Carabao Cup: Wolves v Gillingham preview – Julen Lopetegui taking center stage for first Wolves ‘final’

Julen Lopetegui at his Molineux unveiling (Getty)

A new era begins tonight as Lopetegui takes charge of his first game as head coach, in a potential banana skin clash with the League Two strugglers.

Although many fans will have one eye on Wolves’ dire Premier League position, the Spaniard is keen to stay laser focused on tonight’s action at Molineux as he calls for his players to prove their worth.

“The most important thing is to only put the focus on the next match,” Lopetegui said. We are going to play a lot of finals. We have to have that in our mind, that we will have a lot of finals and that each match is a final.

“We are talking about the Carabao Cup and you don’t have any other option but to win. We have to put the focus on this match and then we can talk about the Premier League.

We are going to play with the best line-up we think. We have different moments for different players. Some players have only come back for three or four days.

“We have to choose the best options and the best team to beat Gillingham.

“They have eliminated Brentford and it’s the cup, so they will be a very dangerous team.

“Anything can happen because it’s only one match, so we have to be ready. We are alert and we know the way they usually play. We will be ready with an answer.

“I think Neil Harris and Gillingham are very clear how they want to play and we have to be ready to develop in our best way.

“It’s exciting to play in the Carabao Cup and we want to win. We know it will be a hard task, this is football and we know what can happen, so we have to be ready.

“We want to win this match and be ready to win the title, why not?”

Lopetegui has had to wait more than a month for his first game in charge, due to the World Cup break.

When asked if he was anxious for the games to start, he added: “I am excited. I have a big vision of Molineux and to feel the support of our fans and of course to see the answer from my players.

At the same time, I am worried because I know these kind of matches and the style of Gillingham.

“They are very clear how they are going to play this match. This kind of team doesn’t have anything to lose and they have key points to damage the opponent.”

Jonny Castro Otto and Boubacar Traore are both injured for the game, while Portuguese internationals Jose Sa, Ruben Neves and Matheus Nunes are available for selection.

Lopetegui said: “They have come back in a good way and are always focused here.

“The World Cup is a big experience for all the players but they are focused here and they will help us to get our aim, to go ahead in the cup.”

Third choice goalkeeper Jackson Smith played for the under-21s yesterday, meaning Sa is likely to be involved in some capacity. Fellow academy players Dexter Lembikisa, Harvey Griffiths, Joe Hodge, Chem Campbell and Nathan Fraser were not involved, meaning they could have an impact for the first team tonight.

Hodge played in both friends out in Marbella and has clearly made an impression on Lopetegui, meaning he may have handed a start, after making his first senior start in the last round against Leeds.

When asked if anyone surprised him in training, Lopetegui said: “When you know more about your players, sometimes your thoughts on them can change. Sometimes it’s better and sometimes it’s worse. The best way for me as a coach is to have the daily commitment from all the players.

For example, we have Hodge. I think he has played at a very high level with us in the friends.”

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