Premier League 2020-21 preview No 20: Wolverhampton Wanderers


Guardian writers’ predicted position: 8th (NB: this is not necessarily Paul Doyle’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 7th

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 200-1

Wolves played more matches than any other Premier League team last season and used fewer players in the league than anyone else. So when their first significant move in the transfer window was to sell one of their most trusty performers, Matt Doherty, to the team who finished one place above them, Wolves provoked dismay and confusion. Not only were fans bewildered by the sale of Doherty to Spurs, for the relatively piffling sum of £15m, but many feared that Nuno Espírito Santo would be outraged, too.

After all, the first thing the manager had said after his weary side lost to Sevilla in August’s Europa League quarter-final was that reinforcements were badly needed. Did Doherty’s sale show that the club were instead going to trim an already lean operation so much that Nuno would refuse to extend his own contract, which expires next summer? After three seasons of joy and progress under the Portuguese manager, was a beautiful relationship drifting towards a bitter end?

That question will lurk like a raven until Nuno signs a new deal but the fears sharpened by Doherty’s departure were softened at least a little by what Wolves did next – because splashing out £35m on an 18-year-old striker, Fabio Silva, is not the behaviour of a club dialling down its ambition. Then Wolves signed Fernando Marçal from Lyon and loaned in the 20-year-old midfielder Vitinha from Porto. There may be more before the transfer window closes, although the club are certainly not going to go on a trolley dash and, indeed, Nuno does not like to work with a very large squad. If the select few additions include high-class replacements for Doherty and the injured Jonny Castro, and if any bids for Raúl Jiménez or Adama Traoré are resisted, then Wolves will be set fair for another season of progress and perhaps a renewal of their vows with Nuno.

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Not having to combine domestic duties with a European campaign could make this the season where Wolves make their strongest push yet for a top-four finish and a cup – so long as they are spared serious injuries to players for whom they do not have obvious deputies. If they lost João Moutinho, for instance, they would need Vitinha to fulfil his potential very quickly.

How they finished

Injury has deprived them of their buccaneering left wing-back, Jonny, who will not return from cruciate damage until January at the earliest. Maybe Nuno will turn Marçal into a top-grade left wing-back but the Brazilian did not fit that description when he played the role at Lyon, where his best performances came as a left-sided central defender. Ruben Vinagre stood in for Jonny last season but does not seem a sustainable solution and may be allowed to leave. Nuno does not like unhappiness to fester so tends to be quick to get shot of players he does not think he can develop to the required level, as Patrick Cutrone and Jesús Vallejo found out.

The manager has developed plenty of players, of course, from the new England international Conor Coady to the unique superstar Traoré. Silva is probably not ready to start regularly in the Premier League just yet but the chances of him fulfilling his extraordinary potential under Nuno are high. Similarly, Wolves can expect big contributions this season from Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto, both of whom showed thrilling promise in their debut seasons and will force Diogo Jota to up his game or take a rest. Wolves, then, have plenty of attacking options, especially out wide.

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