Wolverhampton Wanderers 2019/20 season review: Wolves hunt for European title
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Nuno Espirito Santo the head coach / manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates winning the game at full time after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on March 1, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)

Impressive is an understatement for Wolverhampton Wanderers' debut season in last year's Premier League.

This year was all about balancing the extra commitment of Europa League, and the pressures of reproducing the performances that made them such a formidable side last year.

Story of the season

With Wolves' season starting over a year ago and still not having come to a conclusion, it certainly has been a slog for Nuno Espirito Santo's men.

It would be difficult to say the Midlands side began the league campaign in electrifying form.

An opening day goalless draw with rivals Leicester City saw the introduction of VAR and the frustrations that come with it. Immediately after half-time, Leander Dendoncker had a goal disallowed due to a Willy Boly handball - an occurrence that Wolves fans would soon become accustomed to.

Although they were easing through their Europa League qualifiers, defeating the likes of Torino home and away, it took until game-week seven to pick up their first three points.

Prior to their 2-0 triumph over a struggling Watford, Wolves had lost to Everton and Crystal Palace. To make matters worse, Boly and Romain Saiss received their marching orders in both games respectively.

As the season began to settle down, Wolves began to come alive and back to their old selves.

A dramatic late winner in Istanbul from Boly saw Besiktas defeated, and marked the start of the Wanderers' season. Just three days later, Nuno and his men travelled to the home of the champions, Manchester City, and expertly contained their expansive attacking football.

Adama Traore featured at right-wingback and pocketed England international Raheem Sterling for the entire 90 minutes. Not only that, but the Spaniard also scored the opener, and then linked up with talismanic teammate Raul Jimenez for the game-clinching second.

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Wolves coasted through their Europa League group, losing just the one game.

It took until December 15 for Wolves to lose another league game. They hosted Tottenham Hotspur at Molineux and were holding them to a 1-1 draw following an early opener from Lucas Moura.

However, an uncharacteristic lapse of concentration when defending a 91st minute corner allowed Spurs defender, Jan Vertonghen, to direct a powerful header past a stranded Rui Patricio.

The loss knocked Wolves off their perch and yet another patch of uncertainty ensued.

In the turn of the year, it was a new decade, a decade in which Wolves were in the Premier League and even competing in European competition.

However, a loss to Watford and then Manchester United in the FA Cup, came before Wolves got back to winning ways. For a period, the likelihood of European football returning next year was slipping away from them.

The Midlands men ended January with just one victory and it wasn't exactly a glamourous one at that. They were fortunate to come back from a two goal deficit to defeat Southampton 3-2.

February saw Wolves pull together a draw away at Old Trafford, another goalless draw with high-flying Leicester, and a 3-0 hammering of relegation candidates Norwich City. On top of a good run in the league, Wolves overcame Espanyol to advance to the Europa League Round of 16.

Immediately following an away win against Spurs, Wolves looked as if they were unstoppable once more. Then all of a sudden, the form along with the season was halted by the emergence of COVID-19.

For not only the Premier League, but the whole world was plunged into uncertainty.

Despite the forced three month break, Wolves were unperturbed and were howling once again. Upon the long awaited return to English football, the Wanderers came back with vengeance - winning the opening three games of 'project restart'.

Europa League was fully back on the cards as rivals Sheffield United hadn't returned in the same form as they had left off.

Avenging their earlier losses in the season against Everton and Palace, Wolves surpassed their points total from the 2018/19 season. Although they obtained a higher points total, and maintained a seventh place finish, Arsenal's FA Cup victory means that they haven't secured European football for next season.

Hope is not lost however, Wolves can still make their way into Europe if they can mange to win this years competition.

Transfer business

The core of the 2018/19 squad remained as Nuno managed to tie down top goal scorer Jimenez permanently, and kept hold of key playmakers Joao Moutinho, and Ruben Neves.

In the summer, Wolves looked to bolster their thin running roster with the acquisition of Spain under-23 captain Jesus Vallejo.

The young centre half arrived from Real Madrid on loan and with a high expectation that he will be able to slip straight into Wolves' solid back five. The expectation and excitement slowly faded as Vallejo's sub-par performances in the Europa League clearly displayed that he was not ready for the step up to the Premier League.

Despite being touted as a future Spanish star, he made just seven appearances in amber and black - returning to the Spanish capital in January. 

 

 

Up the other end of the field, Wolves made the permanent signing of another young promising talent. This time it was that of a 21-year-old Italian forward Patrick Cutrone.

The Italian youngster had been prolific in his age group during the previous season at AC Milan. His four goals in five Europa League appearances encouraged Wolves to splash £20m on the youngster.

His form, however, did not translate on English soil. Cutrone contributed to just seven goals in his 24 games, scoring only three. Nuno struggled to fit the forward into his plans and decided to loan him out back to Italian side Fiorentina.

 

 

In that summer, Wolves also snapped up SC Braga pair Bruno Jordao and Pedro Neto for a combined £20m.

It took a while for both to settle in as they made a handful of appearances off of the bench. Jordao has played just six minutes in the Premier League, but in his six appearances in the under-23s, he has scored twice from central midfield.

With all the money spent, no doubt Wolves' best bit of business was retaining the services of Raul Jimenez. The Mexican number nine has contributed to 36 goals in 56 appearances this season, scoring 17 in the league. His goals have been vital to Wolves' success yet again this campaign, and it would be a devastating loss if he decided to up sticks to a rival European club.

 

 

Player of the season

There a few candidates for the title of player of the season. So many have contributed to another successful league campaign and will be continuing their battle in the Europa League in the weeks to come.

As previously mentioned, Jimenez is up there and has been clinical in front of goal - especially considering he has been their sole option upfront for the majority of the season.

Another worthwhile mention is captain and leader, Conor Coady. The Liverpool born centre half is the only player in Europe's top five leagues to play every minute of the last two seasons.

Not only has he featured in every league game since October 2017, but Coady has also played a part in each of the 15 Europa League games this year.

If that wasn't impressive enough, Coady has been at the centre of one of the best defences in the league for two years on the bounce. Only Liverpool, City, United, and Sheffield United have conceded less this season.

 

 

Finally, another player who deserves the accolade of player of the season is Adama Traore. The powerful winger has literally come on leaps and bounds since last season.

If it was ever possible, he looks even faster and stronger than he was, but more importantly, he has developed his end product. The Spaniard has bullied every fullback he has come up against and chipped in with 13 goal contributions.

Heading to the by-line and delivering a whipped ball across the area became his speciality over the course of the year; everyone knew what he wanted to do, but they were powerless to stop him.

Adama is a defenders nightmare and his vital to Nuno's famous high-intensity counter-attacking style of play. Ensuring that the 24-year-old will stay at the club, Wolves have slapped a hefty £135m price tag on the winger.

 

 

Most improved player after 'Project Restart'

When it was announced that nine fixtures would have to be completed in just five weeks, there would have been no surprise if complaints had come out of the Wolves camp due to their limited squad size.

Instead, Nuno in his usual fashion kept his starting eleven largely the same - with the exception to rotating the front three.

20-year-old Portuguese winger Pedro Neto rose to the occasion and scored in a 2-0 victory over West Ham, but it was a January signing who impressed the most.

Daniel Podence signed from Olympiacos for £17m after looking like a very exciting emerging talent.

Podence hadn't had much of an impact prior to lockdown, however, upon the return, it became evident why Wolves had been attracted to the 24-year-old.

Despite only scoring once and assisting once in his five games, the influence he had on his teammates was clear. The Portuguese winger impressed fans and pundits alike, and will definitely be one to look out for next season.

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