Following a superb season in the Championship and an active summer transfer window, many people have touted newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers to clinch a Europa League spot. However, it has taken them four matches to find their first win of the campaign, coming as a bit of a surprise to those who hold those high expectations. But is Europe a realistic target in their maiden season back in the top flight?
Wolves Won’t Reach Europe…Yet
Wolves should be proud of their start. Before defeating West Ham, they faced three proven Premier League mainstays, two of which have won the league in recent years (Manchester City and Leicester), and came out relatively unscathed with just one loss. However, there are some signs suggesting this season may have come too early as far as the Europa League places are concerned.
Last season proved to be a formidable one for the Wanderers as they stormed to the Championship title. But the difference in quality between the two leagues is becoming more apparent every year and Wolves will have to dig deeper to find results. With the ‘Top Six’ seemingly picking itself, that leaves just one Europa League place available for the rest, with Burnley staking their claim on it last time around. But teams have significantly improved their squads since, with rivals Leicester and Everton, to name a couple, breaking their transfer records. Ambitious teams such as Watford and Bournemouth will also feel ready to take the next step after consolidating their status in the division. Wolves will have to adapt quickly to the pace and physicality of the Premier League if they are to have a chance of qualifying for Europe.
Premier League Experience
Wolves showed their quality last season, proving some of their players were simply too good for the Championship, but the Premier League is a completely different game. We have seen so often over the years players starring in lower divisions but not being good enough to make it in the top flight. Fans at Molineux will be hoping to see their team replicate last season’s form, but this is an inexperienced squad, with the players racking up just 232 Premier League appearances between them, the lowest tally in the division. These are also uncharted waters for manager Nuno Espirito Santo, who will undoubtedly relish the challenge, but the priority will surely be to simply remain in the Premier League rather than aim too high with a group of relatively untested players at this level.
Wolves also boast the youngest average squad in the league, standing at 24 years and 9 months. Although this is an exciting squad with great potential, consistency may be an issue throughout the season. Key players such as Ruben Neves have shown glimpses of their obvious talent but will have to perform at a higher level more often than they did last season to overcome opponents. They must mature as a group and settle into the league quickly, yet this may just be too early to expect even a top-half finish.
Wolves have established a reputation for playing a free-flowing, offensive brand of football which has already been showcased multiple times this season. However, one of their big issues this season may be a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. With no proven Premier League goalscorer among their ranks, Wolves may find themselves short of goals. This has already cost them at the start of the season, with players losing composure and missing hosts of chances in all their games so far. Diogo Jota, Wolves’ top scorer last season, has yet to register a single shot on target, and Mexican loanee Raul Jimenez has never reached double figures for goals in one season since moving to Europe in 2014. With teams around them fielding clinical forwards such as Wilfried Zaha, Callum Wilson and Marko Arnautovic, Wolves might find themselves in need of attacking reinforcements in January.
There’s no doubting the team’s potential, with ambitious owners targeting a position among Europe’s elite. This is a long-term project, and the squad should be given time to gel and adapt to the needs of the Premier League. Finishing anywhere above 15th should be viewed as a successful campaign, serving as a solid platform to challenge for higher places in coming seasons.