With precious little to sink our fangs into, I thought it would be good to stimulate discussion about a few of the current players, assess their performance last season and consider their prospects for the forthcoming campaign.
Rui Patricio is a particularly interesting one to look at having arrived with a big reputation and – once it was finally resolved – a hefty old price tag.
One thing that was immediately obvious about the Portugal international, even from the first pre-season game I saw him play against Villareal, was his temperament. He is unflappable.
For me, the very best goalkeepers in world football – I’m thinking about Buffon, De Gae, Ederson, Alisson, etc – all have that same calming influence, which I think is fundamental at the top end of the modern game.
Gone are the days of your Peter Schmeichel or Oliver Kahn barking out instructions to lumbering centre-halves. Defenders are more positionally aware these days. It shouldn’t be the job of the goalkeeper to marshall the troops, so it doesn’t bother me that Rui cuts a low profile figure.
In the early games of the season that relaxed persona combined with some spectacular shot-stopping marked him out as one of the outstanding performers in a Wolves team finding their feet.
One flying fingertip save from Raheem Sterling really caught the eye, tipping a goal-bound drive onto the bar, and he made another big stop to deny Marko Arnautovic a week later to secure that all-important first league victory of the campaign at West Ham.
In a long season, it’s easy to forget big performances in the early fixtures, but through August and September Patricio was one of the key men with his best attributes coming to the fore.
November was a bad month for Wolves – 3 defeats from 4 matches – and this coincided with the big goalkeeper’s worst spell of form.
The concession of a tame Aaron Mooy free-kick in which the wall didn’t appear to be set up correctly was then followed by a flap at Cardiff a week later that resulted in Gunnarson equalising in a soul-destroying defeat.
I thought it was premature to be calling for a Ruddy recall at this point and still felt Rui was in credit from those early season heroics. I couldn’t argue against the Mooy free-kick, but in Wales, I felt Wolves defended way too deep and simply paid the price for that approach.
That said, it was clear throughout the season Patricio isn’t a goalkeeper who commands his area – with words or actions.
The official stats from the Premier League reveal he was 17th in the table for Punched Clearances and 11th for High Claims. Additionally, he only made 2 Sweeper Keeper clearances all season, which is easily the lowest of any goalkeeper who played regularly.
In fairness, you could argue Wolves are the only team to play with an actual sweeper in Conor Coady, so perhaps that explains the lack of clearances, but having watched every game it’s clear he favours remaining on his goal line and dealing with whatever comes at him rather than driving through traffic to relieve the pressure.
Personally, I don’t mind that.
I think a keeper has to go with authority or stay at home and very few have mastered the former. If the defence is good enough, they should deal with almost everything that isn’t a direct shot on goal or dropping right under the crossbar.
It’s an approach that has clearly served Patricio well in a near decade long streak as Portugal’s number one and it seemed to do the trick over the second half of his debut campaign for Wolves as his reluctance to take crosses became less of an issue once the team found a groove again.
There was an uncharacteristic blip at home Newcastle, with a soft near post strike finding a way through, but as the season drew to a close he was back to being calmness personified and making smart reactions saves. Two against Man Utd, in particular, come to mind.
If we’re talking major weaknesses – aside from dominating the box – it’s impossible to ignore his distribution, which continually marks him out for criticism in a team that otherwise thrives in possession.
He made just 759 passes last season, placing him 16th in the overall standings. Again, with Wolves deploying three at the back one could argue he’s rarely being used as the spare man when the team are in possession, but still, if you’ve seen him play even once it’s abundantly clear he doesn’t want the ball at his feet.
With Nuno looking to improve an already strong side, it’s conceivable a goalkeeper who can offer Patricio’s qualities and use his feet could spell danger for the former Sporting man.
But goalkeepers like Ederson and Allison don’t grow on trees so I’d be very surprised if Rui isn’t still the man between the sticks come August.
Wolves shipped 46 Premier League goals in total last season, a number only bettered by the top four sides in the land (albeit John Ruddy contributed with a cleansheet in his one and only outing against Cardiff) and our first choice goalkeeper must take a slice of the credit, surely?
He’ll still have something to prove to a few people next season, but I myself am very comfortable with his continued dominance of the shirt for now.