After two enthralling seasons filled with jubilant performances and European endeavours, Wolverhampton Wanderers finish the 2020/21 campaign with an undoubted sense of regret.
The season has climaxed with the club languishing in 13th place after successive seventh-place finishes in the Premier League, whilst a number of key players have struggled with injuries that have significantly hampered Wolves’ progress.
To top it off, idolised manager Nuno Espirito Santo has left the club after four wonderful years, taking the club from Championship mediocrity to the forefront of English football.
There is much to reflect on after a term that many would be keen to swiftly move on from, but there is plenty to hold in optimistic arms with the return of an endearing crowd to grace the Molineux with a riveting presence to spur the team on ahead of a, hopefully, reinvigorating campaign.
But before heads are turned to the upcoming football season, Wolves VAVEL take a look at the different aspects that have made up an erratic year for the midlands club. The highs, the lows, defining moments and a review of transfer business.
Key Moment of the season
Going into the game against Arsenal on November 29, Wolves were sitting in ninth place above Manchester United, the Gunners and Manchester City.
Being dubbed as 'Wolves 4.0', Nuno was trying to change the way Wolves played by conceding fewer goals, but scoring less too as a consequence.
This new approach heavily relied on Raul Jimenez bagging goals upfront with fewer opportunities, who at the time, was finding ways to do just that. However, disaster struck after only five minutes at the Emirates Stadium, with David Luiz's challenge from a corner causing a clash of heads, with Luiz's head colliding horrifying into the side of Jimenez's head.
The way that the players reacted instantly to the situation made you realise that this was something serious. After what were some unsettling scenes, the play resumed ten minutes later, with Jimenez being stretchered off and sent to the hospital. The Mexican would not play a single minute more all season.
The Wolves players although shaken, responded by getting a 2-1 victory, in what felt like a very bittersweet victory. The whole approach and plan had now gone out of the window, with Fabio Silva promoted to a regular starter a year or two ahead of schedule.
The young Portuguese having only joined the side in the summer had enormous shoes to fill and not a lot of time to adjust. The pressures of the price tag and now heightened responsibilities would end up being too much for Silva, with the club having to bring in reinforcements in the mould of Willian Jose, who ultimately was also unable to fill the enormous hole left by Jimenez's absence.
Aside from a last-minute winner from Neto to give Wolves the win against Chelsea on December 15, Nuno's men did not manage another victory until ironically, they played Arsenal again on February 2, in which Moutinho fired in a thunderbolt to give the Wanderers another 2-1 win against the Gunners, with the side doing the double against the side from North East London.
However, Wolves clearly missed their Talisman. That horrific injury to Jimenez was not the sole reason for Wolves' jittery season, but it did play an enormous part in the effectiveness of their ability to find goals that won matches. Those points would have added up and given Wolves another opportunity to challenge for Europe. Unfortunately, they did not.
Player of the Season
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In what has been a difficult season that has been hit by injuries for
Wolves, winger Pedro Neto has stood out far above the rest.
His direct approach and blistering pace has caused panic to opposition
defences all across the Premier League and this campaign the
Portuguese international has really shone and come out of his shell.
The positive thing for the Wanderers is that Neto is still only 21, so
he still has plenty of developing left to do meaning that over the
coming seasons he could prove to be a very exciting and vital player
for the club.
This season he managed to earn a pretty impressive five goals and six
assists from 31 Premier League games and the club will be hoping he
can build on these figures when he returns from his patella injury
which saw him miss the latter stages of the season.
The only concern for Wolves fans will be that if he continues in the
same vein of form that a big club will come in for him, but it is
unlikely that will be the case this summer due to Neto being out of
action until at least the start of next season.
A young teenager who came in as the clubs most expensive player ever had big boots to fill and big expectations to live up to. Fabio Silva completed his move from Porto to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer of 2020, for a total fee of £40 million after being touted in Portugal as the ‘next Cristiano Ronaldo’.
The price tag raised eyebrows around the world of football, and at the start it seemed to affect the young Portuguese as he failed to hit the ground running with his cameo appearances in the final 10-15 minutes of matches.
Most improved player
As mentioned before, everything changed in November of 2020 as first-team striker Raúl Jimenez suffered a fractured skull in the game against Arsenal. From this point onwards, Silva was thrown into the deep end starting every Premier League match as the focal point for Wolves going forward.
This was of course not planned when Silva was brought into the club, as he was way out of his depth at times in the Premier League. He was brought in to play behind Jimenez and feature occasionally at the end of games or in cup fixtures against lesser opposition. Before Jimenez’ injury on the 29th November, Silva had only featured for 52 minutes in total across 9 games, which once again backs up how this season was a developmental one for the 18-year-old.
Despite this, he was thrust into the deep end after the injury to Raúl and had to come up with the goods. Very quickly it was clear that Wolves had brought for the future and had not planned to utilise Fabio too often. He struggled to create chances and fill the huge void that had been left in the Wolves team due to the injury to Jimenez, and this showed throughout Wolves’ season.
It often felt that Wolves were playing without a man upfront at times this season, as every time that Nuno Espirito Santo’s men managed to clear the ball, it seemed to come back relatively quickly. It seemed as if Silva wasn’t ready physically yet for the demands of the Premier League, which was one of Wolves’ main issues this season.
Silva got off the mark for Wolves in the 14th game of the season, as he calmly slotted away a penalty against Burnley. There was big pressure on his shoulders as he stood over the ball as it was a big chance for his first goal. Wolves were 2-0 down in the fixture, but Silva scored his spot-kick, and he was underway in English football.
As the season continued, Silva also continued to progress and develop as a footballer. A goal against Black County rivals West Bromwich Albion showed his ability and footballing brain as he shielded the ball away from the defenders before tucking it home. Throughout the season, Silva continued to grow as a player and in the final nine games he contributed to five goals.
Despite not being the focal point that Jimenez was for Wolves, he has impressed towards the end of the season and the future looks bright for Fabio Silva. He is competing in the best league in the world at the age of 18 years old, and despite being thrown into the deep end at a very young age, it will have done him the world of good.
In the January transfer window, Wolves recruited the services of Brazilian striker Willian José with the hopes of him boosting the sides luck in front of goal however in the end he was frozen out due to Silva’s good form in front of goal.
Most notably his finish against West Ham United was a standout as it displayed his ability to put the ball in the net. He latched onto a ball over the top from Pedro Neto and calmy smashed it home into the far corner, leaving Lukas Fabianski with no chance.
The improvement that we have seen this season has been incredible, and we can expect it to continue for seasons to come. Wolves ended the season not in the best form as a team, but Fabio Silva was excellent in the final few matches.
With reports that Bruno Lage could be the new Wolves boss, Silva will be hopeful that his performances will go from strength to strength, and will also hope that Raúl Jimenez will be fully fit in time for the new season to re-leave the pressure off his young shoulders.