Back in August, Wolves fans would have been delighted to have a season of fewer Premier League defeats than the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham – and that’s exactly just what they’ve achieved so far during their 2019/20 campaign.
A 3-0 win over a poor Everton on Sunday afternoon means that they remain very much in the hunt for Champions League football, now sitting just four points behind fourth-placed Leicester. With Man City presently awaiting the outcome of their appeal against a ban from European football, the Midlands side are within striking distance of fifth, only three points behind Manchester United (who have a game in hand).
As some of the ‘traditional top six’ – specifically Arsenal and Spurs – struggle and look to rebuild, there’s plenty to like about Nuno Espírito Santo’s side, who continue to impress with their efficient brand of football.
Even without their first-choice wing pairing of Diogo Jota and Adama Traoré against Everton, Wolves looked dangerous going forward. The Portuguese duo of Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence looked energised and sharp, giving their opponents headaches at the back, and it was the latter whose trickery helped to win his team a penalty, converted easily by star striker Raúl Jiménez just before the break.
With the Toffees happy to cede possession and territory to the hosts, it was a straightforward afternoon for Rúben Neves, who was freed to dictate the game without any trouble. The lack of invention from Everton meant that his defensive duties were minimal, and the restoration of tenacious Leander Dendoncker to the starting lineup allowed him to flourish creatively, as his pass for Jota’s third goal showed.
Given that his defence was never seriously troubled, Santo will have come away hugely encouraged by his players’ ruthless display. If they continue to perform as well as they did on Sunday, there’s no reason to think they are far off from challenging for a top-four spot.
Blessed with a solid backline, coupled with an efficient attack and midfield, the perfect platform is there for Wolves to continue their rise up the table. If they can keep hold of the likes of Neves, Jiménez and Traoré, as well as Santo himself, Champions League football looks like a more and more realistic aim.
The one thing that could be the decisive factor in keeping them out of the competition this season? Inconsistency in their results and performances across their entire campaign.
Granted, balancing out the demands of Europa League football with the expectations of challenging near the top of the Premier League is not an easy task. But the Midlands side currently hold the unwanted title of having the second-most draws in the league – with only the Gunners picking up more than their 13.
Home draws against Southampton, Newcastle and Brighton should be considered disappointing results for their aspirations going forward, as should away defeats at Watford and Sheffield United – games that they shouldn’t be losing if they are to emerge a serious contender against the likes of Man Utd or Chelsea.
But there are certainly solutions to fix those issues for the future. On Sunday, the impressive performance of Podence – who made his first league start for the club since joining in January – showed how squad investment can help bolster the squad’s depth, while also freshening the team up and giving the likes of Jota and Traoré the occasional rest. The latter has been carrying the creative burden on his constantly dislocating shoulders for far too long.
As their results suggest, a killer instinct against the bottom-half teams needs to be honed, given that they already have a pretty solid record against the league’s top sides – having beaten Spurs on the road and Man City twice this season.