Season Preview: Wolves

by Kevin Coleman

It was a reasonably successful season for Wolves who were playing in their second spell in the Premier League. After a five year Championship exile, Mick McCarthy led them back into the top tier of English football, but this time around they managed to accomplish what they didn’t achieve at the first attempt in 2004 – avoid relegation. A respectable fifteenth place and thirty-eight points (oddly, just five more than the thirty-three which got them relegated in ’04), and Wolves ensured their Premier League status for another year.

There were a number of ups and downs for Wolves last season; some big losses (including the 4-0 defeat against Chelsea), a couple of vital wins (none bigger than the 1-0 defeat of Spurs), twelve draws – and not to mention the debate fuelled controversy when McCarthy fielded an unusually weak line-up in a mid-week league match against Manchester Utd.

However when you mention Wolves’ weak side that lost 3-0 to United that evening, it did outline what a big pool of players McCarthy had at his disposal last season. Wolves have a very big squad of versatile players, and despite seven players leaving this summer – six have joined. When times got tough last season, McCarthy could switch and change as he pleased and bravely dipped into his squad when necessary as twenty-nine squad players made an appearance over the course of the season. The range of his squad included numerous English players, a big contingent of British and Irish players mixed in with some foreign internationals in the likes of Serbia’s Nenad Milijaš, Algeria’s World Cup full back Adlène Guedioura and young Belgian player Geoffrey Mujangi Bia. Indeed, Wolves were the envy of some managers who’s squads were worn finely thin come the end of the season.

Last Season: 15th
Manager: Mick McCarthy
Odds: 2000/1
Ins: Steven Fletcher (Burnley, £6.5m), Stephen Hunt (Hull City, £3m), Steven Mouyokolo (Hull City, £2.5m), Jelle van Damme (Anderlecht, £2.5m), Adlène Guedioura (Charleroi, £2m), Geoffrey Mujangi Bia (Charleroi, season loan)
Outs: Andrew Surman (Norwich City, £1.2m), Chris Iwelumo (Burnley, £500,000), Jason Shackell (Barnsley, undisclosed), Daniel Jones (Sheffield Wednesday, free), George Friend (Doncaster Rovers, free), Mark Little (Peterborough United, free), Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Peterborough United, season loan)

WHAT’S CHANGED

It’s been a busy summer at the Molineux, to use the cliché it has been somewhat of a revolving door transfer window. The squad has been greatly strengthened by McCarthy, with some key editions in the starting eleven. Steven Fletcher has been an expensive addition to the squad – especially considering he cost Burnley £3million last summer – but the Scotsman is a big addition to their already decent looking forward line, and should look to build on his eight goal haul last season with the relegated side.

The signings of Steven Mouyokolo and Stephen Hunt from relegated Hull City have also added greatly to the squad. Wolves distinctly lacked a consistent and hard working wide man, and added to his set piece delivery the Irishman will be a valuable member of the team next season. Mouyokolo comes from Hull a very under-rated player, the Frenchman is a big talented young defender who will be making a claim for a starting berth at Wolves – if he can stay fit.

Belgian defender Jelle van Damme is another addition to the backline. The former Ajax player comes via a brief spell at Southampton, a loan stint at Werder Bremen and four seasons at Anderlecht, but the left back with twenty-five caps for the Belgian national side is a good signing along with the permanent deal of the versatile Guedioura, who can play at right back and in midfield, after spending the last six months on loan at the Molineux.

Regarding players leaving the club, known will have any effect on the dynamics of the senior side except, perhaps, Chris Iwelumo – but despite a few prolific seasons in the lower leagues, failed to make an impact last season.

Tactics: Wolves’ starting eleven changed so much from game to game it’s no surprise that so too did their tactical systems. Over the first half of the season McCarthy used a basic 4-4-2 system with Kevin Doyle and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake up front. The midfield four changed weekly however, with centre midfielder Karl Henry and wide man Matthew Jarvis the more common faces throughout the season. As the campaign tore on Wolves switched to a more common one-man striker line-up most predominately with Kevin Doyle – and this ranged from a 4-4-1-1 with a deep second striker, to a 4-5-1 system and in some occasions – the all too popular 4-2-3-1 line up. What way they will set up this season remains to be seen, but it could rely on whether or not McCarthy wants to start both Doyle and Fletcher together up front.

Key Player: Wolves’ most important player is Karl Henry in the middle of the park, for his hard work, tough tackling and committed performances every week which sees him as a mainstay in what is otherwise a revolving midfield. As club captain it’s no surprise he gives 100% every game, some of his performances last year were superb.

Fixtures: Wolves kick-off their campaign at home against Stoke. It’ll be a typically tough encounter against Tony Pulis’ men, but a win would really kick-start their season. It is then on Goodison Park a week later to play Everton, before a home tie against Newcastle, an away game at Fulham followed by Spurs.

First five fixtures: Stoke (H), Everton (A), Newcastle (H), Fulham (A), Tottenham (A)

Where will they finish? Wolves have a strong squad, and with this summer’s additions should ensure another year in the Premier League. With a very tough start, things will take time to settle and they could find themselves in and around the bottom five for most of the season, but they should escape the drop again. 15th

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