At half-time of his team’s meeting with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, Bruno Lage would have been pretty satisfied. Wolverhampton Wanderers had successfully frustrated their hosts in north London, controlling possession for long periods and generating a degree of restlessness among the home fans. All that was missing from their first-half display was a goal.
It remained elusive after the break too. Tottenham improved, as they were always likely to, and Harry Kane’s header put them ahead in the 64th minute. Wolves had a handful of bright moments in their search for an equaliser, but they were ultimately left to rue their failure to capitalise on their dominance before the interval. A lack of cutting edge proved costly.
It is a familiar shortcoming. Wolves may have finished in the top half of the Premier League last term, but only the relegated trio of Burnley, Watford and Norwich City scored fewer goals. Theirs was an issue of creation as well as conversion: in the expected goals (xG) table, which measures the quality of opportunities a team fashions, Wolves ranked 19th in the division.
Saturday’s 1-0 defeat by Spurs leaves Lage’s side with just one point from the first nine available. They were somewhat unfortunate to lose 2-1 to Leeds United on the opening weekend. Wolves were good value for at least a point at Elland Road, but their opponents were more clinical in front of goal and that proved to be the decisive factor. A week later, Wolves drew 0-0 with Fulham at Molineux. The Cottagers would have emerged triumphant had Aleksandar Mitrovic converted a penalty late on.
There were elements of Wolves’ performance against Tottenham that would have pleased Lage. They won the midfield battle in the first half, with Ruben Neves particularly influential alongside Joao Moutinho and the debutant Matheus Nunes. Goncalo Guedes was a willing runner up top, while Daniel Podence providing some neat touches. The defence kept Tottenham’s front three pretty quiet until the hour mark.
Yet even when they were on top, Wolves struggled to create clear-cut opportunities. Their approach play was tidy but did not do enough to hurt Tottenham, who were not at their best all afternoon. Raul Jimenez was introduced from the bench in the 58th minute but did not manage an effort on goal. Now 31, the Mexican’s best years are probably behind him; he found the back of the net only six times in 34 appearances last term.
There is too much quality within their squad for Wolves to be involved in a relegation battle. But if Lage’s side are to get close to the European places, they surely need to add a proven goalscorer to the ranks.
Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto are both fine players, but neither has ever scored more than five goals in a top-flight season. Hwang Hee-chan’s record of five goals in 52 league appearances for RB Leipzig and Wolves will not strike fear into the hearts of defenders. Guedes notched 11 for Valencia last term, but it remains to be seen whether he can match that tally for a team that struggled to create chances all of last term.
It is far too early for Wolves to be worried, but the early signs this season point to a team that has not yet addressed its major shortcoming from 2021/22.