Wolverhampton Wanderers fans would be forgiven for feeling like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. Every week they endure the same thing. Bruno Lage’s men will have more shots than the opposition, before losing the game 1-0. Like Murray stepping in the same puddle every day in that 1993 classic, 1-0 defeats are unavoidable at the moment.
These defeats are not due to a lack of endeavour. Wolves have mustered 57 shots in their three games this season, just two less than champions Manchester City. The key difference being, City have scored nine goals while Wolves have scored none. At first glance it would appear finishing is the biggest area of concern, however the club’s problems go a little deeper. Once again using City as our baseline, due to how close they are in shots, Pep Guardiola’s side have created eleven ‘Big Chances’ according to Premier League statistics. Wolves have managed only three. The taking of chances coupled with poor chance creation paints a picture of a side lacking composure in the final third.
Stepping away from the statistics, the ‘eye test’ depicts a team that does certain things very well. Against Manchester United last Sunday, it can be argued Lage’s side were the superior football team on the day. Adama Traore’s pacy, intelligent runs consistently left Fred and Paul Pogba in his wake. Francisco Trincao, a summer loan from Barcelona, was a bewitching presence with his tricky dribbling. Raul Jimenez provided constant food-for-thought for the Red Devils defence, often pulling into the half-spaces to allow Traore to make centralised runs. Many aspects of Wolves’ attacking play looked well-drilled, and at times were effective against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team.
Wanderers had more shots, and more shots on target, than their opponents. Yet, for the third time this season, they came up goalless in defeat. They can be left to rue some bad luck. Against most other goalkeepers, Roman Saiss’ follow-up shot from a saved header is surely not so spectacularly clawed away, as it was by David De Gea. A different official might have disagreed with Mike Dean’s view that Paul Pogba did not foul Ruben Neves in the build-up to United’s winner. However, one game is an anomaly, whereas three is a pattern. There are concerns at Wolves that go beyond not getting the rub of the green.
There are reasons to hope for an improvement. Raul Jimenez missed the majority of last season with a skull fracture. The severity of the injury has led to the striker needing to wear protective headgear, and it is only natural he may have been tentative in his first few games since returning. This is borne out by the numbers, as Jimenez has summoned an 8% shooting accuracy so far this season. This is a rapid fall from the 38%, 37% and 32% he has enjoyed in his previous Premier League campaigns. His general play against United was encouraging, and it is hoped he will be able to return to his former heights.
Solace can also be taken in their upcoming fixtures. Next opponents Watford have shipped five goals in their opening three ties, and while Brentford have only conceded once, the game after is against a Southampton side who have conceded six. There will be opportunities in these games, especially if Lage can build on the clever movement and physical dominance his men displayed against Manchester United.
Holding onto Adama Traore after a window of speculation about his future will help. So will Raul Jimenez potentially recapturing the form that has twice seen him voted Wolves’ Player Of The Season. Francisco Trincao also looks to be an astute acquisition, offering silk to accompany the steel found elsewhere in the team. Ruben Neves has remained at Molineux, despite United links following him around all summer. The players are there to lift Wolves out of their goalless funk. Now it’s about turning the pace, fire and industry they have in spades into goals and points.