A Portuguese Invasion really has taken hold in the Midlands. Wolverhampton Wanderers have ties to a Portuguese super agent, a Portuguese manager, and own no fewer than 12 Portuguese players. They also have a couple of Brazilians, who’s native tongue is Portuguese, and a Mexican striker signed from Benfica of Portugal.
When Fosun International bought the club, just four years ago, Wolves were coming off a season where they had finished 14th in the Championship. In the first season under the new owners they finished 15th in the Championship and did their very best impression of Watford by having four different managers. Now they sit proudly in the top half of the Premier League, having secured promotion in year two of the project, and managed back to back 7th place finishes. They even undertaken a European campaign that ended 382 days after it began, with a quarter-final defeat to Sevilla.
There can be no argument made against the fact that the Europa League campaign hurt Wolves in the Premier League. They won none of their first six games as they focused on Europe, and ended the season with 3 defeats in their last six games. Having finished only seven points off 4th, that can be viewed as a huge missed opportunity. Between weeks 7 and 32 of last season, Wolves were better than Manchester United and Chelsea. Wolves took 48 points in that period compared to Chelsea’s 46 and United’s 44. The start and end of the season is what kept Wolves out of the Champions League spots.
Wolves missed out on European football for this season, and while they will be disappointed by that it may help them in the long run. They are free to focus only on domestic competition, and with the quality they have in midfield and attack, they should consider themselves a challenger for a top four finish this season.
They will need to make additions, it’s not a perfect squad by any means. They are thin in certain areas, and lacking real quality in others. Nuno isn’t the type who will make wholesale changes to his starting 11 but it is time he started looking at potential upgrades in certain areas.
Wolves will need to add a third choice goalkeeper this summer, unless they feel they have an academy prospect ready to step up into the first team squad. Rui Patricio is one of the Premier League’s best shotstoppers, and John Ruddy is an able backup, but with Will Norris gone to Burnley there is a need for a third option. Mendes represents Tiago Sa of SC Braga and at 25 he might represent a good option for Wolves.
The central defensive unit at Wolves boasts Conor Coady, Willy Boly and new signing Fernando Marcal as the likely starters. Romain Saiss and Leander Dendoncker can fill in when needed, but both are midfielders, and both Ryan Bennett and Roderick Miranda have returned after spells away on loan. The strength of the midland clubs backline has always been it’s understanding as a unit, rather than the quality of any of the individual parts.
There is likely a ceiling on how far this team can go with a back three of Boly-Coady-Marcal. Nuno and Co. should probably be looking at upgrades across the board in defense but it’s not something for this summer. They might be well served to look for a reliable, versatile backup this time around, though one high calibre starter would be the ideal.
The sale of Matt Doherty opens up a big hole at right wingback, one that will need to be filled this window. Reports suggest that Mexican international Jesus Corona of FC Porto is the top target. Nominally a winger by nature, he has played right back and right wingback in his career so he could be a good fit. Wolves passed on the opportunity to target a couple of very talented natural fits for the position by deciding not to get involved in the bidding for Matty Cash of Nottingham Forest and Jayden Bogle of Derby County before they joined Aston Villa and Sheffield United respectively.
If Corona is unobtainable, they could target another very talented young English player who would seem a perfect fit for their style of play, in Max Aarons of Norwich. Aarons has experience being one of the main creative outlets for his team, and has the perfect skillset to flourish as a wingback. He’s also seven years younger than Corona and would hold far more resell value than the Mexican. Luke Matheson, signed from Rochdale in January, and Oskar Buur can provide depth in this role if required.
On the left, Jonny Otto and Ruben Vinagre present Nuno with two good options. If Vinagre gets the nod as starter, then Jonny should prove the ideal third wingback, capable of deputising on both flanks, once he returns from injury. There have been some reports regarding a potential Vinagre and cash deal for Alex Telles. Telles would represent a big upgrade for Wolves, and if they can complete that deal they definitely should. It’s not an area of need, but could be a good opportunity to improve the overall quality of the team.
Central Midfield is an area of strength with Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Dendoncker and Saiss all available to Nuno. Strengthening isn’t necessary, but maybe Wolves could look for a little bit of diversity. Maybe a bit more dynamism. A powerful box to box type like Boubakary Soumare could be ideal next to Neves. That could also potentially allow Dendoncker to transition into defense full time and could see two positions strengthened with one move.
Few teams can match the quality on show at Molineaux in wide areas. Adama Traore has admirers at pretty much every team in Europe, Diogo Jota can be frustrating but there’s not doubting his talent and in Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence Wolves have depth and variety. Each of the foursome offers something very different. It seems likely that new loan signing Vitinha will also be used in wide areas, though he is more naturally a number 10. It could be that he is seen as the successor to Moutinho and that Wolves will begin a process of making slight alterations to their shape over the next 12 months.
Upfront Raul Jimenez remains the main source of goals. Jimenez is one of the very best strikers in the league, but he played too much last season and Wolves will need to find a way to rest him more often this year. No European football will once prove a big help, but he probably shouldn’t be lining out in the early rounds of the cups. One would assume that the addition of Fabio Silva is aimed at reducing Jimenez’s work load. Silva is a similar style of player to Jimenez who should learn a lot from him. Whether they can be played together remains to be seen.
Wolves have two definite needs, and one ideal upgrade, for this summer. They have to address the right wingback position and find a third goalkeeper. Ideally they would begin the process of upgrading in the back three as well. The addition of a box to box midfielder would be fantastic but isn’t a necessity.
Wolves have money to spend and a very close relationship with the biggest agent in the world. They have shown an aggressive nature over the past few years but perhaps they could do with being a little more diverse in their scouting. Perhaps they could consider signing players who aren’t from Portugal, and players who aren’t Jorge Mendes clients. As good as the Mendes link-up has been for Wolves, it’s never a good idea to have such a close relationship with an agent. And it’s also never a good idea to go down the track of agent based recruitment.
Wolves are within touching distance of challenging for the top four, and a couple of clever signings could see them make that leap.