Joao Moutinho says he feels Wolves can compete in the Champions League after proving their credentials against the Premier League’s best.

The experienced Portuguese midfielder who joined Wolves when they were newly promoted in 2018 has played in the competition for Sporting, Porto and Monaco in a storied career in which he has also won 113 international caps.

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The 33-year-old has been an ever-present since his arrival in the West Midlands and – speaking to BT Sport ahead of Saturday’s derby against Aston Villa – he suggested that Wolves are ready to reach Europe’s elite if they retain their focus in the run-in.

“I think we already proved we can play against the big teams in the Premier League,” he said.

“These teams have played in the Champions League. We have already won [against Premier League clubs who play in Europe] and of course we lose sometimes. They know that if they don’t do 100% we can win. 

“We have a lot of quality, a lot of young talent and experience. I think we’ve already shown this season what we can do but we need to continue because if we stop now it doesn’t matter what we did yesterday or last season.

“Of course all the players want to play in Europe. Champions League is the best competition in Europe. The next game is the most important. We think next game, next training session to achieve our goal.”

“We’ve already shown this season what we can do but we need to continue. It doesn’t matter what we did yesterday”
- Moutinho

Wolves have won both of their matches since the Premier League restarted post coronavirus lockdown, beating West Ham 2-0 at the London Stadium before edging Bournemouth 1-0 on Wednesday.

Their tally of 49 points is the best they have ever had after 31 games of a Premier League season and they’re only below fifth-placed Manchester United on goal difference.

With fifth in line for a Champions League spot as a result of Manchester City’s ban from Europe, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men – who could still qualify by winning the Europa League – have a realistic chance of mixing it with European royalty next season.

The 46-year-old manager, who had coached Valencia and Porto in Europe before he arrived at Wolves gave his players the ‘tranquillity’ to perform to their best, according to Moutinho.

“They [Wolves’ backroom staff] do best they can to keep us safe and they give us tranquillity to work and I think we show a little bit of that in our games. We continued with the spirit we had before the lockdown. I think the results happened after the great work they’re doing.

“Nuno knows what’s happening sometimes ahead of the players”
- Moutinho

“[Nuno] knows a lot of football, he played a lot of years for good teams. He knows what’s happening sometimes ahead of the players.

“Before me, they did a great job too but I think this season we’ve done amazing things. He wants you to improve, to do better and better, that’s the kind of mentality he passes but always with the feet on the ground.”

Moutinho echoes Santo’s call for Wolves to focus at the job in hand rather than looking ahead to next season, although the form of Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore has given been a major cause for optimism.

The number of winning goals scored by Raul Jimenez this season

Jimenez and Traore have combined for 10 Premier League goals in 2019-20, the most of any duo this season, and are just the seventh different partnership to manage at least 10 combinations in a single campaign in the competition’s history.

No player has netted more winning goals in the league this season than Jimenez (7), with the Mexican scoring the winner in each of their last three wins.

He met a superb cross from Traore to plant a header beyond Lukasz Fabianski against West Ham at the weekend before the pair combined once again to sink Bournemouth days later.

The deadly striker encouraged his side to “dream big” after scoring yet another priceless winner against the Cherries and Moutinho is full of praise for the unstoppable partnership.

“Raul is an amazing striker,” he said. “He appears in the final moment, the final seconds to score. They are amazing players, they do great things for us and they want to do great things to help the team. I hope he can continue to help us to improve and win games.”

Wolves will be looking for their deadly duo to fire them to a third consecutive league victory when they make the short trip to take on local rivals Aston Villa on Saturday.

The derby, which has huge implications for both sides at either ends of the table, is exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD, Ultimate and online from 12pm on Saturday.

A win for Wolves would see them leapfrog Manchester United who are in FA Cup action later in the day. However, Villa have lost just one of their last 14 home games against Saturday’s visitors in all competitions and Dean Smith’s strugglers will be fighting for their lives in their battle to avoid the drop.

Despite the high-stakes and imminent prospect of a fiercely contested derby, the measured midfielder who has seen it all before insists Wolves’ best bet for Champions League qualification is a steady approach.

“Of course we like to win our derbies,” he said. “They have a good team, good coach and good players. They are in a difficult position but they try to do what they can to win the game. We know that we need to be prepared to win the games. That’s what we do.”

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