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Wolves: Manuel Ugarte would be the ideal Moutinho heir

Wolverhampton Wanderers are beginning to click into gear under the management of Julen Lopetegui, with the Old Gold climbing out of the Premier League relegation zone after losing just one top-flight match since the return of the domestic season last month.

The 56-year-old has already signed Mario Lemina and Matheus Cunha in January, and there will likely be a couple of more incomings before the transfer window shuts.

The Molineux outfit have been linked with Sporting Lisbon midfielder Manuel Ugarte according to Media Foot, but Atletico Madrid could provide stiff competition. With Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho coming toward the end of his career, the Uruguayan could be the veteran’s dream heir.

The 36-year-old has been a Wolves stalwart since joining back in 2018, playing nearly 200 times for the club, but his influence appears to be waning this season.

Moutinho has played 17 Premier League matches so far this term and registered just two goal contributions, taking 53.6 touches per game, and having a pass success rate of 84%.

Although these numbers look impressive in their own right, there has been a noticeable decline since last season, when he averaged 68.5 touches per match and completed 87% of his passes.

Ugarte, who is a full 15 years younger than Moutinho, could become the perfect heir to the elder statesman at Wolves, as his style is similar to the former Monaco star.

Indeed, across 15 league appearances for Sporting this season, the 21-year-old has achieved a passing success rate of 91% while averaging 60.5 touches per game, showcasing his wonderful passing and ball control abilities, and this could ensure him a starting berth in Wolves’ line-up if he comes to Molineux.

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Like Moutinho, Ugarte doesn’t quite provide a solid attacking threat (no goal contributions in 2022/23), but he doesn’t need to with Ruben Neves and Matheus Nunes around.

His defensive abilities would allow other midfielders more freedom, and by making 3.5 tackles, 1.6 interceptions and 0.7 clearances per match, all while winning 57% of his duels, he would be integral to Lopetegui’s side when they are under attack.

The £16k-per-week Uruguayan “midfield machine” – as dubbed by talent scout Jacek Kulig – ranks in the top 10% compared to positional peers in Europe’s major leagues for pass completion, dribbles completed, tackles, interceptions and blocks according to FBref.

Lopetegui should be acting swiftly to secure Ugarte’s signature ahead of what looks to be a crucial few months ahead, duly ensuring that when Moutinho finally does leave the club, there is a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings.