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Wolverhampton Wanderers

Could Wolves be ready for a Premier League return?

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It appears that, in terms of league position at least, Wolves have finally stagnated. After a rollercoaster three years, starting with relegation from the Premier League in 2012, the last two campaigns have seen the Midlands club finish in almost identical positions in the Championship.

It has been all-change at Wolves this summer. The departure of Paul Lambert after the conclusion of last season was the first move in Wolves making a serious statement of intent for the next campaign. It was clear that the owners felt changes were needed and on the basis of league finishes that the club wasn’t progressing.

The arrival of Nuno Espirito Santo has been met with some scepticism by Wolves fans. It is the opinion of some that Paul Lambert had done a good job of steadying the ship at the Molineux and deserved more time. One other cause of concern for Wolves fans is the lack experience in English football of their new manager.

However, the Portuguese has a reasonable managerial record and Rafael Benitez, David Wagner and Jaap Stam all enjoyed very impressive seasons, despite none of them having a full season in the Championship prior to the last campaign.

The influence of super-agent Jorge Mendes on Fosun International has justifiably caused sizeable concern for many Wolves fans since the Chinese ownership took over the Championship club last July. The influence of Mendes was clear during the departure of Lambert, following a rumoured dispute over the Scot not getting the final say over which players were signed.

A great number of players have arrived in the Black Country since Fosun took over; including many from Mendes’ native Portugal or from clubs the super-agent has had ties to.

Of all the signings to arrive since the takeover, there is one standout signing – Helder Costa. The Portuguese was signed for £13 million and became a key player during the 2016/17 campaign, collecting the player of the season award and putting in a memorable display against Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Although injury has just struck the talented winger, this could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Espirito Santo as a lengthy injury to a player is likely to tone down the reported interest in him. If Wolves are successful in holding onto Costa, he will no doubt have a major part to play in the 2017/18 campaign once he returns from injury.

Wolves have added eight new players into the mix this summer, which in itself is a large statement considering we are only halfway through July. A club that is sorting out it’s transfer business this early in the summer is giving itself the best possible chance for the players to gel and become accustomed to their new manager’s style of play.

The additions of John Ruddy, Barry Douglas and Roderick Miranda are all very good bits of business. The biggest statement of the bunch is of course new record signing – Ruben Neves. The former Porto man arrived for a Championship record fee.

The 20-year-old has two caps for Portugal and became the youngest captain in Champions League history when he led his side out against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in 2015 and was attracting attention from many top clubs on Europe, including Chelsea and Liverpool, according to the Express and Star. The midfielder is a real coup for Wolves and if he performs to his maximum could propel the team into the upper reaches of the division.

This signing indicates the benefit of having someone like Jorge Mendes on board at it has given Wolves the ability to sign players that they would never have had the opportunity to previously.

Despite concerns over the healthiness of the relationship between Fosun and Jorge Mendes, it is unlikely that supporters will be too concerned as long as the side is winning games and pushing for promotion. However, the risk appears if Wolves were to fail in achieving promotion this next season as they could begin to feel the wrath of Financial Fair Play.

This may be a risk that Fosun are willing to take as they have already shown that they are not scared to spend vast sums of money on players and there is still a long while left before the window closes. The playing squad undoubtedly has talent in it and new manager Nuno Espirito Santo has made a promising start to the pre-season with an impressive victory over Werder Bremen which drew praise for his side’s style of play.

It remains to be seen whether Wolves can still be competing towards the end of a long Championship season, but early signs indicate that they could be a surprise inclusion in the promotion chase.

Calum is a Reading fan and has been a season ticket holder for many years. He is currently studying for a degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

The Nuno Revolution: Why this Wolves side are one of the best in Championship history

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Wolves
Photo: Reuters

It is fair to say that Wolves have dominated the Championship ever since the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo as manager this summer, replacing Paul Lambert.

Whilst Lambert did a steady job at Molineux and stabilised the club after a difficult period under Walter Zenga, it was clear that the Chinese owners, Fosun International, themselves having only taken over in the summer of 2016, wanted a marquee name to push them onto the Premier League.

Chairman Jeff Shi is highly ambitious and wants to push the club on towards the Champions League in the future, and Nuno, who managed Porto in the competition last season, was their number one target.

However, the events that have occured since the Portuguese’s appointment has been nothing short of remarkable.

They have had money to spend, but they have recruited quality top division talent from other leagues, rather than following the blueprint other clubs aiming for promotion typically follow: recruiting proven Championship players.

Perhaps the biggest coup of the summer was signing Portuguese international Ruben Neves from Porto for a fee of £15.8 million.

Whilst the fee was high, Neves is only 20 years of age and captained Porto just two seasons ago. He has been one of the Championship’s best players since joining, netting his latest goal – a free kick from just outside the area – in Wolves’ 3-0 win over Brentford on Tuesday evening.

Nuno also secured the signature of Atletico Madrid winger Diogo Jota on loan, a deal that could be made permanent this January. The Portuguese winger has netted 11 goals since his arrival at Molineux, just one behind the club’s top scorer Leo Bonatini.

Bonatini was also signed on loan, from Saudi Arabian club Al-Ahli, and it is believed the club can make his move indefinite in the current window, with the Birmingham Mail reporting a fee of just £5 million would be sufficient to secure his services in the long-term.

If there is any weakness in the squad, it is up front, with Bonatini and youngster Bright Enobakhare the only players who are truly comfortable playing in a central role.

However, there have been substantial contributions from other areas of the pitch. Ivan Cavaleiro has weighed in with seven goals and wing-back Barry Douglas, who is pivotal in providing Wolves with width and crossing ability, has contributed four, with a further nine assists.

With all this attacking talent at Nuno’s disposal, Wolves look simply unstoppable, sitting on top of the Championship by 12 points over second-placed Derby with 61 points from 29 games.

During the festive period, known for its challenges, the Midlands club won three and drew on one occasion, with those dropped points coming via a late equaliser scored by Millwall.

They have not lost a game since the 29th October – a 2-1 defeat to Ian Holloway’s Queens Park Rangers – and have only tasted defeat three times all season – one of which came against 3rd placed Cardiff.

When signing players from big clubs as a lower division side, there is always a worry that the players may think themselves too big for the club. However, this has not been the case at Wolves.

Neves was tracked by Chelsea and Liverpool before his move to Molineu, according to the Mirror. Although it is unclear whether that interest was concrete as of last summer, he was obviously convinced by the long-term project that is now underway at Molineux.

Do not be surprised to see the club pushing for the upper reaches of the Premier League in the next few years, even if promotion is not achieved by the end of this current campaign, with extra funds to be surely made available to Nuno.

New owners in the Football League are generally ambitious but it seems that Fosun International will stop at nothing to realise their dream of elite level football, having recruited experts to oversee recruitment in what will be a pivotal month.

With one of the most talent-packed squads in Championship history, that dream may not be too far away.

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Championship

Jurgen Locadia linked with Wolverhampton Wanderers – what would he bring?

Jake Jackman

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Locadia

Wolverhampton Wanderers are closing in on the signing of Jurgen Locadia from PSV Eindhoven. Sky Sports report that they are favourites to sign the Dutch striker in a deal worth £10 million. Brighton and Sunderland are also interested in the 23-year-old, but Wolves should get the transfer over the line. He has played for the Eredivisie club since 2011 and has totalled 115 appearances during that time, scoring 37 league goals.

The Dutch international has played in the Champions League for PSV and this would be considered a coup for Wolves if they do sign him. They have shown an impressive ability to punch above their weight in the transfer market and this would be another example of that. Supporters were hoping that the club would sign a striker before deadline day and Locadia is looking like he could be the one that arrives.

Would he be a good signing?

For those that haven’t seen Locadia play, he is a strong attacker with the ability to cause problems when he dribbles at defenders. He is quick and dynamic, which will make him an interesting player to watch in the Championship. During his time in the Eredivisie, his power has allowed him to dominate defenders, but he will need time to adjust to English football. It is a different style and players arriving from the Eredivisie haven’t always been a huge success.

Locadia is versatile and capable of playing on the wing as well as a central striker. This is where most of his minutes have come at PSV, but he has recently emerged as their first-choice striker, which is why it would be a disappointment to lose him. Last season, he contributed 13 goals and five assists. His decision-making needs to improve at times, as his end product lacks consistency, but he is a talent. It could be a wise decision to move to the Championship. He remains a raw talent and would benefit from a year in the English second tier before trying to do well in the Premier League. This would be another ambitious signing from Wolves.

How likely is a deal?

Wolves are in the market for an attacker and they have shown they can pull off big deals. They look to be a force to be reckoned with in the Championship and Locadia would be a coup for them, given his Champions League experience. There could be a chance that they are beaten to his signature with Brighton sniffing around, but it looks likely that this one goes through.

Jurgen Locadia to Wolves
3.5
Transfer Likelihood
The Boot Room's Verdict
It is being reported by good sources and Wolves will be hoping that they get it over the line.
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Middlesbrough

Wolves vs Middlesbrough: Championship match preview, predicted line-ups and score prediction

Jake Jackman

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Wolves

Molineux will host one of the most intriguing matches of the Football League opening day weekend, as Wolves entertain Middlesbrough.

These two are both fancied as promotion contenders and this match will show us a lot about where they currently are as teams. There has been a lot of transfer activity at both clubs, which could prevent them from starting quickly, but the picture will be clearer after this one. If either side picks up a win, it would represent a huge mental boost as they prepare a promotion charge.

Wolves are an interesting case and they could go either way this season. The influence of Jorge Mendes is evident in the signings of Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota. They are two of 11 arrivals at the club, but are easily the most exciting, with both regarded as having Champions League potential.

Nuno Espirito Santo has taken over as manager and is also represented by Mendes. He has a good CV having managed both Valencia and Porto in the past. It is easy to see why many see them as promotion hopefuls, but the Championship is a testing league. If they don’t start strongly, it could another underwhelming season for the club.

The relegation season wasn’t one that will be fondly remembered on Teesside. Their attack wasn’t good enough and Aitor Karanka was given too much time before being shown the door. Steve Gibson has overseen a good summer and they start the season as the team most fancied to lift the title.

Garry Monk is an impressive appointment after his exploits with Leeds United last season, while over £40 million has been invested in the first-team. Darren Randolph, Cyrus Christie, Jonathan Howson and Britt Assombalonga are all good singings for this level. Meanwhile, the arrival of Martin Braithwaite could prove to be a huge coup if he adjusts quickly to the English second tier.

Pre-season form

It has been a mixed pre-season for Wolves, but they will be stronger for the experience. They took the wise decision for three of their five fixtures to be against English clubs, which will have been useful for players arriving in the country for the first time. A disappointing 2-0 loss to Shrewsbury Town would have been a disappointment, but their final match saw them prevail 1-0 against Leicester City.

Like Wolves, Middlesbrough played the majority of their matches against English opposition and the results weren’t always good ones. However, results in pre-season mean relatively little and their final match against Augsburg showed promise, as they scored a late winner to prevail. They will arrive at Molineux with confidence.

Predicted line-ups

It is thought that Nuno could opt for a 3-4-3 formation and it will be interesting if he does implement is in the Championship. Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota are both expected to start, while Dave Edwards will remain a key figure, despite the number of foreign players coming in. John Ruddy will start in goal after his free transfer from Norwich.

Middlesbrough have a strong defence and the additions of Cyrus Christie and Darron Randolph will only add to that. The attacking positions are difficult to predict, but a combination of Adama Traore, Martin Braithwaite, Patrick Bamford and Britt Assombalonga would offer an interesting choice. They could rotate positions and cause real problems for opposition defences with their pace and directness.

Injuries/suspensions

Nouha Dicko is facing a battle to be passed fit, while Kortney Hause will miss the match. Key man Helder Costa won’t be available as he struggled with an ankle injury. Ivan Cavaleiro is suspended and will sit out of the opening day. Phil Ofusu-Ayeh and Ben Marshall will also be unavailable for the home side.

Garry Monk is facing fewer selection problems as he has a fully-fit squad to choose from. A number of new signings are expected to make their debuts, but it could be Ben Gibson that proves to be the best piece of business completed this summer. He has so far stayed at the club and is likely to start this weekend.

Score Prediction: Wolves 2-2 Middlesbrough

The first match of the season is always difficult to predict and this one certainly is, as there are a lot of unknowns about both sides. They each have new managers at the helm and several new signings. A score draw seems to be the most likely result and that will be taken by both sides. If either lose at this early stage to a potential rival, it would be hugely damaging.

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