There have been many players in the past who showed early signs of promise in their careers but faded into a dire abyss that many did not predict.
The Premier League has had a fair share of players in the past that fall into this category. Robinho, Jack Wilshere, and Dele Alli showed high potential but could not fulfill it for varying reasons.
A player that many prematurely thought would join this list was Wolves’ talented wide forward, Pedro Neto.
After breaking into the Premier League at just 19 years of age, Neto recorded three goals and three assists in less than 1,000 minutes of match time – an impressive return rate of a goal or assist every other match.
Neto further cemented himself the following campaign when he recorded five goals and six assists for a team that only finished 13th.
Consequentially, the Portuguese forward was linked to top European clubs like Juventus, Liverpool, and Tottenham in the next transfer window. However, suitors did not propose a concrete offer for undisclosed reasons.
Unfortunately for Wolves, their talented forward shortly suffered from a damaging knee injury that ruled him out for 10 months. Many thought that halted Neto’s trajectory as he looked far from his best in the 2022-23 campaign – recording no goal contributions for the first time since moving from Lazio.
But to many fans’ pleasant surprise, Neto has taken off since the beginning of the current Premier League season.
Although Neto suffered another cruel setback in a recent tie against Newcastle, his fast start to the Premier League season has proved that the Wolves’ winger’s quality has remained despite fitness hindrances.
Not a sight Wolves fans will want to see 😔
Pedro Neto pulls up with what looks like a hamstring injury… pic.twitter.com/8HUjbgjmT0
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) October 28, 2023
Pedro Neto is a complete winger
Pedro Neto has racked up a goal and seven assists after just 10 weeks of Premier League action. A visible reason for this is Neto’s increased offensive actions per 90 minutes played, like shots, dribbles, and passes, have contributed to the rise in goal contributions.
Furthermore, compared to his Premier League peers, Neto ranks as one of the most creative attackers in the division.
When plotting players for shot-creating actions (offensive actions that lead to a shot) and key passes (passes that directly lead to a shot), the Portuguese winger places among the best in the Premier League.
But what does Neto do best?
The match footage evidences that Neto is a complete winger. However, one aspect that visibly stands out is his dribbling ability.
Referring to the data once more, Neto attempts 4.69 take-ons per game with an average efficiency rate of 50% – ranking him as one of the best dribblers in the league.
Neto’s assists against Liverpool and Aston Villa are perfect examples that illustrate the same.
Against the Reds, Wolverhampton Wanderers broke on the counter seven minutes into the game. However, Liverpool does well to retreat quickly, and as the screengrab shows below, their defensive line recovers.
Despite two safe passing options on either side of him, Neto decides to charge at the three opposition players ahead.
Seconds later, Neto finds himself in a tight spot but manages to dribble through and find a pocket of space behind the defensive line.
From here, Neto angles a perfect cross to the feet of Hwang Hee-chan, who breaks the early deadlock.
Against Aston Villa, Neto is isolated against Pau Torres as Wolves look to push for a counter-attack to exploit the high defensive line.
The winger glides past the Spanish center-back with ease and delivers an inch-perfect cross from the byline to, yet again, Hwang, who tops the sequence off with a goal.
Lastly, when Wolves beat the odds and defeated Manchester City in September, it was Neto’s subliminal run deep from his half that led to an own goal by Ruben Dias.
Despite playing for a team that adopts a relatively low possession style – Wolves rank 12th in the Premier League for average possession with 47.1% – Neto has certified himself as one of the few wingers with a broad passing range.
Take his assists against Everton and Crystal Palace – both of which were whipped accurate crosses by the Portugal international.
(Pedro Neto’s assist against Everton)
(Pedro Neto’s assist against Crystal Palace)
Neto is also proficient in switches, cut-backs, and short intricate passes with no apparent weaknesses in his passing game – making him an ideal prospect for any top team on the lookout for recruiting wide playmakers.
Furthermore, Neto is a versatile winger – capable of playing on either flank. Although he prefers to play on the right, Neto is more than capable of filling in on the opposite side.
Neto’s most notable appearance on the left wing so far was against Liverpool, where he produced seven shot-creating actions – more than any other player on the pitch.
(Pedro Neto’s touch map against Liverpool)
This positional fluidity allows Gary O’Neil to be tactically flexible during a match and shuffle it up if necessary.
For example, against Bournemouth, Wolverhampton was level at 1-1 despite creating more chances than the home side. In the 75th minute, Gary O’Neil decides to go ultra-offensive by bringing on Pablo Sarabia, an attacker, for a center-back, Toti Gomes.
He also tweaks the forward line by substituting one striker for another and swapping the two wingers – Hwang and Pedro Neto.
Although Neto did not contribute to the winning goal, the flexibility that he provides his manager is a handy asset.
(Pedro Neto’s position after cutting in from the right flank for his assist in the 47th minute)
(Pedro Neto’s position after drifting in from the left wing in the 88th minute when Sasa Kalajdzic scores the winner)
What does the future hold for Neto?
Pedro Neto was reportedly linked to Arsenal in the previous summer transfer window despite his injury concerns last season – highlighting the evident talent that clubs identify and appreciate.
The trajectory of his Premier League form was impeccable and eye-catching. If Neto was to return soon and conclude the season with a respectable goal tally and double digits in assists – which is easily achievable from this stage – it would likely set him up for a move to one of Europe’s elite.
They may even decide to jump the gun and make a move in January to secure the services of the exciting winger.
The recent injury is a worry, but Neto has already proven that he is more than capable of returning strongly after a setback.
Let us hope Pedro Neto’s purple patch was just the beginning of his long highlight reel rather than a contribution to another “what if” player’s YouTube compilation.