Everton will look to build on Tuesday’s 1-0 win at Huddersfield Town when they host Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday.
The Blues will leapfrog Wolves in the Premier League table into seventh with victory, though the visitors arrive at Goodison Park on the back of consecutive league wins, including Tuesday night’s 3-0 home drubbing of West Ham United.
RBM: Firstly, many predicted Wolves for a more successful season than most promoted teams usually enjoy. Still, has this campaign gone better than you expected so far?
Dave: It’s weird because even the players that we brought in I knew were good players, but the Premier League is different.
When we were in League One, the change in quality was ridiculous. You could have a striker who struggled to score five goals in the Championship, chuck him in League One and he can bag 20 goals; that’s how poor the standard is in League One in comparison. The jump up to the Championship is obviously a bit more difficult, but then you jump up to the Premier League, you’re with the world’s best.
I always thought that, although Wolves had brought in some quality players, I’d still be wary, but that I’d be happy with a mid-table finish. For Wolves to pick up the results that they have, beating Chelsea, beating Spurs, drawing with Manchester United and Arsenal, that’s what you want in the Premier League, to take points off the big teams as well.
Slowly but surely, we’re taking points off teams below us as well; that was an issue at the start of the season, but if we can finish anywhere between seventh and ninth, I think that’s an outstanding season for Wolves.
RBM: Under Nuno’s management, and with the financial muscle of Fosun, Wolves’ owners, what can Wolves realistically achieve in the Premier League?
Dave: Fosun are a multi-billion-pound company, so they’ve got some serious money. Their plan is to eventually get European football - to try and break into the top six, then break into the top four. They want to be challenging for the Premier League within the next seven or eight years, which I don’t think is ridiculous. They’re also spending a lot of money on the academy, and are starting to poach players from other academies and bringing them into their own.
The only thing that concerns me is that I think Wolves, ideally, want to move ground. A lot of fans want to keep it where it is now, but I think Wolves are quite restricted. They want to be like Tottenham Hotspur; building this ground while relying on your current playing squad without spending much money on it. I think Wolves fans will panic if we’re not buying players, and it’s a big risk not expanding or strengthening your playing squad. That’s the only thing I’m wary of.
RBM: Having guided the club back to the top-flight and comfortably in upper-mid-table, where has Nuno succeeded as Wolves manager where his predecessors failed?
Dave: As a whole, he’s got a stronger squad anyway, but the way he plays football and structures his team is by far the most organised and disciplined way of playing football I’ve ever seen.
For example, we signed Conor Coady from Huddersfield Town four years ago as a central midfielder. He played in central midfield for about a season, then he played as a right-back, and then Nuno came in and said, ‘I like you, you’re going to play as a sweeper’. He’s been in the middle of our back three for the last two years now, and he’s been outstanding.
[Right-back] Matt Doherty, who we signed for about £70,000 from Bohemians nine years ago, struggled to get into our team in the Championship a couple of years ago, then Nuno brings him back in and he’s a completely different player.
He’s just so good with players; we keep being linked with players who haven’t really succeeded at clubs and everyone says ‘Nuno will get the best out of him’. He’s done it with probably 99 per cent of the players. He’s a great manager overall – tactically, with players, the structure of his team, everything.
RBM: Rúben Neves has caught they eye in his first Premier League campaign, which started with a stunning free-kick against Everton on the opening day.
Despite signing a new five-year contract last summer, do you worry the midfielder could soon outgrow Wolves?
Dave: I think a lot of fans thought at the time he signed [July 2017] that Wolves were going to be a stepping stone for him. I think we’d have been in big trouble if we didn’t go up last season, both with financial fair play and losing Neves anyway.
This season has been strange for Neves. It’s the first time, for two or three games, that he was ever dropped by Nuno without him being injured or suspended. He dropped to the bench a couple of times around Christmas, but in recent weeks he’s been much, much better. He had a dodgy patch around November but the whole team wasn’t fantastic then.
He’s 21 and full of talent - it would be extraordinary if Wolves keep him. It sounds ridiculous but with these long-term contracts, if he ever goes, it’s going to be close to about £100 million.
RBM: Wolves’ only first-team signing in the January transfer window was left-back Jonny Castro Otto, whose loan move from Atlético Madrid became permanent for an £18 million fee. Were you happy with their mid-season business?
Dave: I think so. Ideally, I would have liked a backup forward in case Raúl Jiménez or Diogo Jota get injured, but I think there’s enough depth in the squad at the moment. Whether we need someone else to play or to slightly change system, I think we’re good.
It’s the first transfer window in God knows how long that I’ve been extremely happy with no major incomings or outgoings.
RBM: How do you expect Wolves to set up on Saturday?
Dave: I’d be very surprised if Nuno changed from the team that played against West Ham. It’s changed a bit since we played you last time. The back five is the same; Willy Boly’s been suspended but I imagine he’ll come back in – saying that, Romain Saïss played centre-back in place of Boly [against West Ham] and scored, so it will be interesting to see if Boly gets put back in.
It will be Rui Patrício in goal, while Neves and Moutinho have been sat in midfield with Leander Dendoncker – we’ve scrapped the wingers and gone for three midfielders, and then two strikers, Jota and Jiménez, who have been ridiculous over the last few weeks.
We didn’t lose many games last season, but at times there were slight calls for a plan B. Nuno had one tactic, he’d never change it regardless; if we were losing a game he’d keep the same system, if we played a bigger team he’d just sit the back five a bit deeper.
He started doing that [this season] and we had a little run when everyone was calling for him to change the team. He did exactly that, and it’s worked over recent weeks. It’s a 5-3-2, he’s got the backup option of 5-2-2-1, so he’s got a few options. He’s slowly found out this season who his best players are, and where their best positions are.
RBM: Which of Wolves’ players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Dave: The front two again, Jiménez and Jota.
Jota’s been involved in six goals in his last five games and got a hat trick against Leicester a couple of weeks ago. It’s taken him a long while to get going this season; on loan at us last season, he was top goalscorer. We signed him permanently this season, and if you told me this season that he was a brand-new signing and never played for us last season, I’d have been very disappointed. But because we know what Jota was like, Nuno’s persisted with him. We were playing him as a winger, but playing him as a striker has suited him really well.
Jiménez has been our talisman this year, he’s been involved in 13 goals than any Wolves player ever has in a Premier League season; only Steven Fletcher has more . He’s fantastic, and in front of goal against West Ham he was fantastic as well [scoring twice].
If I could say everyone, I would, because everyone offers something different going forward and defensively. But Jota and Jiménez’s link-up play and movement at the moment is unstoppable.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
Dave: I’m going to back Wolves. I normally do back Wolves regardless, but I’m going to go 1-0 Wolves, Diogo Jota to score.
Our thanks to Dave for his time.