Three years ago, Wolves found themselves in a series of six consecutive defeats and promotion to the Premier League was a distant dream.
Today, they have one foot in the final 16 of the Europa League after Diogo Jota hit his second consecutive hat trick in this competition and Ruben Neves scored a goal worthy of the biggest stages of the game. What a transformation it has been under Nuno Espirito Santo – and no one will enjoy playing them in the next round, assuming there is no spectacular reversal by Espanyol in the second leg of next week.
Guo Guangchang, the chairman of Wolves’ Chinese owner Fosun, only attended his second game of the season and his first at Molineux, and what he saw gave him many reasons for optimism. Few who saw the Neves strike – and the midfielder made it a habit to score memorable goals – will forget: a 25-meter volley that bustled past goalkeeper Andres Prieto. Neves’ masterpiece crowned Jota’s triple after the Portuguese attacker also scored three runs in the 4-0 win over Besiktas in December.
Diogo Jota scored a nice hat trick because Wolves earned a thumping 4-0 win over Espanyol
The Portuguese ran the La Liga wrestlers ragged in front of an unbridled Molineux crowd
Jota ended his goal dryness in a great way when he scored three runs for the home team
EQUAL FACTS AND PLAYER REVIEWS
Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-4-3): Patricio; Boly, Coady, Saiss; Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny; Traore (Dendoncker 61), Jota (Podence 83), Jimenez (Neto 75)
Subs not used: Ruddy, Campana, Jordao, Kilman
goals: Iota (15, 67, 81), Neves (52)
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo
Espanyol (4-4-2): Prieto; Gomez (Darder 76), Calero, Naldo, Vila; Vargas, Iturraspe (Lopez 61), Sanchez, Melendo (Calleri 62); Ferreyra, Wu
Subs not used: Cabrera, Embarba, Pedrosa
booked: Iturraspe, Gomez, Sanchez
goals: N / A
Manager: Abelardo Fernandez
Referee: Tobias Stieler (Germany)
The margin of victory was a fair reward for Wolves’ superiority, while Espanyol midfielder Ander Iturraspe was lucky not to be sent for a clear header on Jota on the edge of the break.
Asked about the increasing hope of the supporters that Wolves can deliver a first European trophy, Nuno said: “Dreaming is free. It was a good performance – better in the second half. We have made beautiful goals.
“When we were in the championship, I was focused on playing against Burton and Birmingham. If you go from day to day, you don’t think about the future. You just concentrate on your present. “
For Wolves, this was the first European knockout band since the 1980/81 season – and their 13th match of a campaign that started on July 25 against Irish club Crusaders in the first qualifying round.
European football has stretched the small team of Nuno. For their 43rd competitive competition of the season, the Portuguese chose his strongest available XI, with Adama Traore – who started his career at Barcelona, the more famous city rivals of Espanyol – and Joao Moutinho recovered to the starting XI.
Ruben Neves thundered a great volley to double Wolves’ lead against Espanayol
It was an attack straight from the Neves handbook when he saw his effort fall into the net
Neves shows his characteristic celebration to a jubilant Molineux after his amazing effort
Diogo Jota opened the score for the hosts after pairing a Raul Jimenez flick home
The Portuguese attacker is congratulated by his teammates in an unbridled Molineux Stadium
Wolves had a clear physical superiority over their opponents, and both Raul Jimenez and Traore wasted good chances after beating Victor Sanchez and Didac Vila respectively. Jimenez overcame the ball as he tried to outwit Naldo, while Traore’s 12-meter effort was saved by Andres Prieto with his feet.
By that time, Wolves had risen 1-0. Traore won a corner on the right and played shortly for Moutinho, who drove to the nearby post for Jimenez to take the path of Jota.
Jota’s first volley was deflected from Sanchez and flew past Prieto – the first time Wolves had opened the score in a game since they defeated Besiktas 4-0 on December 12 here.
Joao Moutinho tries to bring the ball under his control for Wolves in the first half
Adama Traore sees his efforts saved by Andres Prieto after reaching himself on goal
Rui Patricio saves his own blush after almost conceding a comic goal to Espanyol
The Portuguese goalkeeper did not manage to knock away a looping ball and Ferreyra almost bounced
If that goal was unusual, then the incident that Espanyol almost gave an equalizer was downright bizarre. In an attempt to free the ball in the 31st minute, Jimenez could only cut the ball back to goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
Perhaps for fear that he would be punished for using his hands, Patricio kicked off his attempt at clearance and started making a rear wheel – presenting the ball to Facundo Ferreyra. Somehow Patricio scrambled back to save Ferreyra’s six-meter effort.
Two minutes before half-time, Wolven was furious with referee Tobias Stieler for not sending Ander Iturraspe, who was clearly heading a header towards Jota when the game ended up after a tough challenge. Despite the presence of VAR, there was no movement to upgrade the yellow card to a red one.
Moutinho falls to the ground after being hit in the face by Facundo Ferreyra of Espanyol
Ander Iturraspe of Espanyol was lucky enough to escape a red card after an apparent head butt on Jota
It was another moment to give Wolves the feeling that they are being treated roughly by civil servants, but their minds were raised early in the second half by Neves, who has added his collection of spectacular goals since joining Wolves in 2017.
Traore’s cross from the right was taken out of the box by Victor Gomez, where Neves checked him on the chest before sending him to Prieto from 25 yards.
After Wu Lei led the Gomez intersection a fraction wide before Espanyol, Jota made the game safe as he moved on to Matt Doherty’s past, fending off Gomez and firing on the net from a defender’s deflection.
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo welcomes Espanyol counterpart Abelardo in Molineux
Molineux was in a good voice when Wolves started the final stages of the competition
Espanyol has improved in recent weeks, but after their coach Abelardo Fernandez had rotated his starting XI, they saw a side of La Liga every inch. Only the width of a post prevented Wolves from scoring a fourth, while Prieto beat Pedro Neto’s substitute 30 meters and hit the woodwork. Then Jota made it four with a rising run from the left and a precise finish in Prieto’s right post, nine minutes after full-time.