A quick look at the 2018/19 league table will tell you that Wolves finished 7th on 57 points and that was 9 points behind the 6th placed team, Manchester United on 66. That’s quite a gap to make up if Wolves are to make the breakthrough from being ‘best of the rest’ in 7th, to becoming part of the elite top 6. And yet there are many from the land of gold and black who feel its achievable next season and they have good grounds for believing that.
First of all, we have to look at how strong the current top 6 are. Certainly, Manchester City and Liverpool were on a different planet last season and it would be a surprise if they don’t go close to finishing as the top 2 next season. The club most likely to close the gap on them are Spurs who did well last season despite no investment in the team and having a small first team squad, and they didn’t finish the season well after getting a few injuries. But there are question marks against the other three teams in the top 6.
Most of all the question marks will be about Chelsea. They have lost their best player in Eden Hazard and he was certainly worth a few points last season and they may well be quite average as an attacking team without him. They have also lost manager Sarri and look set to appoint the inexperienced Frank Lampard. Most significantly they have a transfer ban that means they can’t bring new players in until the summer of 2020. And that will lead to some of their young stars getting their chance. But two of the best ones, Hudson Odoi and Loftus Cheek have long term injuries.
Man Utd have yet to get anywhere near back to the standards of the Ferguson era and although Solskjaer made a promising start to his turn in the hot seat, there were real question marks about whether he was the right man by the end of the season. United may well spend big in the summer but that is no guarantee of improvement. And Arsenal have yet to show under Unai Emery that they can be any more of a threat to the top teams than they were in Wenger’s final years.
So the opportunities are there for Wolves to close the gap, and there are three reasons in my mind why they can. Firstly, they finished 7th last season with a team containing many players that have their best years ahead of them. Certainly Neves, Jota, Jimenez, Dendoncker, Boly, Coady and Vinagre are all players who can be better players next season than last. And there is no reason to believe that Patricio, Doherty, Jonny and Moutinho won’t at least maintain their standards of last season.
Secondly, Wolves now have owners with deep pockets and there is every reason to believe they will bring in 3 or 4 players this summer that will be just as good if not better than the players at the club already. And add to that there are academy products like Gibbs White, Ennis and Kilman who will be ready to make more impact on the first team squad.
But the main reason Wolves are capable of bridging the gap to the top 6 is that they have done so already! They started last season well and under a 343 formation were holding their own in the top half of the table. But with the likes of Costa, Cavaleiro and Traore not making the impact hoped of them, Nuno made his one major change of the season at the start of December by changing to 352. And Wolves became a better team overnight. Jota was pushed further forward to support Jimenez. Dendoncker came into the team and made a real impact as a box to box player. And having the 5 in midfield made the team more solid and stopped the problems emerging when the opposition were outnumbering them in the middle of the park. And it’s interesting to look at the Premier League table from the beginning of December onwards:
3rd Man Utd – Played 24 Points 44
4th Chelsea – Played 25 Points 44
5th Arsenal – Played 25 Points 43
6th Spurs – Played 25 Points 41
7th Wolves – Played 24 Points 41
So from December onwards, Wolves form was virtually as good as the four teams above them and for the reasons above, Wolves could improve at least as much and maybe more than those teams next season. The biggest hurdle they have to overcome may well be virtue of their own success, as the extra games that the Europa League brings will add some pressure to the squad. But a few wise investments may well cancel out that problem and the first venture into Europe for the club since 1980 may well not be the last in the years ahead.