The way Ryan Bennett responds to Mauricio Sarri’s particularly sour take on Wolves’ style is simple but suggests Nuno Espirito Santo’s side are perfectly happy with their approach in matches against the country’s best sides.
‘We’ve taken four points off them this season so if he thinks that, good luck to him,’ Bennett says.
The Wolves defender heard what Sarri said after Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, when the Italian almost spat out his assessment of the action.
Ryan Bennett has been a mainstay of Wolves’ defence in their impressive season
Maurizio Sarri was unhappy with the approach from Wolves in the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge
‘For the first time, we were playing against a team who didn’t want to play,’ said the Chelsea manager.
‘They are not organised, they defended with very low intensity. They didn’t need any organisation in that case..’
Sarri’s view is clearly based on Wolves taking just 24 per cent of possession in the game, a figure not unusual when Nuno’s team visit the top six.
But it ignores the synchronicity required to shut down some expensively-assembled attacks and also the precision Wolves possess on the counter.
Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota linked up beautifully to score what would have been a winning goal but for Eden Hazard’s fine last-minute strike.
Perhaps Sarri was still stewing over the 2-1 victory Wolves secured at Molineux in December, when Chelsea dominated the ball but lost the meaningful measure.
There is more than one way to skin a cat and Wolves have found a sharper method than most when facing those clubs who perennially hunt trophies.
Wolves are in with a chance of silverware this season, and Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United is the next elite challenge.
Bennett elaborates on the issue that so irritated Sarri. ‘The way we set up we’re hard to break down and those sort of teams have a bit more possession, which creates more spaces when we do win the ball back,’ he says.
‘We have players at the top end who can counter against any team in the world. We nick it in areas where the full backs from the other teams are being expansive and we can exploit that.’
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have performed exceptionally against the top teams
Wolves won plaudits for doing just that in August’s draw against Manchester City, and in gaining a point at Old Trafford in September.
Wins over Liverpool and Tottenham show it would be plain wrong to characterise Wolves as negative. They can be dangerous even while looking defensive.
Bennett has been integral, situated on the right of a back-three including Conor Coady and Willy Boly that has become very familiar. Given Wolves could have spent many millions on a new defender it is a tribute to Bennett that he, as a free transfer in 2017, has kept his place.
‘When I first came in it was in difficult circumstances, the managers changed,’ he recalls.
‘I didn’t play straightaway. I had to be patient. That’s football. You keep working. Fortunately, I got the chance and it’s gone on from there.’
Nuno places faith in those he trusts and Bennett, 29, was rewarded with a new, improved contract this season. His starring role in the home win over Chelsea, when he produced a remarkable block on Willian, accelerated talks.
Now he is looking ahead to the prospect of playing at Wembley.
Bennett takes pride in the fact that Wolves are proving so difficult to break down
‘The manager realised we had an opportunity to win a cup and how and big it is,’ Bennett says.
‘It was made clear inside the club how seriously we need to take it and we’re getting the rewards for how hard we have worked.
‘It’s rare where players can get to the end of their career and go through the things they’ve achieved. Personally, I’ve not been beyond the third round (before this season) and you’ve got to realise that it would be massive to get to the end, get trophy and play at Wembley, something you’ve always watched as a kid.’
Bennett knows United are a different side under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to the Jose Mourinho team he faced earlier this season.
‘We could have won but at the start of the season their form was indifferent,’ he says.
‘Since Solskjaer has come in they have been really strong away from home and that’s something we have to deal with.’