The 2020/21 season was ultimately a campaign to forget. Frustration was a theme across the duration of the season, as Wolverhampton Wanderers struggled in front of goal. Experimental tactics and injuries to key players halted any chance of Nuno Espirito Santo’s side from building any momentum.
2021 also marked the end of Nuno’s time at Wolves. The Portuguese manager endured a successful four years at the club, guiding the club to two seventh-place finishes after being promoted to the Premier League as Championship winners.
Despite the struggles of last season, there is still plenty to be excited about. A new manager in Bruno Lage who plays an attacking style of football; the return of star striker Raul Jimenez who has been out with a head injury since December 2020; as well new five new signing, including goalkeeper Jose Sa from Olympiakos, and Francisco Trincao, who has been signed from Barcelona on loan with an option to buy.
As Wolves enter a new era, here is everything you can expect from the upcoming season.
In Lage’s first transfer window as Wolves boss he has been fairly busy on the transfer front as five fresh faces have made their way into Molineux with one of these being on a loan move and the rest of them being via permanent deals.
The club’s first signing of the summer was for 20-year-old Columbian centre back Yerson Mosquerafrom Atletico Nacional for a deal worth around £4.5 million.
The youngster put pen to paper on a five-year deal after he helped Nacional finish in first in the Colombian top-flight league.
Shortly after this addition, another young defender was brought to the Wanderers in the form of right-back Bendeguiz Bolla from Hungary for a fee worth around £800,000.
The 21-year old arrived at the Black Country club from Fehevar but was immediately sent out on loan to Swiss side Grasshoppers.
Another Portuguese player has been brought on loan to the club with Barcelona winger Francisco Trincao joining the Pack until the end of the season, but there is an option to buy the 21-year old for £25 million once the loan deal is up.
Trincao only joined Barcelona last summer for £26.5 million from Braga, but after impressing in the 28 La Liga games that he featured in, in which he netted three and assisted two goals, Wolves decided the time was right to bring in the Portuguese International on loan.
After spending last season on loan at Wolves, a club in which he made 24 appearances for, the Wanderers opted to make Rayan Ait Nouri’s move permanent from SCO Angers as he signed on a five year deal with the option of staying on for a further 12 months for 9.5 million.
The 20- year old filled in at left-back or left wing-back last campaign with Jonny Otto being absent with an ACL injury and his confidence to get forward to provide an attacking outlet as well as looking solid on the defensive side of things are qualities that will have attracted Lage to want to bring in the defender permanently.
With Ait Nouri being of such a young age as well it means there is plenty of time for him to develop into a player that could prove to be a vital member of Wolves’ squad for years to come.
Sa had been with Olympiacos since 2018 and in his last two seasons, he helped them seal consecutive Greek Super League titles, with him in that time keeping a very impressive 62 clean sheets in 124 games.
Patricio up to now is the only player to have departed the club for a transfer fee with five other members of Lage’s squad going out on loan for the season.
These players are young forward Leonardo Campana who has followed the same direction as Bolla by joining Grasshoppers until the end of the season.
Full back Ruben Vinagre, who has made 70 appearances for the club, will be with Sporting CP until the end of the season with the Portuguese outfit having an option to buy the 22-year-old once the loan spell is over.
With last season’s loanees in the form of Vitinha and Willian Jose, Wolves had the option to buy them both during this window but with Vitinha’s lack of game time last campaign and the disappointing showings of Jose, neither player were purchased on a permanent contract.
Bruno Lage's arrival has given the Molineux fanbase a greater sense of excitement after an especially dull final campaign under Nuno Espirito Santo in 2020-21, although the lack of backing the Portuguese has received as yet in the transfer market has dampened expectations.
With fans finally able to plan their lives around their club's fixture list once more, it's time to take a look at which games hold special significance for Wolves, and where their points could be won and lost this campaign.
On paper at least, few teams have as tough a start as Lage's men.
While Wolves only have to travel once during August, they face three teams in European competition in Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, and could conceivably head into the first international break of the season on zero points.
The visit of Spurs coincides with the return of Nuno to Molineux for the first time since his departure in May, along with the return of a full Molineux, for one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in Wolves' recent history.
Following Wanderers' tricky start, things certainly pick up into the autumn. Following the visit of United on August 29, Wolves do not play another member of the 'big six' until Liverpool come to Molineux on December 4.
Between the two games, Lage's team go on a run containing favourable matches against Brentford, Newcastle United and Burnley at home, as well as trips to Vicarage Road, St. Mary's, Selhurst Park and Carrow Road.
It's a good job that Wolves have an opportunity to pick up points in the autumn months, as their winter is just as tricky as their first month of the season.
Home games against relegation candidates Southampton and Watford could bring Wolves some much-needed points, but on paper it seems as though the winter months could be a big struggle for Wanderers.
With Wolves playing so many games against English football's elite over the winter months, you'd expect that they'd be given a fairly kind end to the season. However, that definitely isn't the case this campaign.
Only one big six side visit Molineux in the last three months of the season with defending champions Manchester City coming to town on April 16, but Wolves round off the campaign by visiting two of the last three Champions League winners in their final two away games as they visit Stamford Bridge before rounding off the season at Anfield on May 22.
Unlike in the winter, however, Wolves can counter these tricky trips with some routine home fixtures. Crystal Palace, Leeds United, Aston Villa, Brighton & Hove Albion and Norwich City all visit Molineux in March, April or May, certainly leaving Wanderers with enough opportunities to cancel out their tricky May away trips.
One to watch
Despite struggling last season in front of goal, only picking up two goals and two assists, Adama Traore still remains Wolves’ most dangerous player on his day and fans will be hoping that he can find his feet once again under new manager Bruno Lage.
One of the main reasons why the Spaniard struggled last season, was due to the lack of end product from the whole squad.
Without Raúl Jimenez, Wolves would often find themselves in good positions around the box, only then for the move to fizzle out due to the lack of finishing ability.
Numerous times last season, Adama would produce one of his incredible runs down the right-hand side, before crossing the ball into the box only to find Fabio Silva outnumbered by central defenders.
Traore really missed Jimenez last season and that was very clear to see. However, this year the Mexican is back and ready to take the Premier League by storm again, which will help Adama massively.
It was his link-up with Jimenez in 2019/20 which saw him pick up four goals and nine assists, helping Wolves to seventh in the league, whilst generating interest from top teams, such as Liverpool and Barcelona.
Wolves fans can hope that Adama is back to his best and he can rekindle that partnership with Jimenez which they had two years ago. With an attacking manager at the helm, Adama will get the encouragement that he needs to express himself and try new things whilst beating a man in order to set up his teammates for goalscoring opportunities.
If Adama Traore is utilised correctly and has a man alongside him that will put the ball in the net more times than not, he will once again be classed as one of the most influential players in the Premier League
One player who should be considered a wild card for Wolves this season is Morgan Gibbs-White.
The 21-year-old looked very promising in his loan spell with Swansea City at the start of last season, only to suffer a fractured foot and put an end to his time at the Liberty Stadium. After recovering from his injury, the academy graduate struggled to hit the same levels again that he hit with the Swans.
With rumours of issues between himself and Nuno, Gibbs-White spent more time outside the starting XI than in it for most of the season. However, he was then given a run of games towards the end of the season, even managing to bang in a goal against Brighton Hove Albion.
The way he celebrated his goal showed that the local lad still had the desire and determination to succeed at Wolves. In all the games he has featured in the preseason, he has looked very sharp.
There are places up for grabs in the matchday squad this season and with a new boss to impress, Gibbs-White seems eager to show Lage what he can offer.
There are no more excuses to not see him develop into the player that shined brightly in the U-17 World Cup and he could not have a better platform to express himself than in the Premier League.
His versatility will come in handy, especially as the side is still quite small. He can operate in central midfield, which would be most likely alongside Neves. The way they both like to play would mean that they would very much complement each other. With Moutinho most likely to miss games to keep fresh and with question marks over Dendoncker, Gibbs-White could easily stake his claim for a starting place if he puts together a good run of form.
He can also ply his trade further forwards, with Lage very much keen on utilising wingers. With Pedro Neto still out injured and Daniel Podence yet to play in the preseason, his only direct competition would be from Traore and new boy Trincao. There will be ample amounts of opportunities for Gibbs-White to impress as a winger, which again could be another route into regularly starting games for him.
With fans calling out for new signings, Gibbs-White could use this season to show fans that he can step up. He has so much potential still to realise and the terraces would love nothing more than to see a lad from down the road become a hero around Molineux once again.
What to expect
It can often feel an ominous task for fans to cast a prediction for their teams forthcoming season, but for supporters of Wolves, there is plenty of cautious optimism to go around.
Last season was not great by any stretch of the imagination and the football was lacklustre for prolonged spells, but Wolves are beginning to instil renewed trust in the club’s ability to captivate the endearing fanbase and repay the faith once again.
The return of fans will undoubtedly benefit the club, who have noticeably suffered greatly from the absence of a roaring crowd to galvanise their football; it is interesting that Wolves’ lapse in seasonal form coincides with Covid-19 and its adverse effects on football and support.
It must be said, Wolves may struggle to gain momentum in the early stages of the league term with a testing set of fixtures circling Lage like sharks; Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester United present a daunting welcome to English football!
Raul Jimenez is fit again after a harrowing head injury suffered nearly ten months ago has ruled him out of contention ever since. The Mexican talisman will serve as the established forward once again, something Wolves were often deprived off last year.
Lage has a promising squad at his disposal, Wolves have a promising manager, the fans have a promising period ahead of them. Lage might be the man to guide the club back into European football and carry on the work that Espirito Santo had excelled in forging for this fantastic football club.