Explained: Raul Jimenez’s bizarre 45 minutes as Wolves beat Aston Villa 3-2
For 80 minutes against Aston Villa, it looked like Raul Jimenez’s shock omission was going to be Wolves’ biggest talking point of the day.
Wolves were set to lose at Villa Park before Romain Saiss, Conor Coady and Ruben Neves made the most remarkable comeback.
Jimenez only returned to Compton Park yesterday after playing three games (186 minutes) during the international break with Mexico.
The forward begged Lage to pitch him against Villa in the West Midlands derby, but the Wolves boss decided to line up Adama Traore and Hwang Hee-chan as a two-man attack.
Explaining his eye-catching team selection, Lage said, “Raul is very important to us and the way we play. But also the other players are important. I don’t want to take risks with the best players.
“Maybe I need to protect Saiss more because he played more time than Raul for his national team, but my concern is with the trip. The flight was too long, he just arrived, he feels tired, he wants to play.
“I put him on the warm-up and every time he said ‘I want to come in (the team), I want to come in’, but I preferred to go with Daniel.
“I don’t want to take chances with him because we don’t have a big team and I don’t want injuries because we don’t make the best decisions.”
Lage’s decision was ultimately justified, but for 35 minutes of the second half his refusal to introduce Jimenez left everyone on the Wolves side baffled.
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Jimenez’s second half at Villa Park, which took place – apart from a few minutes at the end – away from the cameras, was bizarre to say the least.
As soon as Danny Ings steered Villa ahead in the 48th minute, the packed end started singing for Jimenez.
But it wasn’t until the 60th minute that Lage ordered his star striker to warm up.
Jimenez started to relax in front of the Villa Park press box, alongside Willy Boly and Ki-Jana Hoever to start. It was clear that Jimenez was Lage’s first port of call at this point.
The forward then took off his sweatshirt and got undressed and ready, before putting on a blue bib over his iconic number nine jersey.
However, as Jimenez went through what appeared to be the final stages of his warm-up, John McGinn scored Villa’s second goal.
About five minutes after McGinn’s goal, Lage brought in Daniel Podence and Fabio Silva. There were 15 minutes left on the clock and the match was apparently lost.
Jimenez had all but given up on retaining his Premier League appearance record before Saiss handed Wolves a lifeline with 10 minutes remaining.
Lage sent Jimenez back to warm up with a comeback now on the cards. The 30-year-old quickly proved himself before one of Lage’s assistants shouted him off the bench again.
As Lage gave his number nine last-minute instructions, Coady equalized after Villa failed to clear a Wolves corner.
Coady brought the ball home in the 85th minute and doubts began to arise again as to whether Lage would use Jimenez at all.
The forward disappeared into the dugout for a few minutes before reappearing again and finally entering the pitch in the 88th minute.
Jimenez barely touched the ball in a rare replacement cameo for Wolves, but he at least got to enjoy Neves’ 95th-minute winner’s jubilant celebrations with his teammates and traveling fans.
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