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Wolverhampton Wanderers 2021-22 season review - star player, best moment, standout result

:Headline: Wolverhampton Wanderers 2021-22 season review - star player, best moment, standout result:
Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at Wolverhampton Wanderers' 2021-22 season, which saw Bruno Lage's side falter with their surprise bid for European football.
Sports Mole

The departure of Nuno Espirito Santo at the end of the 2020-21 campaign represented the end of an era at Wolverhampton Wanderers, a risk for all concerned given the success that they had achieved together.

At a time when Nuno has spent much of the season on the sidelines due to his disastrous spell at Tottenham Hotspur, Wolves have attempted to make positive strides under Bruno Lage, the man long identified as Nuno's eventual replacement.

Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look back at Wolves' 2021-22 campaign, one which threatened so much and delivered so little.



SEASON OVERVIEW

Final league position: 10th

EFL Cup: Third round

FA Cup: Fourth round

Top scorer: Raul Jimenez, Daniel Podence (6)

Most assists: Rayan Ait-Nouri (6)

Despite the upheaval in the dugout, Wolves endured a relatively quiet summer transfer window, the loan additions of Francisco Trincao and Hwang Hee-chan bringing excitement but question marks lingering over whether Jose Sa was an adequate replacement for the departing Rui Patricio.

That debate did not last long - more on that later - and the overriding criticism of Wolves during the opening weeks was their failure to take their chances, opportunities being squandered at will as they lost by 1-0 scorelines to Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.

Nevertheless, there remained a sense of optimism. Lage was placing more focus on an attractive attack-minded strategy and Wolves finally got what their opening performances warranted when they defeated Watford after the international break.

The following defeat at home to Brentford felt calamitous at the time, but it acted as the catalyst for a run of 13 points from a possible 15, Wolves pulling off one of the Premier League's great comebacks as they scored three times from the 80th minute onwards to defeat rivals Aston Villa on away territory.

Come the start of December, Wolves were in sixth ahead of a double-header with Liverpool and Manchester City, the first of those fixtures being lost in heartbreaking fashion as Divock Origi added another late winning goal to his collection in the closing seconds of the contest at Molineux.

The City game also came with its talking points. Stupidity saw Raul Jimenez handed a red card and either restrictive VAR regulations or incompetence - you can make your own up - led to Joao Moutinho wrongly being adjudged to have handled the ball inside the penalty area, gifting City the chance to score the only goal of the game.

Still, it again acted as the catalyst for another 13-point haul from five games, Wolves beating Manchester United at Old Trafford during that period to keep them well in the mix heading into February, but European football would have to be achieved without Adama Traore after he was allowed to join Barcelona on loan.

Wolves came through three games with Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City with six points, and Wolves supporters were beginning to dream of qualification for the Champions League, never mind the other secondary continental competitions on offer.

However, losing late on in the reverse fixture versus Arsenal had a lingering effect, Wolves going on to collect just 11 points from their remaining 14 matches. Nine of those points came during a four-game period between March 10 and April 2, highlighting how poorly Wolves performed during the closing six weeks of the season.

Having lost to Newcastle United, Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albion without troubling the scoresheet and only drawing with Norwich City in their final home game, finishing just seven points adrift of sixth-placed Manchester United will hurt Wolves, as could the £4.4m that they lost in prize money through dropping from eighth to 10th position courtesy of a final-day defeat at Liverpool.



PREMIER LEAGUE STATS

Wins: 15 (8th)
Draws: 6 (14th)
Losses: 17 (=7th)
Goals scored: 38 (17th)
Goals conceded: 43 (16th)
Yellow cards: 59 (14th)
Red cards: 3 (=3rd)
Passes: 17,517 (9th)
Shots: 402 (18th)
Big chances missed: 40 (=8th)
Saves: 125 (8th)
Tackles: 673 (4th)
Own goals: 1 (=12th)
Hit woodwork: 12 (=8th)
Clearances: 771 (6th)



HOW DID IT COMPARE TO LAST SEASON?

At times this season, Wolves have undoubtedly played more entertaining football than they did during the final months of Nuno's reign, but with all said and done, they only netted two more Premier League goals than they did in 2020-21, scoring 38 times in comparison to 36.

For all of their attacking talent, it is an issue, but one which was sometimes overlooked during the first six months of the season when they possessed one of the best defensive records in the division. As of February 20, Wolves had shipped just 18 goals in 24 matches, but another 25 were conceded during their concluding 14 games.

On a positive note, an overall total of 43 was nine fewer than it was at the end of the previous campaign and Wolves still ended this season with the fifth-best defensive record. Nevertheless, only five teams conceded more goals than Wolves during the final three months, leaving Lage with plenty to ponder.

Remarkably, Raul Jimenez and Daniel Podence netting six goals apiece was higher than the top-scoring effort of Ruben Neves and Pedro Neto last season, who both scored five times. The fact that Wolves have finished 13th and 10th with such dismal scoring records is an achievement in itself, but Lage will naturally be demanding a far better return next season.

As far as cup competitions are concerned, Wolves bowed out a stage earlier in the EFL Cup and FA Cup. They were handed an ideal opportunity to go deep in the latter, only to lose 1-0 at home to Norwich City in the last 32 after producing one of their best performances of the season in the previous round against Sheffield United.

In the EFL Cup, Wolves thrashed an under-strength Nottingham Forest at the City Ground before losing a third-round penalty shootout to Tottenham Hotspur at Molineux, positives being taken from fighting back from 2-0 down to force a decider from 12 yards.



PLAYER OF THE SEASON - JOSE SA

Had he stayed fit and maintained his astonishing high level, Max Kilman would have been a shoo-in for this award. The defender had even been in contention for an England call-up at one stage, but a drop-off in form and a season-ending ankle injury put paid to his chances.

Daniel Podence stepped up in the final third this season, albeit without a consistent end product, and it leaves Jose Sa as the standout candidate, even if a return of 11 clean sheets undermines his actual impact during his first year at the club.

The Portuguese has been far from perfect - conceding a number of needless penalties and being at fault for decisive goals against Man United and Arsenal - but the 29-year-old has largely been the safe pair of hands that Wolves desperately required when Patricio left for Roma.



STANDOUT RESULT

For all of the criticism of Man United this season, Wolves were squaring off against a team which had put together an eight-match unbeaten streak when they made the trip to Old Trafford for their first fixture of 2022.

Wolves were also without an away victory at United since 1980, but such was the level of Wolves' performance that you could have been forgiven for believing that they were the home team.

An 82nd-minute goal from Moutinho proved to the be difference, the move being started by young forward and earlier substitute Fabio Silva holding off the attentions of Raphael Varane, and the travelling support were sent into ecstasy as the veteran midfielder sent a smart volley into the bottom corner of David de Gea's net.

In the final seconds, Sa pulled off a brilliant save to keep out Bruno Fernandes's free kick, confirming Wolves' third clean sheet in succession after previous shutouts versus Brighton and Chelsea.

> Click here for a full list of Wolves' results from the 2021-22 season



BEST MOMENT

Historically, a win and clean sheet at Old Trafford would usually represent the best moment of the season for many clubs outside of the so-called top six, but two-and-a-half months earlier, Wolves enjoyed another memorable away day which will stand the test of time.

Trailing 2-0 at Aston Villa with 11 minutes remaining, Wolves were as good as beaten and closing in on a fifth defeat in eight matches. That was until they produced a comeback which will be spoken about in the same breath as the four-goal fightback versus Leicester in 2003 and overturning a 2-0 deficit to beat Man City in 2019.

Romain Saiss got the ball rolling in the 80th minute, and another close-range finish followed from Conor Coady five minutes later as Wolves caused chaos in the Villa penalty area.

The crowning moment came from Neves, the Portuguese's heavily-deflected free kick deep into added-on time wrong-footing Emiliano Martinez in the Villa goal and finding the bottom corner of the net, the miracle fightback causing scenes of jubilation in the away section at that end of the ground.



TOP PRIORITY FOR SUMMER

Having emotionally said goodbye to the Molineux crowd after the final home game and backing that up with suggestions that he could be ready to take on a new challenge, Neves appears increasingly likely to leave this summer, and finding a suitable replacement must be Wolves' priority.

In fact, Wolves arguably require three players who can compete for a regular starting spot in the centre of the pitch with Moutinho turning 36 years of age in September and Leander Dendoncker about to enter the final 12 months of his contract.

Elsewhere, an alternative will be required for the departing Saiss, and Lage will likely want another centre-back who is more accustomed to play in a back four, offering him a different option when it comes to formations.

At the other end of the pitch, resolving Traore's future should also be at the top of Wolves' agenda, the Spaniard failing to secure a permanent move to Barcelona and now having just 12 months left on his existing terms. While there are pros and cons to keeping Traore, Wolves need an X-factor in the final third more so than parting ways with a match-winner for a cut-price fee.

According to reports, Lage also wants to reward Morgan Gibbs-White for his performances on loan at Sheffield United with an important role in his squad. However, with the academy graduate now deemed to be a hot property by Premier League and European clubs, do not expect a quick resolution.



FINAL VERDICT

Ahead of the final day of the season, Lage gave the impression that Wolves would take the positives from an eighth-placed finish, despite the natural disappointment felt when they contemplate what could have been had they maintained their high level during the closing three months.

However, dropping to 10th has put a different slant on matters. A mutual parting of the ways with Nuno was deemed the right move for Wolves having collected six points fewer than this season, and Lage has overseen an equally enjoyment-sapping spell to close his first year in English football.

The issue that Wolves have is that they will never have a better opportunity to qualify for the Champions League, even the Europa League for a second time. The likes of Newcastle United, Leicester City and Aston Villa are all going to improve next year, while Everton and Leeds United will build on their near misses with relegation.

In terms of their direction going forward, Wolves are about to embark on one of their most important transfer windows in years. Get it wrong and they risk the possibility of being left behind by teams of similar stature, even becoming a mid-table side who become comfortable with survival to boost the business side.

For those reasons, no-one at Wolves should be satisfied with this season. They missed their chance to make the transition that Fosun and their supporters have been dreaming of for six years, and the hard work must now commence to ensure that they do not spend every year as a crossroads Premier League club.


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