We have now passed midsummers day and also passed the middle of the close season for Wolves. Its been six weeks now since the Liverpool game that ended last season and we are now less than five weeks away from the first step into the Europa League since 1980. Crusaders of Northern Ireland or Torshavn B36 of the Faroe Islands will be the opposition at Molineux on July 26th and we won’t know which of those teams it will be until they complete their first Qualifying Round match on July 19th.
Whoever gets through to play Wolves will be big underdogs and it should be a fairly straight forward introduction to European football for this Wolves squad. Torshavn have played in European competition virtually every year since the start of the century but they haven’t won very often. Just 4 successes from 46 games. Last season was one of their best efforts. They drew home and away against St Josephs of Gibraltar before going through on penalties. Then they drew at home against Titograd of Montenegro and surprisingly won the away leg 2-1. That earned them a rare place in the 2nd Qualifying Round where they were beaten 8-0 on aggregate by Turkey’s Besiktas. Their home stadium which they share with Torshavn HB has a capacity of 5,000 and an artificial pitch. But for big games, they sometimes play at the National Stadium which has a capacity of 6.500.
Favourites to win that 1st Qualifying Round match though will be Crusaders. They have played in the 2nd Qualifying Round on a number of occasions but tend to get drawn against a seeded team and get well beaten. Their aggregate defeats this decade have included to Fulham 7-1, Rosenborg 4-0 and the following year 9-3, Copenhagen 9-0, Ludogorets 9-0 and last season Ljubijana 6-2. Crusaders ground holds only 3,000 and also has an artificial pitch, and for the many Wolves fans who would want to go, it’s down by the docks with a ground title of Seaview. Only 5 miles from George Best Airport and even closer to the Liverpool to Belfast ferry terminal.
While we wait for that game to come around all eyes are focused on the transfer market. I have long since lost count of the number of players Wolves have been linked with over the last month and it does appear to be the case that we will see players leaving as well as arriving. Kortney Hause has already left for Villa for £3m having been on loan there last season. And Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro are being hotly tipped to move on too. Both could end up in Yorkshire with Costa linked with Leeds and Cav with Huddersfield. But there are other clubs interested as well. Wolves will be keen to get as much as possible for these players to boost the funds available to try to strengthen the squad for a bid to climb into the top 6 of the Premier League and to make an impact in the Europa League, not to mention the domestic cups when they come around.
Wolves operated with a wafer thin squad last year and it was to some credit to the backroom staff, and to a degree of luck that it didn’t turn into a problem. But there will surely be a bigger squad needed for the season ahead. August alone could see the team in action 9 times with 6 potential Europa games and 3 Premier League matches. And if Wolves were to make a run all the way through the Europa League it would add 21 games to the season. So a larger squad will be assembled and that means bringing in 3 or 4 new additions plus replacements for any of last years squad that leave.
As for the positions that need more cover, that applies to most areas of the squad. Will Ruddy still be the main cover keeper or will Norris be ready to step up or will we see a new face added? Defensively the back 3 of Bennett, Coady and Boly were the regulars last season. There is nobody in the squad that would be obvious cover for the position Coady fills and that may explain why he was an ever present last season. We saw Saiss replace Bennett in some games but the Moroccan would be more comfortable on the left providing cover to Boly. So we can expect additions to come in to cover and compete with Coady and Bennett, although youngster Max Kilman appeared in the first team squad at the end of last season.
Saiss can also provide cover in midfield for the regular three of Neves, Moutinho and Dendoncker. Gibbs-White will be another year older and more ready to make a regular impact. But I expect we will see at least one new addition in midfield, maybe one attacking and one holding player. In the wide positions, Doherty and Jonny were the regular choices last season. But we were seeing real progress from Vinagre in the second half of the season and he will be putting pressure on that pair for a starting position in the coming season. Doherty and Jonny can play on either flank so there is some cover in those positions but we may see another addition, although Ryan Giles was another youngster to impress.
There is a clear need for cover and competition up front where there is no experienced alternative to Jimenez or Jota. Niall Ennis and Benny Ashley Seal may get opportunities though, certainly in cup games.
That Europa Cup opening game can’t come soon enough for those getting withdrawal symptoms after the excellent 2018/19 season, but by the time that comes there will be a change or three to the Wolves squad for sure.