Nuno Espirito Santo is coming under-fire over his team selection for Wolverhampton Wanderers’ dire FA Cup exit to Southampton.
The Wolves boss made six changes to his starting XI with key outfield players Conor Coady, Nelson Semedo, Adama Traore, Pedro Neto and Willian Jose making way for youthful replacements. Rui Patricio also dropped to the bench for cup goalkeeper John Ruddy.
In doing so Nuno showed exactly where his priorities lie – at St Mary’s for the Premier League clash with the Saints on Sunday.
He passed up the opportunity to reach an FA Cup quarter-final in favour of potentially moving up to 12th place in the Premier League at the weekend.
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Explaining his decisions after the game, Nuno said: “It’s not about regrets. It’s how you decide it. We want to find more things for our team.
“Playing with four midfielders showed a clear intention to control, but at the same time give moments to young players that can then give us better performances in the future.
“It’s not about regret, it’s about knowing the intention that we had. This is my responsibility of course.”
But Nuno should have plenty of regrets after last night – here’s just four of them.
Another opportunity wasted
How many times has Raul Jimenez told Wolves to ‘dream big’ in the past? How many times has Joao Moutinho spoken of his desire to win a trophy with Wolves?
A victory over Saints would have put Wolves just one game away from Wembley – and that match would have been against Championship outfit Bournemouth. To say that it was an opportunity missed is probably an understatement.
When Nuno looks back on his managerial career he isn’t going to take great pleasure from a 12th-placed finish in the Premier League, and nor are any of his players.
In a nutshell, last night’s game was Wolves’ season. The fans knew that, but Nuno didn’t. His decision to rest players for Wolves’ biggest game of the season is unforgivable in many supporters’ eyes.
Nuno puts himself under pressure
After two morale-boosting results against Arsenal and Leicester City eased the pressure on Nuno, he needlessly invited a fresh wave of scrutiny at 4:30pm yesterday.
If a full-strength Wolves team had lost to Southampton, Nuno could have walked away knowing he personally couldn’t have done a great deal more.
Now that Wolves are out of the FA Cup, some of the credit the Portuguese banked versus Arsenal and Leicester has been wiped out and he is once again seeing his every move critiqued.
Nuno has now placed huge pressure on himself and what will presumably be a full-strength team to beat Southampton on Sunday. If they don’t, then what was the point in resting players in the first place?
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What the heck now?
Is the FA Cup such an unattractive competition that managers can no longer take it seriously?
Nuno isn’t the only manager who will rest players, but he is probably the only one who will do so without bigger battles ahead of him.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side are in a similar position to Wolves and he made five changes of his own – though one of them was enforced with Liverpool loanee Takumi Minamino cup-tied.
He was also boosted by the return of first choice right-back Kyle Walker-Peters so he only ‘rested’ three players – and one of those was his goalkeeper.
Hasenhuttl treated the competition with the respect it deserves and recognised the chance for mid-table Saints to make something of their season.
While Southampton are favourites to now reach an FA Cup semi-final, Wolves will play out their meaningless final 15 matches.
With 27 points Wolves are unlikely to be dragged into a relegation scrap and there doesn’t appear to be much hope of them making genuine inroads into the top half. Is null and void still an option?
Saints given a helping hand
And finally, Nuno’s team selection and Wolves’ subsequent uninspired performance allowed Southampton to put their four consecutive defeats behind them and get some confidence coursing through their veins.
What a boost for the Saints going into their next Premier League game against… err… Wolves.
Just when we all thought Wolves had started to turn the corner they’re back to square one and now chase a fourth win in 17 Premier League games against a rejuvenated Southampton side on Sunday.