A wonderstrike from Ruben Neves and a Diogo Jota hat-trick helped Wolves secure a routine win over Espanyol in the first leg of the two sides’ Europa League Round of 32 clash.
The hosts got off to the perfect start when Jota volleyed home from close range following a clever flick on from Raul Jimenez.
Wolves continued to have the better of the game but were almost pegged back when Rui Patricio made a near-fatal goalkeeping error midway through the first half.
This scare aside, the Wanderers were comfortably superior and grabbed a second just after the break through a vintage Ruben Neves rocket-volley from well outside the box.
Wolves further extended their lead when Jota doubled his tally by squeezing in a shot from a tight angle. The forward then completed his hat-trick nine minutes from time to cap off a fine win and all but confirm his side’s progression to the next round.
Here’s 90min’s breakdown of the game…
Key Talking Point
With it being Molineux’s first taste of European knockout football in almost 40 years, Wolves could have been forgiven for wilting under the lights.
However the hosts did nothing of the sort, starting the game with great intensity and dominating the early proceedings.
Rúben Neves’ 15 goals for Wolves across all competitions:
• 12 from outside the box
• 3 from the penalty spot
He doesn’t do tap-ins. pic.twitter.com/GpBVxXUmJb
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 20, 2020
And then it happened… another absolute screamer from Neves.
Chesting a high ball onto his right foot the Portuguese midfielder unleashed a powerful, dipping volley that left Andrés Prieto with absolutely no chance. A goal worthy of such a momentous occasion for his club.
Starting XI: Patricio (5); Doherty (6), Boly (6), Coady (6), Saiss (6), Castro (6); Neves (7), Moutinho (7); Adama (6), Jiménez (7), Jota (9*)
Substitutes: Dendoncker (6), Neto (6), Podence (6)
Jota has largely existed in Raul Jimenez’s shadow over the last few months, but he easily outshone the Mexican this evening.
He took all three of his goals – but particularly the third – very well, taking his tally in the Europa League this season to five. If he can score more consistently in the Premier League, he may even overtake Jimenez as the west Midlanders’ star man.
13 – Including qualifiers, Diogo Jota has been directly involved in 13 goals in 11 games in European competition for Wolves this season, scoring eight and assisting five. Continental. pic.twitter.com/7fjes0V6cv
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 20, 2020
Starting XI: Prieto (5); Perea (5), Naldo (5), Calero (4), Vila (5); Melendo (5), Sánchez (4), Iturraspe (5), Vargas (5); Lei (4), Ferreyra (4)
Substitutes: Lopez (5), Calleri (5), Darder (5)
Wolves return to domestic action on Sunday when they host basement club Norwich, as their battle to close the gap on the Champions League places continues.
Espanyol are currently bottom of La Liga and will be hoping to aid their survival bid by dispatching of Real Valladolid this weekend.