Wolves 2022/23 season preview and prediction: Why Bruno Lage has a mammoth task ahead
The Wolves 2022/23 season preview and prediction – can Molineux rock once more or are at the Midlanders at the end of a natural cycle?
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As drastic as this may sound, it’s time for spinal surgery at Wolves. Jose Sa has been a revelation – the Portuguese goalkeeper had the Premier League’s best save percentage last term – but those in front need mixing up. Boss Bruno Lage has hinted he’d like a pacy back four capable of playing a high line – Romain Saiss has already left, after 200 appearances, but it’ll be intriguing to see where linchpin Conor Coady fits into such a plan.
In midfield, energy has been required for some time and it’s an area where Wolves are light on numbers. A decision may have to be made on Raul Jimenez, too, who has understandably been a shadow of his former self since his skull fracture. His reserve is £35m Fabio Silva – now loan in Belgium, still yet to show his potential and without a goal for a year. There’s work to do, all right.
Wolves 2022/23 season preview and prediction: The lesson from last year
If expenditure on the first team isn’t going to be what supporters hope for or expect, then offer some expansive and exciting football as compensation.
Wolves failed to score in half of their home games last term (nine of 19) and the football was a struggle to watch at times: over the campaign, only Norwich created a lower xG. Prolific goalscorers are at a premium around Molineux – so much so, even Coady felt forced to chip in with four goals, having netted two in 275 Wolves appearances before last season.
Lage showed in the first three games that he has the ability to field and coach a front-foot, attacking side, and fans will want to see more of it on a regular basis if breaching the Big Six is deemed unrealistic.
And with Ruben Neves’ departure seeming likely, that’s another sizeable gap to be plugged…
The coach: Bruno Lage
Bruno Lage has had his admirers and his critics since touching down in Wolverhampton 12 months ago. Away victories against Aston Villa, Spurs and Manchester United were memorable, but in-game changes have often been disappointing. This is likely to be a make-or-break season for the former Benfica boss.
The owner: Fosun International
Fosun promised the lot, but after finishes of 7th, 7th, 13th and 10th, they finally appreciate the financial muscle that’s required to crack the established elite. Chairman Jeff Shi says building the club off the pitch is crucial, but references to Esports and Wolves’ own record company haven’t convinced fans.
The mood around Wolves…
Morale is arguably at an all-time low during Fosun’s six-year tenure, despite the huge strides they’ve made. A battle to qualify for the Champions League first turned into the Europa League and then the Europa Conference League, before the season ended with no wins in seven games. The entertainment on offer didn’t help matters, producing a paltry goal tally that was better only than the three sides who got relegated.
The one to watch
Yerson Mosquera was signed last year, but a string of injuries reduced him to nine minutes in the League Cup and then appearances with the under-23s. The Colombian centre-back has great pace, which could suit a new-look side.
Most likely to…
Have a relatively disappointing window followed by a campaign that surpasses all expectations – or sign a Portuguese guy whose name pronunciation splits the commentating fraternity.
Least likely to…
Improve the stadium in the short-term future. The Steve Bull Stand remains in its original 1979 format, while other areas are in need of expansion. Those in the hierarchy continue to assure fans that redevelopment is on the cards; however, the pandemic has seemingly delayed plans even further.
The fan's view: Matt Cooper (@mcooperwrites (opens in new tab))
Last season was a mixed bag. We started 2021/22 playing free-flowing football but struggled to score, then a fantastic January run was greatly overshadowed by a terrible end to the season.
The big talking point is whether Fosun will invest in the squad sufficiently. The likes of Saiss, Marcal, John Ruddy and Ruben Vinagre have left and our starting XI certainly needs refreshing.
This season will be different because Bruno Lage may opt for a back four, which Wolves haven’t done for five years.
Our key player will be Pedro Neto. He was out for most of 2021/22, but had promising spells towards the end of it.
Our most underrated player is Jonny Otto. He’s such an astute and versatile defender and competent both going forward and defensively, despite coming back from two ACL injuries.
The opposition player who grinds my gears is Wilfried Zaha. He’s a tremendous footballer, but his whining and apparent shock at being tackled really frustrates me.
The player I’d happily drive to another club is Ki-Jana Hoever. He isn’t a bad player, but he just hasn’t kicked on since signing from Liverpool.
The fans’ opinion of the gaffer is split. On one hand, he’s had no backing to sign players who fit his system; on the other, the dismal end to last season is concerning.
If he left, he should be replaced by a Jorge Mendes client – because let’s face it: it would have to be. Sergio Conceicao would be my pick.
The pantomime villain will be Tottenham’s Harry Kane. His street-smart approach annoys certain fanbases.
The one change I’d make would be to loosen ties with Mendes, if he isn’t going to be providing us with any benefit.
We’ll finish 11th.
FFT'S VERDICT… 13th
Wolves have enough to dodge trouble, but the latter months of 2021/22 were bleak. Improvements might be small.
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