A few years ago, the narratives that dominated discussions around the Premier League was that of the top four teams, one of which will win the league eventually. The likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City and to some extent Arsenal dominated the headlines, especially as regards their prospects of winning the league at the start of a new season. The attention was on the top four basically.
However, in recent times, there has been a twist to that narrative, as discussions now surround the top six or seven teams in the league where some traditional teams are no longer guaranteed of finishing in a spot that will qualify for them for continental assignments.
Although Manchester City won the league last season, they didn’t really steal all the headlines, another team that finished seventh did make it to the headlines as well. Having played amazing and beautiful football all through the season, Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolverhampton Wanderers were the center of admiration by football fans and pundits.
The West Mid-Lands based club made their return to the Premier League last season on the back of winning the Championship convincingly but some felt they might struggle to cope in the league in the early stages and indeed they struggled. They had just four wins in their opening fifteen premier league fixtures. One major criticism about the team was their inconsistency against mid and lower table oppositions in the league and one defeat and three draws so far this season confirms that.
While Wolverhampton Wanderers did not steamroll over all the lower oppositions, they earned decent points off the top sides in the league. They earned nine points from playing the top six sides, a feat no other team below them achieved. They also earned the most number of points outside the top six teams which got them seventh-place finish in the league and that was their best-ever finish since the commencement of the new format of the Premier League in 1992.
Perhaps some of the things central to the success of Wolves can be traced to their acquisition by Fosun International for £45, the influx of decent quality but experienced players especially from Portugal and the quality of football they play.
Wolverhampton Wanderers are a possession-based side that like to build from the back and they set up in a 3-5-2 set up with quick and intense passes, overlapping runs especially by the wing-backs and lots of counter-attacks and fast breaks which players like Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez often benefit from. In the defensive phase, they set up in a 5-4-1 formation with the wing-backs; Matt Doherty and Johnny Otto drop back to cut off overloads of attacks from the opposing team and they also join the attack as well. Nuno Espirito believes that football is not just about the relationship between eleven players on the pitch but about triangle connections in defense and attack and how the players are balanced in terms of position. For him, everything is about triangles.
These attributes of theirs and more made them one of the most exciting teams to watch last season aside from the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool. Having learned from coaches likes of Manuel Jesualdo Ferreiro who he worked with at Malaga and Panathinaikos and Jose Mourinho, Espirito has shown to be that manager that has the skill set to play a blend of exciting football and compact defensive structure. Going into the new season, they have also strengthened their squad with the addition of Patrick Cutrone, Bruno Jordao and Pedro Neto amongst others.
Going forward, a lot of expectations will be on his team this season and a major talking point would be if Wolves can replicate what they did last season or even take it a step further by breaking into the top six which would be a remarkable achievement.
While the top teams in the league look to win the league, Wolves’ concern will be to better their performances from last season. Whether Nuno Espirito Santo’s side can achieve this feat or not remains unknown, only time will tell.