After missing out on European qualification for next season via the Premier League, Wolves’ attention returns to this season’s Europa League campaign, with their sights set on taking down the 45-time Greek champions Olympiacos.
Here are five things to know ahead of kickoff in the crucial round of 16 second leg at Molineux on Thursday evening
1. ON A KNIFE EDGE
140 days later than originally planned, Wolves will finally invite Olympiacos to Molineux for the last 16 second leg. The first meeting between the two sides all the way back on 12th March at the Karaiskakis Stadium was an evenly contested affair, despite the Greeks having to play much of the match with ten men after Ruben Semedo was dismissed midway through the first half. The day after the clash in Piraeus, just as Wolves were due to board their flight from Athens, professional football was postponed due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Coronavirus has played havoc with the Europa League schedule, but with the domestic football season now in the bag, it has allowed continental competitions to resume, with the Europa League matches taking place across Wednesday and Thursday. A 1-1 draw in the first leg saw Wolves snatch a crucial away goal, but just a single goal could swing the result either way when Olympiacos visit Wolverhampton in the final game of the round of 16, with the match kicking off at 8pm on Thursday.
2. THE BIG 3-0 (0)
When Olympiacos arrive into the West Midlands, it will be Wolves’ first ever tie against a Greek club on home turf, but for the visitors, a visit to the British shores is far from being out of the norm. In fact, Thursday’s match will be the 17th time Olympiacos have faced an English side in European competition, and the third already this season having drew 2-2 with Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League group stages before they knocked Arsenal out of the Europa League round of 32 in February.
The most successful team in Greek football will also achieve an impressive milestone at Molineux this week as they take part in their 300th major European match. Since their first foray into continental football on 13th September 1959 when AC Milan were the visitors to the Karaiskakis Stadium for the 1959/60 European Cup preliminary round, Olympiacos have become a European regular, missing out in just five of the past 56 seasons.
What can you remember from the first leg? Test your knowledge below…
3. THE ROAD TO COLOGNE
A place in the quarter-finals is at stake for both Wolves and Olympiacos, which this season will also include passage to a unique Europa League knockout tournament in Germany. The winners of Thursday night’s contest, which sees both sides take part in their 16th European match of the season, will be rewarded with a match against either Roma or Sevilla, who are still yet to get their round of 16 tie underway, but will instead play a single tie at the MSV Arena in Duisburg. That stadium will also host the quarter-final between the winners of these two matches at 8pm on Tuesday 11th August.
Despite Wolves holding the slenderest of advantages over their Greek opponents thanks to Pedro Neto’s away goal in the first leg out in Greece five months ago, this hasn’t altered the lofty ambitions of the old gold’s number nine Raul Jimenez. The Mexican believes Wolves must “think big” when approaching one of the club’s most important matches of recent years on Thursday night.
4. FRIENDS REUNITED
One man who will know everything about what Wolves will be facing when Olympiacos arrive at Molineux on Thursday evening is Daniel Podence. The Portuguese winger spent 18 months of his career in the red and white before switching the shirt for gold and black in January. Ahead of the last 16 second leg, the pocket rocket admits he is excited to be reuniting with his former teammates and friends in Wolverhampton but is determined to help his current side progress to the quarter-finals.
Olympiacos defender Ruben Semedo also played with Podence and Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio for Sporting CP in 2016/17 and the Greek side's Portuguese keeper Jose Sa was a teammate of Willy Boly, Diogo Jota and Ruben Neves in Nuno's Porto side that same season. While Youssef El Arabi and Romain Saiss have been international teammates for Morocco since 2012.
There will also be a meeting of Portuguese minds on the touchlines as former Portugal midfielder Pedro Martins will be the manager to do battle with fellow countryman Nuno Espirito Santo. As a manager, Martins coached throughout the levels in his home country and even replaced Nuno at the helm of Rio Ave in 2014 after the now-Wolves boss took up a position at Valencia.
5. WE’RE GOING THROUGH CHANGES
It’s not just the latter stages of the competition which has been completely reimagined because of Covid-19, with the quarter-finals, semis and final taking place over one leg across four stadiums in Germany, but there is also a variety of rule changes coming into play from this week’s matches.
As it was for the final two months of the Premier League season following the restart, teams will be able to make five substitutions, however these will be limited to take place at three points in the game. These three occasions do not include changes at half-time, between the end of normal playing time and extra time, and at half-time during extra time, with one additional substitution being allowed during extra time. There will also be more players to choose from the bench, with a total of 23 players allowed on the teamsheet instead of 18, something usually only permitted for the final.