At the end of the 2018/19 Premier League season followers of Wolverhampton Wanderers were on cloud nine. They had just enjoyed the best campaign in their club’s long history, cheering as the team battled to a seventh-place finish.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s ambitious squad finished with stats reading 16 wins, nine draws and 13 defeats. They scored a respectable 47 goals and conceded 46.
The 57 points achieved saw them finish ahead of free-spending Everton, Leicester, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Newcastle, to name but a few. They had earned a dream slot in the Europa League and it was a pleasure to be associated with the Molineux outfit at the time.
What’s more, things would only get better, surely. The cash injection taken from involvement in European football would be used to tighten up a defence who were accused of being just a little too generous last season. That, in turn, would help the side turn some of those 13 defeats into draws and boost their points return. Wolves finished seventh but were only three wins behind Manchester United and the top six. They were one of the best ever promoted teams and further improvement was expected.
Wolves suffering from a hangover
Unfortunately, it is yet to reveal itself. Wolves appear to be suffering somewhat of a hangover from last season as they struggle to match up to the standards of the previous campaign. Heading into autumn, with six Premier League games on the board, Wanderers can be found three points above the relegation zone.
They did jump from having just four points from six games to ten points after eight with two consecutive wins over Watford and Manchester City and a draw against Southampton.
That’s quite a turnaround in fortunes. Could Wolves go from top seven and Europa League to relegation in the space of 12 months. At this stage, it now looks less likely – they say bookmakers are rarely wrong and it’s interesting to see many high graded sportsbook apps are pretty optimistic about their chances of not being relegated. Does that mean there’s hope?
Could Wolves be a victim of their own success? That’s certainly possible. They look to be struggling with the pressures of playing twice a week, juggling Europa League football on Thursday and Premier League matches on Sunday.
It’s only going to get worse as the UEFA matches continue to come thick and fast as we get into the thick of the group stages. It’s often taken for granted that major sides can play twice a week but the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea have decades of experience. It’s not easy fighting on all fronts.
Europa League becoming a nightmare
Qualifying for Europe was seen as a dream by fans only a few months ago. Could it become a nightmare and cost them a place in the top-flight? Wolves could, quite quickly, find themselves with a decision to make. Do they sacrifice the Europa League to pull themselves through the ranks of the Premier League or do they carry on regardless and see where they are at the end of the group stage? By Christmas it could already be too late.
Another factor is that leaky defence. With many underrated players like Conor Coady outperforming, Wolves fans knew their side had to tighten up from last season if they were to have any chance of improving or, at the very least, holding their ground in the top 10 or eight in the Premier League.
During the summer nothing has changed at the back – Wolves have conceded, on average, almost two goals a game during that terrible six game run but managed to keep a clean sheet against the biggest attacking in the league, Manchester City.
Still the back may be a case for extra worry – they leaked five against Chelsea at home and three away to Everton in September. To make matters worse, they scored four goals of their own in those two games, so should have gone close to banking a return.
Team appears to be going stale
The coaching staff failed to freshen things up during the summer transfer window. Perhaps they believed they had a winning mentality in the team and didn’t want to disrupt that, but players now appear to have grown comfortable without competition or a threat of losing their place in the starting 11.
Managers don’t always have to spend millions to improve a side, but we have seen in the past a level of freshening up is needed in summer to keep things interesting. The squad is now set until the transfer window opens again in the new year.
The major talking points of pre-season focussed on how well Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota would work together this season, but the pair haven’t really set the heather alight so far. Jota scored late to rescue a point away to Crystal Place recently but, that aside, Jota’s form is much worse from last year.
Jimenez on the other hand showed flashes of his old self with two assists to rising star Adama Traoré for Wolves against the reigning champs and another goal in his last game. If they are to continue this run, need their big players to stand up and be counted for on a more regular basis.