Injury woes, contract issues, productivity concerns and adapting to a transition from a three to a four at the back formation will shape the 2022/2023 Wolverhampton Wanderers attack – Kevin Fernandes gives you the lowdown.
Firstly, and importantly ignoring any transfer rumours swirling around at this moment in time, let’s take a look at who Wolves have within their ranks –
Pedro Neto, 22
Daniel Podence, 26
Adama Traore, 26
Hee-chan Hwang, 26
Raul Jimenez, 31
Morgan Gibbs-White, 22
(Disclaimer – There are more options within the youth ranks, all unlikely to be key figures, hence their exclusion from this list)
The return of Pedro Neto
After injury woes, forcing one of Wolves’ brightest prospects to the side-lines for more than 10 months, Pedro is back with a bang.
Bruno Lage chose to recall the Portuguese winger from holiday a week early, and Neto did not disappoint with three goals in four pre-season matches, with the Viana do Castelo native often being a bright creative spark.
Neto has been forming a promising partnership with young French left-back Rayan Ait-Nouri, and with the increased freedom and support in a reformed 3-back defence system, Premier League defences can be sure to see both creating overloads and attacking the touchline with ease on that left-hand side.
With the likes of Morgan Gibbs-White also impressing from midfield, we can expect a much more exciting attack from a Bruno Lage side widely known for a solid defence last season.
The absence of Chiquinho
Winter transfer window signing Chiquinho somewhat filled in the large boots left by Adama who left on a loan to his boyhood club, and emulated a very direct style of play, making the most of a silky dribbling ability and pace to get in behind opposition full backs.
However, the tricky winger sustained a ACL injury under a challenge with Owen Dodgson in a pre-season friendly against Burnley behind closed doors.
The severity of this cannot be underestimated or understated, the Portuguese U21 international only recently received confirmation that he will indeed be able to play for
Wolves again, but not before facing six to nine months recovering. Sadly, rule him out of contention in this 2022/2023 Premier League season.
The number ‘9’ from Mexico
Molineux hero Raul Jimenez is still playing football for Wolves, which in itself, is brilliant and nothing short of a miracle after that horror injury in November 2020, nothing less than a skull fracture.
Since then, the Mexican international has looked thoroughly frustrated, with not only his headgear but his performances too, nowhere near the standard we were once used to, and in awe of.
At the age of 31, and after merely six goals, some may have expected a departure, but Raul doesn’t look like he’s anywhere near packing his bags. Glimpses of the old Jimenez have been seen; everyone will be rooting for Raul to get back to his old goal scoring ways, and being a real handful for opposition defenders.
Jimenez will miss the start of the season however, being rules out of contention for ‘a number of weeks’ after a friendly with Besiktas – to be more specific, with a ‘medial collateral ligament injury to the knee and a minor strain of the adductor’. A big hole to fill.
Where is Adama?
After picking up a hamstring injury ruling him out of this year’s pre-season training camp in his home country Spain, Wolves have stated that Adama is ‘progressing well’.
Bruno Lage has heaped praise onto Adama several times, praising his professionalism, and it was clear to see the difference in a Wolves attack with and without the presence of the Spanish international winger.
Many criticise his end product and goal contributions, but make no mistake, Adama Traore is a key player in the Wolves attack and constructing moves, utilising his signature unusual and intimidating build, unleashing great strength and pace very often.
However, after a permanent move to Barcelona was ruled out, either a contract renewal or sale to cut losses will be priority for the Wanderers, as Adama’s contract ends in 2023. In the somewhat unlikely scenario where a renewal is in the cards, Wolves’ attack becomes much stronger, figuratively and literally.
A somewhat understated yet controversial figure, Hwang Hee-Chan. Many were left baffled as to why his buyout clause was triggered due to a lack of productivity and performances which left a lot to be desired, but Bruno Lage backs Hwang, and he’s here to stay.
In truth, replicating his form from his first 3 matches would be unrealistic, and pretty much impossible in what is always a transitional season for a players first in the demanding Premier League.
In addition to this, ‘the Bull’ is potentially the most versatile player among the pack at Wolves, being able to undertake roles effectively anywhere among the front three. Injuries have hindered his minutes in pre-season, but Hwang could be somewhat of a pleasant surprise for Wolves, especially with the absence of Jimenez, and his ability to work for the team from the front line.
The big impact of little Daniel Podence
Daniel Podence continues to provide with his great vision, close control, sleek dribbling, and incredible agility, finding himself in a role he has played even while back at Sporting as a number 10 in behind the striker.
The former Portuguese U21 international has even found his shooting boots in pre-season, with three goals in three separate friendlies. Podence seems to be setting up for his best season yet in a Wolverhampton Wanderers shirt. Podence is another figure who can play anywhere among the front three and will certainly do so at times.
Watch this space.
So, what can we expect?
In what can be seen as either a reformed 433 or 4231 under Bruno Lage, we can analyse 4 positions in the Wolves attack – a number 10 in midfield, or the most advanced midfielder, the two wingers, and a striker.
Raul Jimenez is the number ‘9’, on the back of his shirt and by practice. With the more mobile of Hwang Hee-Chan and the potential to play Podence as a false 9, there is the ability to use Raul as a more fixed vocal point, have Hee-Chan look for space in behind, or have Podence drop deep and create space for the wingers and supporting number 10, creating chaos in different ways for opposition defences, however manager Bruno Lage sees suit.
Daniel Podence (Either)
Adama Traore (Right)
Pedro Neto (Left)
Hwang/Gibbs-White (last resort)
Neto and Traore will continue to hug the touchline and target opposition full backs one on one, while Podence is more of a facilitator who will look to break the lines and create for others in support. Hwang and Gibbs-White will be last resort options but equally capable of working hard for the team, Gibbs-White playing a similar role to Podence, and Hwang looking to play a more direct style, and boasting the best pressing abilities.
The ’10’ role
A somewhat dying breed in today’s game, but depending on what Bruno Lage sees necessary, there are two options that can slot into a role behind the number ‘9’ in Daniel Podence and Morgan Gibbs-White.
Gibbs-White had a brilliant last season at Sheffield United, contributing with 12 goals in 37 matches in the Championship, demonstrating his growth. He has now at Wolves to stay and is the more balanced option for that role due to his ability to slot back into midfield, but with a great passing ability and somewhat of an eye for goal.
Daniel Podence is a more mobile option who will look to confuse opposition markers with his movement and agility as a complete facilitator. Two alternatives that offer different characteristics, in the cases where Wolves don’t decide on a Hwang and Jimenez partnership for a more direct approach and counter ability, or Moutinho – Neves – Dendoncker midfield for bigger games where reinforcement in midfield is necessary.