To win games of football you have to score more goals than the other team.
For that reason alone, when we look back on this season in the years to come we’ll see it for it was – a triumph in disaster aversion.
After 28 games, we’ve scored 13 goals less than last season and conceded 3 more. That 16 goal swing in this horrible, cut-throat division could have seen things turn very ugly.
And yet, with 10 games to go and 35 points on the board, it would now take an unthinkable sequence of results to cost us our Premier League status.
Given where we found ourselves in the wake of the defeat to Albion, we should all be punching the air at the results achieved since that dull Saturday afternoon.
This post probably won’t tell you anything you don’t know already, but the sheer weight of numbers underlines how much of an achievement it is by the team to have got to a position of relative comfort in a season that’s been anything but comfortable.
There will be no European football and no plaudits from the Match of the Day crew, but given everything we’ve had to endure in this lockdown season, our mediocrity is worth celebrating.
Wolves scored a respectable 51 goals in 2019/20, up from 47 the previous season. Decent, but far from prolific.
Of those 98 goals across two seasons, Diogo Jota accounted for 16 and Matt Doherty 8, with a further 14 assists between them. That’s 37% of all Premier League goals scored by Wolves that those two players were directly involved in creating or scoring.
Their replacements have done little to fill the void.
Fabio has netted just twice (in two defeats) and Semedo, aside from one assist for Romain Saiss’ goal at Brighton, has offered nothing to compensate in output for the absence of Matt Doherty. Willian Jose is still to register.
Then there’s Raul Jimenez with his 30 goals and 13 assists in those first two golden seasons – involved in 42% of all Wolves’ league goals.
The Mexican had 4 in 10 appearances (if we ungenerously count Arsenal) this season giving credence to the fact he was likely to remain firmly in the habit of finding the net for a low scoring team.
But with Raul out and the two other headliners sold, Nuno had to replace 80% of the goals with no proven goal-getters in the ranks and three-quarters of the season still to play.
Pedro’s Potential & Adama’s Problem
Step forward Pedro Neto who has delivered on the potential we all saw last season. With 5 goals and 5 assists, he’s on track to equal or go beyond Diogo Jota’s most prolific Premier League campaign for Wolves of 9 goals and 5 assists (2018/19).
But as for our other rampaging wide man, the heights have not been hit.
Zero Premier League goals for Adama Traore isn’t a massive surprise for a player that’s never consistently got on the scoresheet (4 the previous year and just 1 in 2018/19). He has made quite a few goals and opportunities with his powerful running, but with so many match-winning attributes, the output has not been good enough.
In his defence, Traore’s combination play with Raul Jimenez last season was one of the driving forces behind the team’s success, so it would be fair to say he’s felt our number 9’s absence more acutely than any other player. He scored 4 and assisted 9 times in 19/20, with nearly all of those coming from direct link up with Raul.
Ruben Going Short, Moutinho’s Waning Influence & Saiss to the Rescue
This has been a season like no other for Ruben Neves, with all five of his goals coming from inside the penalty area. Three have been penalties and all of which have been crucial, helping Wolves accumulate 7 points from wins over Arsenal and Southampton and a draw at Brighton. Then there were two smart finishes against Everton and Newcastle in positions you do not expect to see our number 8.
He deserves enormous credit for adapting his game and stepping up in big moments to help the team. When you consider how utterly woeful his long range shooting has been this season, it’s exciting to imagine what he could become if he put it all together.
Joao Moutinho scored his customary one goal a season, with that crucial blockbuster against Arsenal to get us the win. But more worrying is the statistic of just a single assist (and that coming only last week against Man City), pointing to a diminishing attacking influence from the veteran after managing 6 assists last season and 8 the previous year.
Another player in the red is Leander Dendoncker who scored 4 last season but hasn’t managed any this time. It’s not down to a lack of chances though. The big Belgian has simply squandered good opportunities at crucial times of the season taking 27 shots already compared to 20 for the whole of last season. His lack of attacking returns has even prompted Nuno to send Conor Coady forward in search of goals in recent matches with the skipper getting his first PL goal at Man City and oh so nearly making it two-in-two at Villa Park.
Romain Saiss has upped his tally to 3 goals from 2 in both the previous PL seasons, all of which crucial in the accumulation of points against Sheff Utd, Brighton and Spurs. Given his increasingly strong defensive outings and how important those goals were to us, he should be a contender for Player of the Season.
Daniel Podence & The Season That Never Was
Daniel Podence also has 3 Premier League goals along with 2 assists. His Goals Per 90 minutes (0.20) is actually better than Pedro Neto’s (0.18) but getting 90 minutes out of him has been the problem with consistent injury issues.
Had we got something like a full season out of Raul Jimenez and Daniel Podence, Nuno’s summer logic may have made a lot more sense. A three pronged attack with those two and Pedro Neto would (statistically speaking) have definitely improved the Goals For column.
Wolves are 13 goals shy of where they were at this point last season, but it’s not fanciful to think Raul, with his goal every 0.42 games average, would have added 7-8 towards this tally with Podence and Traore, reunited with his partner in crime, going some way towards addressing the remaining deficit.
There was a plan and a logic here – it just didn’t work out.
Building From The Back
Defensive stability has been the calling card of this team since promotion in 2018 and although they’ve wobbled at times this season, the statistics still point to this being key to achieving Premier League safety.
Rui Patricio has 8 cleansheets in 28 games (4 of those in the last 10 matches) or a shutout every 3.5 games if you prefer. This is down on last season’s average of a clean sheet every 2.9 games, but better than his 5.2 average from 2018/19.
Overall goals conceded is 37 so far compared to 34 goals conceded this time last season and 35 the year before. We’re there or thereabouts, but the defence certainly hasn’t improved to compensate for the lack of goals scored, which explains our position in the bottom half.
The obvious conclusions
As I said at the start, I know I’m telling you things you already know, but it’s worth recapping:
- With Raul, Jota and Doherty injured or sold it’s a minor miracle the team have been able to conjure up the necessary goals to stay clear of the bottom three.
- The new signings have done little to nothing to compensate (in terms of goals) and other key contributors from previous years have seen their numbers diminish e.g. no goals from Dendoncker and only a single assist from Moutinho, making our position all the more remarkable.
- Pedro Neto’s emergence as a Premier League star has been crucial and with Daniel Podence impressing in fleeting moments, it’s clear (statistically speaking) that a team containing those two and Raul would have improved things considerably, as well as coaxing more from Adama Traore. There’s hope for improvement next season even without signings.
- We might be dull as dishwater to watch at times but that defensive stability has served us well at an important time and allowed us to get away with a meagre goals tally. Rui Patricio’s 8 cleansheets are as valuable as any goals at the other end.
- Ruben Neves and Romain Saiss between them have scored 8 goals to help us collect 12 points and along with Neto and possibly Patricio should be in consideration for Player of the Season (so far).
In short we’ve got away with it. Not by good fortune but good organisation built on the foundations Nuno has created in his three previous years at the club. Without being able to lean on the reassuring presence of that back three, we would have been close to relegation.
The transfer business has been disastrous (statistically speaking), one injury has killed us, the experimentation with approach did not work and key players have underperformed in attack. Yet somehow, we’re hanging in there and doing something close to alright.
It’s like the fire has burned through the house, but the foundations remain strong.
For that reason I’ve got to believe there are still plenty of the right things happening at Wolves and with a summer refresh (including better recruitment), we can improve the numbers and head back to Molineux with a renewed sense of optimism.
Or to to put it succinctly – the season might have felt like a nightmare, but the dream is still alive.