Liverpool have always liked Matheus Nunes – are Wolves a stepping stone to Anfield?

Liverpool supporters could get a glimpse into their midfield future this evening.

Matheus Nunes arrives on Merseyside with Wolverhampton Wanderers with the chance to show the Anfield faithful why their club are being touted as his next Premier League destination.

Until a couple of weeks ago, it would have been difficult to see the Portugal international catching the eye of the Kop.

Now, however, Matheus is showing signs of becoming the player that Liverpool considered buying last summer, when he eventually became Wolves’ record signing for an initial outlay of £38million (about $45m).

Wolves and Liverpool dismiss the idea that any agreement is in place to take Matheus to Anfield after just one season at Molineux – although neither disputes the idea of ​​Liverpool’s interest.

The move is a clear possibility after Liverpool considered signing the player in the summer of 2022 before deciding that he wasn’t quite ready for a club fighting at the top end of the Premier League.

Wolves were aware of Liverpool’s interest and are not naive enough to think that it has gone away.

The clubs have done business in recent years. In September 2020, Diogo Jota joined Liverpool from Wolves for £45million and Ki-Jana Hoever went in the opposite direction in a £13.5million deal.

But the message from Molineux is clear: if Liverpool or any other club wants him at the end of the season, they would need to make a normal bid in the normal way – and match Wolves’ valuation.

It is a valuation that many inside Wolves, and the Matheus camp, believed would have rocketed during his first season in England. He arrived as one of the most talked-about midfielders in European football, having held out for a bigger move before eventually being convinced that Wolves were a suitable destination.

Jorge Mendes, the agent who represents Matheus and has close links with Wolves, will inevitably be an influential voice in any discussions, but until recent weeks he had done little to suggest that the player’s value will soar, at least initially. Liverpool sporting director Julian Ward, who previously worked in Portugal as a scout, has a good relationship with Mendes, while FabinhoJota and Darwin Nunez are all clients of GestiFute (the sports agency founded by Mendes).

“I put more pressure on myself because I want to be the best, but I don’t think I did enough (in the first half of the season),” admitted Matheus in an interview on Wolves’ website shortly after returning from the World Cup.

“I have the hunger now to get to where I want to be.

“I want to be better than I was in the last six months, and these first six months of 2023 are going to be better individually for me. I have that in my mind and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to show that.”


Matheus Nunes became Wolves’ record signing last summer (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

The reasons for his underwhelming first five months at Wolves are in many ways obvious.

Not only has he, at the age of 24, had to adjust to life in a new country and a new league, but he has also had to do it in a dysfunctional team. He left for Qatar with his club at the bottom of the table and struggling to find any attacking cohesion.

But Matheus’ difficulties can also be linked to Wolves’ inability to find him a role in the starting XI that will showcase his strengths.

He hasn’t always helped himself though. In this season’s opening games, Bruno Lage fielded Matheus in a position akin to the box-to-box role, in which he made his name at Sporting Lisbon. He operated as one of two No 8s – João Moutinho the other – with Reuben Neves pulling the strings from deep.

But while he showed glimpses of his ability in possession, he was sometimes guilty of leaving his side exposed when they lost the ball. That led caretaker boss Steve Davis to deploy him several times – starting in the defeat at Crystal Palace – in a No 10 role, where any positional lapses were less likely to lead to chances conceded.

Wolves’ average positions at Palace show how advanced Matheus (No 27) was.

It did not suit Matheus, and he eventually lost his place in the team.

As the positional charts from his last two seasons at Sporting show, he earned his reputation as a huge talent arriving from deeper areas, moving through midfield in possession and turning defense into attack via his ball-carrying ability.

For Wolves, he has spent a greater proportion of his match minutes in advanced roles, but he is not at his best with his back to goal or when being asked to thread intricate passes into forwards.

The below positional chart (not including Wednesday’s game away to Aston Villa) shows where he has played for Wolves this season.

Matheus came off the bench during Julen Lopetegui’s first Premier League game, the 2-1 Boxing Day win away to Evertonbut has started the subsequent matches against Manchester United and Aston Villa and produced his best two performances.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that these displays were due to Matheus playing in his favored role. He started alongside captain Neves as one of two orthodox midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 setup, as his positioning against Villa on Wednesday shows…

In both games, he completed more passes (31 against United and 29 against Villa) at a higher success rate (86 per cent and 91 per cent respectively) than his season’s averages (21 passes and 82 per cent).

And this role in a midfield two has helped him utilize his ball-carrying ability to greater effect.

“He has quality and good skills, and physically and technically he has improved in the matches,” said Lopetegui.

“He has to adapt to different situations. If you want to be a complete midfielder, you have to improve in all parts of the pitch, not just one.

“Maybe he is better when he can see the match, the play and the rest of the players in front of him. But he has to adapt sometimes to play in different positions and that’s how he will become a better player.”

What happens next is unclear. Matheus will remain at Wolves for at least the remainder of this season, at which point Liverpool could reignite their interest.

Wolves, who secured him on a five-year contract, will hold most of the cards, but there is an acknowledgment at Molineux that players of Nunes’ caliber sign for the club on an implicit understanding that they will be allowed to move on when they feel the time is right.

In the meantime though, building on the small foundations he has laid in the last couple of matches to shine in the second half of the season could benefit Matheus as much as it helps Wolves – and potentially keep Liverpool interested.

(Top photo: Jack Thomas – WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images)


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