defensively, an area of his game which often comes in for criticism.
Despite the pressure, Olympiacos were forcing onto Wolves, the home side could have put the tie beyond doubt and settled any nerves in the second half. Diogo Jota latched onto a misplaced back pass and found himself one on one with Allain but the goalkeeper redeemed himself for his earlier mistake and smothered the ball. Shortly after, Ruben Neves picked the ball up outside the area after the ball had been cleared from a Wolves corner, his effort was deflected straight into the path of Willy Boly who could not adjust in time as the ball bounced off him and wide. Leander Dendoncker replaced Daniel Podence as Nuno went with 3 in the middle to try and sure up the win, but this made little difference and if anything reduced the chance of Wolves countering to put the game to bed. The final 20 minutes were almost unbearable, including an additional six minutes of stoppage time. Olympiacos created an endless number of half-chances, most notably Hassan’s shot that went over on the turn from six yards. Hassan would also be the man to have Olympiacos’ golden chance to take the tie to extra time, but having got in between Coady and Boly, his free header was saved brilliantly by Patricio. However, in truth he should have done much better with the chance.
Penalty Incident/Jimenez Goal
Stand in goalkeeper Allain took a heavy touch early in the game and former Olympiacos winger Daniel Podence sensed an opportunity as he quickly closed down his old teammate. Podence got to the ball first and was shoved off the ball by Allain. The referee pointed straight to the spot with little protest from the Greek side’s defenders. Raul Jimenez confidently dispatched the penalty to give Wolves an early lead and put them firmly in control of the tie.
Still recovering from losing Jonny to injury, Wolves has begun to lose the control that had gained early on as Youssef El-Arabi latched onto a clever through-ball and squared it across goal to Camara whose shot from outside the box went in via two deflections from Willy Boly and Conor Coady on the line. The equaliser had been coming, but Wolves were handed a lifeline and a deserved one at that. After all the frustrations with VAR calls and ridiculous offside’s throughout the league season, Wolves finally had one go their way As El-Arabi was fractions offside in the build-up. A huge moment in the game, who’s knows what could have happened in the remaining 60 minutes had this stood.
As the game edged very slowly towards its conclusion, Olympiacos were piling the pressure on Wolves. Despite this, they had struggled to create any real clear-cut opportunities in the second half, however, they knew that one would come before the 90-minute mark. And, with just five minutes remaining, substitute Hassan met a superb cross from out wide in between Coady and Boly but his point-blank header from six yards out was saved by Patricio. It was the chance the away side had been waiting for but the Wolves number one stood firm to win the tie.
Wolves v Olympiacos Man of the Match
Wolves’ and Portugal’s number one is often overshadowed when talking about the best players in the Wolves side, as he quietly goes about his businesses almost never making a mistake. However, Patricio went one stage further in this tie and produced a performance which was far better than just faultless. His first half save from Tsimikas’ effort combined with the save towards the end of the game from Hassan’s header ultimately won the game for Wolves, with Patricio showcasing his superb reflexes. However, his performance was far more than just these saves, as he organised and calmed what was evidently a nervy Wolves defence particularly in the latter stages of the game, as well as making light work of the numerous half chances that Olympiacos managed to fashion. A match winning performance from a truly excellent goalkeeper.
Things to Improve
If Wolves are to get past Seville next Tuesday, they’re going to have to improve their ball retention in the middle of the park and in the forward areas. Far too often Wolves won the ball back in the second half only to invite more pressure on the defence just seconds later. Seville are an incredibly good counter-attacking side and will not fail to punish Wolves if they are able to win the ball back as easily as Olympiacos did at Molineux on Thursday evening.
Seeing Games Out
Yes, Wolves won. Quite how is another matter. It was an incredibly nervy watch for fans watching on and yet it could have been so much more comfortable. Wolves players’ nerves were evident on the pitch and after losing points in the final minutes in recent Premier League games against Sheffield United and Burnley. Credit where its due, Wolves stood firm to deny the Greek side but that was largely thanks to Rui Patricio in goal, and they must ensure they do not give away any clear cut chances if that are to progress as Seville will not think twice about punishing them. The win will, however, give Wolves the confidence that they can see games out again as they showed in the early games after the re-start.
So, it was an extremely anxious but memorable night for Wolves fans who are still scratching their heads at Wolves being in a European Quarter Final. It has been an incredible journey that started against Crusaders over a year ago and will now end in Germany, but when is the question. Wolves have certainly been handed the toughest of run-ins if they are to reach the final, but in a one-off 90-minute match, you simply can’t bet against them.
Ciaran Barker is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.