Just over one month since Wolverhampton Wanderers’ year-long 2019/20 campaign came to an end; they prepare themselves to head to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United to begin what is likely to be another rollercoaster season.
While thoughts of Raul Jimenez’s missed penalty in the Europa League quarter-final against Sevilla will still cut deep, Nuno’s men will no doubt be up for the new challenge ahead of them and hope to put last season’s anguish behind them.
Wolves will be looking to challenge the top six of the Premier League, as they did for so much of last season. Here are five things to look out for in the upcoming season.
Tweak in the style of play
Even on the surface, Wolves’ sale of Matt Doherty to Tottenham after his 10 years at the club was a decision that raised plenty of eyebrows. Doherty had become a key player in Nuno’s side since the Portuguese manager took over in 2017 and starred in the right-wingback position, an area that is vital to the way Wolves play and the system they play, so many were surprised to see Doherty depart and for £15million, a minimal figure in today’s transfer market.
Wolves have yet to replace Doherty and unless they replace him like-for-like, they will have to tweak their style of play to play to the strengths of their new right-wingback. Doherty’s late runs into the box at the back post and his overall attacking play contributed to many goals under Nuno, something that Wolves must either look to replicate with a new player in that position or by tweaking their tactics. Rui Patricio, Conor Coady, and Ruben Neves will also have to look to freshen up their approach on the field, as they had become accustomed to pinging the ball out wide to take advantage of Doherty’s aerial prowess. Of course, Nuno will know all this and probably already have addressed it following his comments of evolving the team after the loss to Sevilla.
The arrival of Vitor Ferreira, or Vitinha, was one that was greatly welcomed by the Wolves fans on social media. This is not only because he is another exciting, young, Portuguese talent, but because he has the capabilities to play in the attacking midfield role, also known as ‘the number 10’ position, something Wolves have been screaming out for since their promotion to the Premier League. When playing teams that like to sit behind the ball and are hard to break down, Wolves have lacked that creative spark and someone that can link the midfield and attack when they have the ball.
However, Vitinha could well provide that spark that Wolves have been missing and should be a better option than the likes of Leander Dendoncker who has often been used in that role by Nuno, despite the Belgian’s attributes not quite fitting the role. Wolves can now interchange between their two favoured formations of 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 and have the personnel, in theory, to succeed in either formation.
The continued emergence of Pedro Neto
When Wolves completed the double signing of Pedro Neto and Bruno Jordao in August 2019, many fans were left unsure what to think of the duo’s arrivals. They had hardly featured at any of their previous clubs and were relatively unknown, leading many to believe they were signings for the U23s. While Jordao failed to make much of an impact due to injuries and the quality of players he had ahead of him, Neto was thrust into the first-team squad and his talent was evident from his very first appearance against FC Pyunik in the Europa League. As the season progressed so did Neto’s involvement and he quickly became Nuno’s first option off the bench when Wolves needed more attacking impetus.
Neto finished the season with three Premier League goals and two in the Europa League but was very unlucky not to have more as he had goals controversially ruled out by VAR at Anfield and Old Trafford. His pace and trickery make him a very exciting player to watch but it’s his non-stop running and effort that quickly won the Wolves fans over, as well as Portugal’s under 21 manager, as he was called up to the squad for the first time in September 2019 and has featured ever since. One Portuguese journalist stated that Neto reminded him of a young Ricardo Quaresma, which in Portugal is very high praise indeed. If Neto continues to improve as much as he did in his first season, then he could be in for a very big season.
Ruben Neves’ growing stature
The ‘wonderkid from Porto’ is very quickly turning into a club legend and his stature as a player is growing season upon season. Despite having already captained FC Porto in the Champions League before joining Wolves, Neves didn’t strike many as the leadership type at first. Quiet and humble, he often led by example on the pitch using his feet, more of ‘do as I do not as I say, kind of leader. But as his time at Wolves has progressed, Neves’ leadership skills have become more and more evident and he can be seen on the pitch commanding, talking and encouraging his team-mates.
The 23-year-old’s leadership qualities off the pitch have grown too, possibly to something to do with the fact he is now a father to two, soon to be three, children. This was evident in the video Wolves recently posted on social media of Neves video calling new signing Fabio Silva while on Portugal duty to welcome the 18-year-old to the club. While Wolves will be hoping nothing happens to skipper Coady, with Neves they have a vice-captain that will give his all for the club, the staff, and his teammates.
Despite Nuno and the players’ insistence that the huge number of games they played last season was not making them tired, that many games is sure to make even the fittest person mentally and physically fatigued even slightly. After failing to qualify for Europe again this season, Wolves will not have to worry about extra games possibly taking their toll on the players this season.
This could be a positive when looking at Wolves’ aim to break into the top six as they tailed off towards the end of last season despite being in a great position, fewer games this season could potentially see Wolves finish stronger and once again qualify for Europe. Equally fewer games could have a negative impact on Wolves’ league form as they often played better the weekend after a European game. It often looked like they were ‘in the zone’ when they had only a few days rest in between games, whereas when they had longer between games it seemed to take a while for the players to get back into the swing of things.
Wolves will have been disappointed not to qualify for Europe this season after being in such a great position with just a few games to go but they will look to go again starting on Monday against Sheffield United, and as pointed out above, there are still plenty of positives to come this season.