The predicted position of the Guardian authors 13th (Note: this is not necessarily John Bruin’s prediction, but an average of our authors’ advice)
Position last season 10th
Odds of winning the league (via Oddschecker) 500-1
Wolves enter their fifth straight season in the Premier League as a division mystery. Well-resourced and still enjoying the benefits of ‘super agent’ Jorge Mendez’s contact book, the club is trying to close the gap to the top six. This can be a dangerous path. Many clubs considered themselves accomplished and then slid down the cracks, failing to make that jump. Tenth place last season was below par and with only two points in the last seven games, goals hard to come by, pressured Bruno Lage to start the new season well or face the consequences.
Such a mid-table position was beyond the reach of fans during years of unrest at the club, but recent success and a proud history raise expectations that Lage, like his predecessor Nuno Espiritu Santo, should get more from a talented and expensive team. There was mustiness in Nuno’s final season, and it eventually happened in Lage’s first campaign. After scoring 40 points in 21 games midway through the season, this losing streak set in, and Lage and his players were surrounded by fans in recent weeks.
Raúl Jiménez, who scored just six goals in a season and is still one of the top scorers, was a reflection of the difficulty of recovering from a head injury that nearly ended his career and the quality of service he received. Finding a solution to these problems in the transfer market represents the club’s best chance of surviving Lage and making this big leap forward.
Looking back at Lage’s short career as a head coach, one can see a series of ups and downs. His Benfica team won the Portuguese Liga in 2018/19 with record points and goals, but fell off the cliff the following season. The Wolves repeated this in their first season. He was brought in to make his playing style more expansive and attacking than Nuno’s. Instead, his best players were Conor Cody in defensive management and goaltender Jose Sa, exemplary throughout the season.
Nuno was difficult to follow, his predecessor remains a cult hero among fans, and although Lage has more tactical aspects than his compatriot, he faced very similar challenges. In May, he bluntly stated that the club needs a roster refresh, but summer activities do not suggest that board members fully agree with him.
Lage was relieved last season with just three central defenders. Nathan Collins is looking better after a great season at Burnley. Despite their relegation, he made himself a profitable asset and the Wolves became the beneficiaries of a club in need of money. If his development continues, Wolverhampton will soon be able to at least double the £20.5m they paid, a record for the Irishman. At 6-foot-4, Collins is a tower, but he can be a dainty ball-handler, as evidenced by a superb solo goal in June when he waltzed through the Ukraine defenses.
Impact of the World Cup
In England’s 26-man squad, Cody is likely to be described as, as Gareth Southgate puts it, “the good tourist”; his positive emotions helped the Euro 2020 campaign. Despite such a large Portuguese contingent, only Neves and Moutinho were called up for the Nations League summer, although Sa must have a shout out. Hwang Hee-chan is South Korea’s own “Bull”. Wolves’ task before the World Cup is to receive a group of Arsenal players heading to Qatar.
Alternative rides during the World Cup
Wolverhampton hosts Britain’s busiest all-weather race track almost every night, and in mid-November the Peaky Blinders will return to the Museum of Black Country Life. And there is always the mellow air and frescoes of the famous Molineux metro to breathe in.
Hot Selling Shirts
Joao Moutinho. Fans were relieved when the 35-year-old signed a new contract in early July, just when it looked like he last played in the old gold. Fans idolize Moutinho for a convincing, sharp pass that keeps him head and shoulders above even in the heat of a Premier League midfield battle. “It’s five foot seven, it’s a true football heaven,” is Molineux’s anthem. Along with compatriot Ruben Neves, he became a symbol of the Wolves’ revolution under their owners Fosun, a high-profile continental performer whose presence would have been unimaginable in the club’s former doggy days.
With 3.6 million followers on Twitter, Raul Jiménez outshines his teammates, though on Instagram, where he has 2.5 million followers, he falls behind Adama Traore, who has 3.3 million clicks to see photos of his wavy physique and gaudy claims about fashion. Jimenez has a huge following in Mexico who see him as a football player and family man. Neither the striker’s Twitter nor his Instagram now contain any sign of his promise in April 2021, during his long injury layoff, to “guide you through my entire #blockchain journey.”
If Wolves were a Netflix document…
He made a six-part documentary about himself, so Jorge Mendez is hardly camera shy. The DJ paid for it before the super agencies knocked on him, so maybe he could start his set in the Molineux boardroom with Jeff Beck’s Hi Ho Silver Lining, a club anthem, and Big Log, a smoldering 1980s song from superfan Wolves and VP of Led. Robert Plant from Zep.