Friday, August 5, 2022

Wolves 2022-23 Predictions: Fears last season’s final could point to a significant drop

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Daniel Storey reviews the summer transfer business, looks at the challenges ahead and predicts where the club will end up as part of his season preview for all 20 Premier League clubs

Jose Sa was the Premier League’s best goalkeeper last season, Conor Coady is a hugely reliable centre-back, Max Kilman is one of the best young defenders in the country and Nathan Collins is an excellent signing, albeit likely at the peak of his value. There’s no doubt that Wolves will once again look to build their season around a tight defense. Even with a late-season collapse, they still had the worst defense outside of the top 4.

Read Daniel Storey’s previews for all 20 Premier League clubs here

Although incoming business has been sluggish, Wolves have also kept their two best midfielders. No offer has been received for Ruben Neves to persuade her to sell and Joao Moutinho has (somewhat surprisingly) signed a new one-year deal; it seemed like he was saying goodbye at the end of last season. This backbone will dispel any serious doubts that wolves are in trouble.

The return of Pedro Neto is a great blessing for Bruno Lage. Neto contributed 11 goals in 31 games during his 2020-21 breakout season but last year any hope of progress was dashed by an injury that limited him to 466 league minutes. Still only 22 years old, last season’s chronic creativity woes are partially alleviated by his presence.

There is also a realistic hope that Raul Jimenez will return to form this season. Jimenez started training again in July last year, but after missing eight months with a career-threatening head injury, it understandably took him some time to feel comfortable again. Jimenez scored just three Premier League goals before March.

Sa was majestic last season and he may not fall right back to the middle. But Wolves really can’t afford that. The data calculates that Sa saved Wolves more than nine goals last season based on the number of goals conceded compared to the quality of chances he had. Wolves’ success last year was based on subtle differences: they won 15 league games, 11 of them by a single goal.

For all the positivity of Collins’ arrival, Wolves have little depth on defense. Ruben Vinagre was sold, Romain Saiss and Marcal went on free transfers and Ki-Jana Hoever was loaned out for the season. The squad list includes nine defenders and Wolves start with a five-man chain. That list of nine includes Dead Gomes and Yerson Mosquera, who share four league appearances for Wolves.

Creativity was such a theme last season that Neto’s return alone can’t change it completely. Only Watford and Norwich had fewer shots last season and only two clubs (Norwich this time and Burnley) had fewer chance-creating actions (passing, dribbles and fouls). That’s partly due to their abysmal random creation from set pieces, odd given the resources at their disposal. Only Leicester created fewer chances from dead balls than Wolves’ 40.

And then there’s Jimenez. The first evidence suggests that the Mexican may have changed after the head injury, with fewer header shots and fewer goals scored. This is perfectly understandable, but it puts the wolves in a certain predicament. Will you continue to serve Jimenez as before or change the style of your attacks? Given that Fabio Silva is on loan and Hwang Hee-chan only scored five goals last season, they need to sort it out.

Collins is the only notable signing as Hwang was already on loan. Collins is a central defender who can pass the ball both briefly into midfield and more directly to a forward, but his greatest asset is stepping out of defense as a ball carrier.

Morgan Gibbs-White staying in place feels like a new signing given his development at Sheffield United last season (there’s still interest from several Premier League clubs) but fans are a little itchy at the lack of measures. Showing interest in midfielder Palhinha only to lose to Fulham was seen as a worrying misstep. So far this summer, the Jorge Mendes pipeline has not opened (although there is still time to rectify this).

Lage’s position was rock solid after a strong start to last season, impressive considering it was his first season in England and there were those inside and outside Wolves support who suspected he could be an early victim . Wolves also finished in the top half in 2021-22; It was a successful season overall.

But there are concerns about the downturn in the second half of the campaign. From February 23, the Wolves played like relegation candidates – only Southampton, Norwich and Watford scored fewer points from that point on. And the margins have been so good in the Wolves season (think of that winter result streak – 1-0 0-0 0-0 0-1 0-1 1-0 0-0 1-0 0) that any small mistake in defensive performance could put the situation in big trouble.

I fear a slight drop as the end of last season haunts them. But still not in trouble. 13.

The Score is Daniel Storey’s weekly assessment of the performance of all 20 Premier League teams. Sign up here to receive the newsletter every Monday morning this season

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