Player Zone: Vinagre can be the man to force impressive Doherty out of Nuno’s plans

Before Nuno Santo arrived at Wolves not many would have predicted the journey the club was about to embark on.

The Portuguese manager, alongside a number of players from the same nation, has done a phenomenal job.

A defeat for Leicester against Manchester City last Monday confirmed seventh place in the Premier League. Now all that remains after their promotion-winning campaign last term is to seal European football.

That will happen should Watford fail to beat City in the FA Cup final in a few weeks time.

But as the club gear up for a possible Europa League campaign, they have a European winner at their disposal ready to thrive at that level.

No, it’s not Joao Moutinho. Instead, Ruben Vinagre is the Wolves man who has all the hallmarks of becoming a star.

The 20-year-old won the European U19 Championship with Portugal last summer but has only really been a fringe player at Wolves this season.

Jonny’s form and the performances of Matt Doherty have meant the youngster hasn’t played as many games as he will have liked, starting just seven times in the league.

Signing initially on loan, Wolves made the move permanent for a bargain price of £2m in June 2018. However, he’s now attracting the interest of both Barcelona and Liverpool.

If you need a measure of the potential Vinagre has, that interest is it.

Arriving from Monaco as an unknown prodigy, he’s still a player who’s escaped the limelight despite now playing for a Premier League club.

Going into a weekend where Wolves take on one of the club’s he’s been attracting interest from, this could be the ideal opportunity to show what he’s made of in front of his potential suitors.

This could be a major audition for Vinagre, either ahead of a move elsewhere or to put himself firmly in Nuno’s plans for next term.

His emergence in the starting XI, however, could mean the end for a Wolves stalwart. Matt Doherty has done very little wrong this season and has been one of the best in his position in the league. But with Vinagre coming through, Jonny could be shifted to the right with Doherty making way.

The left-sided player isn’t the finished article by any means but he’s incredibly exciting and his qualities in the final third could be particularly important in games against the bottom half clubs.

Wolves have had no issues with defensive discipline or going forward against the top six, taking 16 points from teams in that area of the table.

But against teams who sit back, Nuno doesn’t have an answer. Playing two more technical wing-backs could be the solution.

Vinagre has already displayed the tremendous attacking qualities he has, no less than in matches against Liverpool in the FA Cup and a victory over Cardiff where he claimed an assist.

In both matches he was terrific, proving to be an absolute menace down the left with his dribbling. So far this term, he’s completed 0.8 dribbles per game. In comparison, Doherty has completed just 0.5.

Wolves captain Conor Coady told The Express & Star in March: “He’s a fantastic footballer, he’s such a young player and yet he’s got such a bright future ahead of him. Everybody probably thinks the best place for him is here so hopefully that is the case because he’s a fantastic footballer and he can stay here for many years.”

And indeed the future is bright, but only providing he gets game time. Vinagre has had to be patient for much of the season but we must remember he’s still only 20 and this is just his second season in senior football.

Providing Wolves can keep him at the club over the summer, he can have a major role to play in the years to come. Should they qualify for Europe Nuno will need to count on those who have merely been squad players in 2018/19.

Surprisingly, the Portuguese youth international has rarely been spoken about this term.

However, that’s likely to change very soon.