Nuno relishing first Black Country derby

Nuno Espirito Santo knows from spending time out in the local area just how much the Black Country derby means to the people of Wolverhampton.

On Saturday, the head coach will experience the rivalry for the first time, as West Bromwich Albion travel to Molineux, and he’s fully invested in the occasion, having been made to wait for it since his arrival in 2017. However, Wolves are without a Premier League win since last month, and must go back further for a clean sheet in the competition, so Nuno has called on his players to return to their foundation – being compact, solid and keeping clean sheets.

On his first Black Country derby

“We have a lot of players who’ve been here for four seasons now and every day, before the pandemic, when they went on the streets, all the fans who talk about is the rivalry with West Brom, so we are aware.

“I’m aware of what it means to our fans, but we don’t have them. This is one of the things that’s changed dramatically. It’s not only about the stadium and atmosphere, when you arrive at the stadium you don’t see fans, after the game, away in the hotel, this is what I miss – not only the atmosphere at Molineux or away from home, it’s the presence and voice of the fans.

“We know they’re going to be at home and promise them that we’re going to do whatever we can to make a good game, be competitive and bring a big happiness, because we know what it means. It’s a local derby, since we’ve been here, we’ve always been in different divisions, and it will be the first time to compete against West Brom.”

On team news

“We have to assess. We have Adama [Traore] and [Willy] Boly coming and joining – let’s see how they are tomorrow. It’s about trying to make the right decisions, assessing with the doctor and themselves. We still have Daniel [Podence] out, so we have to work do before preparing for tomorrow. We still have Jonny, Podence, Marcal and Raul. Boly is joining, that’s the good thing.”

On the derby feel without fans

“This is how we compete, our main foundation, we realise no matter who you have in front of you, you have to compete. Saying that, we always go to the maximum of our strengths – all the things that we have, no matter which opponent. Tomorrow is West Brom and we’re going to try to compete as hard and intense as we can – this is the best message we have for the players.”

On the challenge West Brom will pose

“They have a good squad, a very good manager, very experienced, so we expect a very tough match. You cannot predict how the game is going to be, it’s going to be a new game, it’s up to us to try and be stronger.

“I don’t know him [Sam Allardyce] personally. Unfortunately, tomorrow, with all the protocols, I can’t even shake his hand. I cannot invite him to our office to have a proper chat before and after the game, but it will be the first time we’ve been together.

“We’ve been analysing all the matches of West Brom under Sam Allardyce. We know what we can expect, but realise each game is a new situation and this is what we have to be ready for, we cannot predict that it’s going to be the same.”

On improvements in defence

“We realise that we are playing good, having good moments of football, and we’ve been making mistakes that have been penalised. If I look at all the recent matches, I think we performed well, played good games and made big mistakes, especially in defence.

“Our priority has to be simple – let’s be compact, let’s be solid, because it always starts with a clean sheet. From there, I think we can grow and take the positives on all the aspects of the game, but first of all, we have to go back to our main foundation – a clean sheet.

“It’s not only the defensive part, but the offensive part. We are different, we are not the same, so everything will be different. Finding this balance of youth and experience, this is what we are looking for and want to put it together tomorrow.”

On dealing with injuries

“We don’t hide. We know the loss of Raul [Jimenez] is terrible, the injury that he had had a big impact on us. There’s no doubt Raul is a special player; he’s been with us so many years and given so many things. With Raul you can play crosses comfortably, he can play short comfortably, he can play in the spaces comfortably. If we are not the same, we have to find different solutions with different players.

“We are aware of the situation, of what happened to us. We had a lot of player, and still have a lot of important players out, but we trust what we have. We trust the young players to play, we try to engage them, and we know they’re important to us. Saying that we concede because we don’t have A, B or C is not the solution, to improve E & F when they play – this is how we think.”

On young players benefitting from experience

“I’m sure they will because I truly believe that dealing with joy and success, and everything going well, sometimes it’s easier. When you have to deal with difficult situations, with mistakes, frustration, and you still keep believing, this is a big learning process. For these young boys it will be like that.

“Of course, in my own opinion, inside our philosophy, the young players need support and experience from senior players, this is the right moment you take the best out of the youth that we have. I’m truly positive this will come to us very soon.”