Wolves are set to embark on their fifth successive Premier League season, the second under Head Coach Bruno Lage. It was a season of ups and downs in the Portuguese’s first season at Molineux, a year full of promise which ultimately fizzled out into mid-table mediocrity. There were some promising signs for sure, but an alarming dip in form at the end of the season led to some questioning his ability to lead the team going forward. Pessimism has been rife among the Wolves fanbase in recent weeks, but the addition of Nathan Collins from Burnley has wet the appetite for more arrivals. Lage stated that he wanted most of the business done before pre-season began, but that wish has not been fulfilled. Ahead of Wolves’ pre-season games in Alicante, Talking Wolves looks back at Bruno Lage’s first season in charge, and what might be in store for the season ahead.
A Look Back
Lage’s first season at Molineux started with great promise. A tough opening run saw Wolves lost all three first games 1-0, but performance levels warranted far more, leaving fans were optimistic of what the season may bring. As the season progressed, good football was ultimately sacrificed for better results. Wolves suffered just 4 defeats in 19 games from the 1-0 win at Southampton in February to the 2-1 win over Leicester in March. While performance levels had not matched that of the opening games, Wolves’ results were not undeserved. Impressive and deserved wins against Everton, Brighton, Manchester United, Tottenham and Brentford had Wolves fans revelling in what may come under Lage. The Monday night win against Everton at the beginning of November moved Lage’s men into 7th and they didn’t drop out of the top 8 until the final day of the season.
A Disappointing End
Unfortunately, Wolves failed when it really mattered. Successive defeats against European rivals Arsenal in February seemed to be the catalyst for a poor run of form, as well as a lacklustre display away at West Ham who were just a point ahead of Wolves at the time. There is no way of hiding it, it was a dreadful end to the season. Just three wins in the final 14 games is, in truth, relegation form. After the aforementioned defeats, Wolves had looked as if they had overcome their blip with wins over Watford and Everton. However, a dramatic and controversial defeat at home to Leeds United proved to be the tipping point. Wolves blew away Aston Villa at an ecstatic Molineux the following week, but that would be their final victory of the season. An impressive comeback at Chelsea which Lage watched from home having contracted COVID-19 was the only bright spark in the final seven games. Finishing 10th was, in many ways, an underachievement and disappointment given the great run of results during the winter and the league position entering the final stage of the season. However, expectations were low going into the season and many Wolves fans would have taken it with some signs of progression under Lage heading into the 2022/23 campaign.
A Look Ahead
Alarm bells were certainly ringing at the end of the season, and rumours on Lage’s future (without substance) were in sections of the media. What was noticeable was a lack of Wolves fans agreeing with or even entertaining such rumours. Fans were concerned, but far more concerned at the club’s ability to recruit well in what was clearly a crucial summer ahead. There is certainly a feeling of ‘Back Bruno’ rather than sack him, as fans want him to get the chance he deserves with his own players, perhaps changing the formation and style of play.
As reported by the Express & Star, it is becoming increasingly likely that Wolves will switch to a back four and play a more attacking style of play this season. This is something Lage had wanted to do from the off, but he felt the players at the club were not of the right profile to do so. Despite the optimism, a formation change may bring, there is no room for a poor start to the 2022/23 campaign. The poor end to the season is still very much in the memory, and a poor start will no doubt raise concern about the season ahead.
Some would argue Lage was hardly backed by the club prior to the 2021/22 campaign. While Jose Sa was a superb addition to the side, Wolves did very little to improve the squad from the previous year. An uncertain and incomplete start to the transfer window has fans contemplating what success may look like. It is still early days in the transfer window, but Wolves begin their pre-season tour with games against Alaves on Wednesday, Levante on Thursday, and Besiktas on Saturday. Lage will want his squad to begin to take shape by the end of the tour with the trip to Leeds less than three weeks away.
Lage clearly has a huge amount of gratitude for the fans, and he had begun to build a close connection with them, particularly travelling fans after away games. This was something that had been lacking early in the season, but whoever followed Nuno Espirito Santo into the role was always going to face that difficulty. Wolves fans appreciate him, and he has mentioned several times his surprise at the level of support he has been given. A strong start to the season would only see this relationship grow stronger. A formation change looks increasingly likely, which will bring a sense of excitement to the season. There is also still an expectation that Wolves will bring in at least another three players. If this is the case, and star man Ruben Neves stays with the club, who knows what another full pre-season under the dedicated and attack-minded Lage could bring.