The 2021/22 brought a respectable league campaign with ups and downs.
The ups brought an incredibly solid defence that was one of the hardest to beat in the league, a side that held 7th position until Matchday 26 in mid-February, the miraculous return of Raul Jimenez after a freak potentially career ending injury, and a manager to believe in again in Bruno Lage. The downs brought 11 points in 13 matches to end a league campaign, a lacklustre attack with some very uninspiring and drab football in phases, especially after the departure of Adama Traore who to this day has contract issues to be resolved.
It was the tale of two halves – Pre and post Matchday 26, 5th best defence and 4th worst attack.
The 2022/23 Premier League season will be the club’s fifth consecutively, and the 145th season in the entire existence of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. Based on pre-season, there are some positive signs to take away.
In what was a mammoth pre-season schedule-wise, in no fixture did Wolves come away without scoring, with more than one goal coming in six of the eight scheduled pre-season fixtures. Plenty of players got their chances to impress, with some matches being played on consecutive days, leading to heavy rotation, from Compton, to Benidorm, to the Algarve.
In addition to this, Wolves maintained a firm defence in most of these tests, keeping clean sheets in half of the occasions, and only conceding more than once, once.
The first test came in the midst of intense training to build up fitness against Forest Green Rovers of League One, a convincing 4-1 win behind closed doors where the likes of Bruno Jordao and Chem Campbell joined Pedro Neto and Adama Traore on the scoresheet.
Burnley, Levante and Villarreal B also occurred without fans, but did not miss emotion without the Wolves faithful. From heavily rotated sides, to ACL tears, to four red cards before half-time, these matches truly had it all.
Burnley brought a Chiquinho goal and ACL injury ruling him out of contention for the season ahead, an eventual Nathan Collins derby, and a first look at Morgan Gibbs-White who would end up being one of the stars of pre-season, in the form of a 3-0 win in Wolverhampton.
Levante would become ‘the Battle of Benidorm’ – the Toti Gomes consolation and two goals for Levante either side of half-time would be rendered irrelevant in comparison to the fiery atmosphere between both outfits, in addition to the very strong and sometimes petty challenges. Morgan Gibbs-White would captain the side in the first half, many academy prospects getting minutes in tense conditions.
Villarreal B was a much calmer affair, a last opportunity for a rotated side mostly of Under-21 players to make an impact. Hugo Bueno and Connor Ronan featured and clearly impressed, and are now being tipped to have a place amongst the rest of Bruno Lage’s options.
Besiktas would suffer a 3-0 defeat to ‘the Pack’, by far Wolves’ best performance yet. Top goalscorers Neto and Podence would get themselves onto the score sheet once again, along with Jimenez who would suffer injury problems, ruling himself out for around a month.
Nathan Collins would make a statement with his performance in goal, as well as Neto beginning to show some of his best stuff after a serious injury.
As players build up fitness, fatigue became a factor in the second halves of matches for Wolves, with pressing levels and tempo would drop considerably – however this should not be a feature of a well-drilled side leading into the season itself.
One thing that can be expected is the introduction of and transition to a four-man defence, which manager Bruno Lage has hinted to in the past and looks set to insist on.
The toughest test would come in a combative Sporting Clube de Portugal side in the Algarve, where Ait-Nouri and Neto would start to show signs of a great partnership forming on the left-hand side, as well as Gibbs-White and Podence covering well for Jimenez creatively, but missing a man to serve in the box, often just passing back, and starting a Wolves attack from scratch once again.
A 1-1 draw to Portuguese second division Farense would follow the next day, where again mostly U21 players would feature, as well as Hwang Hee-Chan, building up fitness and rescuing a draw from the penalty spot.
All in all, a decent pre-season showing signs of ambitious and attractive football being played in a system well suited to exciting players to watch – however, the need for reinforcements to improve rotation and first-team options, is still prevalent, and will be key to Wolves’ successes this season.