With the 2020/21 Premier League season on the horizon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Wolves and their prospects in the upcoming campaign.
Following their promotion in 2018, Wolverhampton Wanderers have become a household name in the Premier League. It is largely thanks to their back to back seventh-placed finishes over the past couple of seasons, combined with some remarkable club management and coaching that have made them one of the most balanced sides in the English top-flight.
On the flip side, however, their achievements in recent years mean they have now cropped up huge expectations. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at Wolves’ chances in the upcoming campaign and whether or they have what it takes to break into the top-four in the near future, under the leadership of Nuno Espirito Santo.
Prelude – The Backdrop
In what was going to be a vital season for Wolverhampton Wanderers, they had a relatively slow start to the 2019/20 campaign, opening the season with a 0-0 draw with Leicester City.
It was followed by draws with Manchester United and Burnley before they tasted back to back defeats to Everton and Chelsea. In fact, Wolves were winless in their first six games of the campaign. They had secured only two victories in their first 11 league games and their reasonable form in the UEFA Europa League was the only positive indicator in an otherwise dire start to the campaign.
However, Nuno’s men started settling in from early November and that early-season defeat to Chelsea was their only loss until late December.
One of the highlights from Wolves’ 2019/20 campaign was their double over Manchester City while they also won against Tottenham Hotspur in February. Such sturdy performances against top teams did well make up for the silly points wasted against Everton, Burnley and Newcastle United early on in the season.
Moreover, a positive 2020 form wasn’t stifled by the three-month break from football as Wolves resumed their campaign with three back to back wins over West Ham, Bournemouth and Aston Villa. And although it was followed by two losses, a late surge helped the team finish the campaign ahead of clubs like Sheffield United and Arsenal.
Unsurprisingly, Wolves’ 2019/20 season was characterised by a strong defence, with only Sheffield United, Manchester United, Manchester City and champions Liverpool conceding fewer goals. It was also an improvement to the 46 goals they had conceded during the 2018/19 campaign.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have been reasonably busy in the transfer window this summer, notably bagging the services of Fabio Silva from FC Porto.
The Portuguese youth international arrived at Molineux for a club-record fee of €40 million. He should provide some much-needed competition for Raul Jimenez in the number nine role, especially following the departure of Patrick Cutrone.
Wolves have also brought in Marcal from Olympique Lyonnais. The Brazilian had played a key role in the French outfit’s excellent run in the UEFA Champions League last season and should add some depth and versatility in defence as he can play not only as a left-back but also as a centre-back. He is an ideal fit for Nuno’s three-man backline.
On the flip side, Helder Costa was offloaded to Leeds United, for a fee of €17 million, which seems like a good deal as the Portuguese didn’t seem to have any future at Molineux.
However, Nuno has also lost key wingback Matt Doherty to Tottenham Hotspur. The Irishman’s departure leaves Wolves with no viable option in the right-wingback slot, although the club has been linked with a move for Arsenal ace Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Maitland-Niles has shown a lot of promise under Mikel Arteta, of late. His versatility, work-rate and pace could potentially make him a better fit than Doherty at Wolves.
Wolverhampton Wanderers will seek to be avoiding the terrible start they had last season this time around. However, a tricky test against Chris Wilder’s resolute Sheffield United, followed by a home game against Manchester City doesn’t do them any favours.
That said, Wolves will face newly-promoted Leeds United, Fulham as well as relegation candidates Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and even perhaps West Ham United during the late September to October calendar, giving them an ideal opportunity to get an early headstart.
Unfortunately, it isn’t until January when we get to witness the Black Country Derby as Wolves take on newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion. The early December fixture against Aston Villa is also going to be a fierce one and the Wanderers will be expected to seal all three points in both these matches.
Nuno, meanwhile, should also be aware of a tricky holiday schedule as his side are expected to face Spurs, Manchester United, Chelsea and Brighton & Albion during the second half of December. Three of those teams face Wolves in their last four fixtures of the season as well, meaning the West Midlands outfit must achieve their goals ahead of schedule if they are to avoid a nervy nail-biting showdown like last season.
There have been a lot of speculations regarding the future of Raul Jimenez and unsurprisingly so, as the Mexican international has established himself as one of Premier League’s best forwards. He notably scored 17 goals last season, which was a stark improvement from his tally of 13 goals during the 2018/19 campaign.
It goes without saying that Jimenez will be looking to reach the 20 goal milestone in this new season and perhaps even compete for the highest goalscorer prize. Given his physical and aerial prowess, combined with his work-rate, the ex-Atletico Madrid star certainly has the quality to do so.
Conor Coady has been the leader of one of Premier League’s best defences for two years in a row now. His leadership, commitment and defensive prowess have made Wolves exceptionally resilient at the back. Not to mention, he is the main link between the formidable defensive partnership of him, Willy Boly and Romain Saiss.
It is Coady whose leadership and experience could be crucial in retaining the same level of consistency and solidity at the back for Wolves. Besides, the 27-year-old himself will be looking for another consistent season as he sets his sight on the England team, for the upcoming European Championship next summer.
Adama Traore has simply been an inspiration, not just for Wolves but for the Premier League as a whole. The ex-Barcelona prodigy has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence under Nuno Espirito Santo, with his pace and a powerful figure giving the Wanderers some much-needed bite in the offensive department.
Indeed, Traore is one of the fastest players in Europe, and his dynamism going forward will turn out to be crucial once again for Wolves next season. On a more important note, however, it will be interesting to see how the departure of Doherty affects his form in the upcoming campaign.
Wolves head into the 2020/21 campaign with a strong squad and phenomenal team chemistry, which is backed up by a brilliant coach. They have been swift in the transfer market as well and are unlikely to lose any more star players after Doherty.
Players like Daniel Podence and Fabio Silva are only going to add more quality to the attack, allowing Wolves to appear less reliant on the services of Raul Jimenez. The revamped offensive unit should be able to keep up with a solid defence, thus making them one of the most balanced sides in the league.
There is no doubt about the fact that Nuno’s men are capable of fighting for the top four. However, a more realistic objective will be to eclipse last season’s tally and potentially get into the top six.
THT Prediction: 7th
Author Prediction: 7th