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‘One of the hardest, so smart’ - Ruben Neves names Liverpool star Thiago as toughest Premier League opponent

16:00 GMT 17/03/2022
Ruben Neves Wolves 2021-22
The Wolves midfielder has looked to model his game on some iconic figures and enjoys testing himself against some of the best in the business

Wolves star Ruben Neves has forged a reputation as one of the Premier League’s top midfield talents since stepping up into the English top-flight in 2018, but he still looks to take as many lessons as possible from the likes of Liverpool playmaker Thiago Alcantara and Chelsea’s World Cup winner N’Golo Kante.

The Portugal international considers star turns at Anfield and Stamford Bridge to be the toughest opponents he has come up against in recent times, with a Spaniard on Merseyside just edging it as the best he has faced, and such challenges will always be embraced by the affable 25-year-old.

He has looked to model his own game on some iconic figures that have graced the very highest level - those that have represented the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona - but is aware that he faces the toughest of tests every time he steps onto a Premier League platform with his current club.

What has been said?

Discussing his hardest opponents with The Athletic, Neves – who made a senior breakthrough in his homeland at Porto – said: “[Xabi] Alonso and [Sergio] Busquets, but I will also say one from the Premier League — Thiago. When I played against Xabi Alonso (at Bayern), Thiago was there as well… that was a hard game!

“Thiago is one of the hardest. So smart. Quality, physicality, he’s one of the best.

“I can say N’Golo Kante as well, it’s impossible to take the ball from him and, defensively, he’s a monster. But my first choice would be Thiago.”

Who did Neves look to for inspiration?

The Wolves ace has become famed for his spectacular long-range strikes, but he considers himself to be more of a holding midfielder and does not make unrealistic demands of himself in the final third of the field.

He said of his game: “I always try to play well but in terms of playing balls, I’m not looking to create beautiful moments. Sometimes you pass the ball and it bounces… I try to do it perfectly, although, then again, sometimes it’s bad to try and be perfect because you take more risks.

“It’s always about the best decisions for the team. And creating the best conditions for the player receiving the pass.”

Neves’ focus is more on breaking up play and providing the creativity that allows those around him to flourish, with inspiration being taken from another World Cup winner that emerged out of the famed La Masia academy system at Barcelona.

On his role models, Neves said: “I will speak about Busquets, he’s one of the best in the world. He’s a defensive midfielder, but if you talk with people about Busquets, they talk about his offensive game. Only a small percentage of people realise he’s really good at defending and always in the best position to win the ball back.

“That’s what I try to do; be good with the ball, put the team to play, take my risks, shots on goal, passes, but then, the defensive work hiding behind all this is really hard to do.”

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