When Wolverhampton Wanderers marked their first season back in the Premier League with qualification for the Europa League, the West Midlands outfit looked well on their way to fulfilling their potential under owners Fosun International.
However, the landscape at Molineux has now changed. The Chinese conglomerate is placing more emphasis on being self-sufficient and face the inevitability of making at least one high-profile sale each summer to provide transfer funds for whoever is in charge in the dugout.
Despite Wolves flirting with Champions League qualification during the early weeks of 2022, they ultimately finished in 10th position in what was an alarming drop-off during the closing three months.
At a time when many of their direct rivals have made numerous notable additions, Wolves have taken a different approach while the futures of several of their key men and most prized assets remain up in the air.
Ahead of their fifth year back in England's top flight, Sports Mole takes a look at how Wolves are shaping up with Bruno Lage keen to bring about a change in their recent fortunes.
Wolves have been provided with a trip to Leeds United on the opening day of the season, with Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Bournemouth to follow during the remainder of the month.
Like last season, Lage's side will play back-to-back games against Liverpool and Manchester City, with West Ham United and Chelsea to follow in an extremely difficult run through September and October.
Four home matches in six outings follow before the World Cup, that stint ending with a game against Arsenal, while Manchester United are the visitors on New Year's Eve.
Wolves begin 2023 with a trip to Aston Villa, with the reverse games against West Ham, Man City and Liverpool to follow by the first week in February.
Although those fixtures are out of the way relatively early, Wolves still end the campaign with games against Villa, Man United, Everton and Arsenal.
John Ruddy (free, Birmingham City)
Romain Saiss (free, Besiktas)
Fernando Marcal (released)
Ruben Vinagre (£8.5m, Sporting Lisbon)
Ryan Giles (loan, Middlesbrough)
Dion Sanderson (loan, Birmingham City)
Lewis Richards (loan, Harrogate Town)
Renat Dadashov (free, Grasshoppers)
Taylor Perry (loan, Cheltenham Town)
Fabio Silva (loan, Anderlecht)
Marcal (free, Botafogo)
Theo Corbeanu (loan, Blackpool)
Nigel Lonwijk (loan, Plymouth Argyle)
Total spent to date: £35.5
Total received to date: £8.5m
Net transfer balance: £27m
STAR PLAYER - Ruben Neves
In his five years at Molineux, Ruben Neves has already established legend status, helping the club to promotion to the Premier League in his first season and playing a key role in keeping them in the mid-table positions and above since then.
There will be those who would have been content with seeing the Portuguese sold for a fee in the region of £50m this summer, Neves deserving his chance at a bigger club and it feeling like a natural progression for a player who has arguably outgrown Wolves.
Nevertheless, despite there being somewhat of an inevitability about his sale in 2023, retaining his services when they have missed out on other midfield targets could prove to be the difference between remaining safe from relegation and contending for a top-half place.
With Lage switching to a back four in pre-season, Wolves supporters will finally get to see Neves perform in a midfield three, and there is scope for that strategy only helping squeeze more quality out of the 25-year-old.
Other players, such as Jose Sa, Max Kilman and Nathan Collins, also have key roles to play in stabilising Wolves, but Neves being given a greater licence to make an impact at both ends of the pitch could give Wolves the extra edge that they desperately require.
MANAGER - Bruno Lage
There were times during his first season at Molineux when Lage appeared to be a tactical genius, most notably when Wolves were playing away at some of the bigger clubs.
However, Wolves regularly under-performed during home games, and it has left the Portuguese looking for a more productive formula at their West Midlands base.
Despite there being as many positives as negatives during 2021-22, the manner in which Wolves went flat during the run-in meant that few fans would have been disappointed had Lage departed the club.
That said, the former Benfica man is equally deserving of a second year, and he is making a notable effort to ensure that Wolves pose more of a sustained attacking threat, even if it means sacrificing some of their defensive shape.
Lage has not always had things his own way with regards to transfers - that is probably an understatement - but he can have few complaints with the quality that he has at his disposal, and it is now up to him to get the best out of his players.
LAST SEASON - 10th
After losing four of their opening five matches, even the most optimistic of Wolves fans could not have anticipated that their team would be challenging for a place in the Champions League after the turn of the year.
Wolves managed to put together a run of 11 wins from 19 games, a period which included a famous comeback victory against Aston Villa when trailing 2-0 heading into the final 10 minutes.
Despite the drama that occurred at Villa Park, Wolves were better known for their defensive record with Lage's side only conceding more than once in a Premier League fixture on two occasions up until the middle of February.
However, it was around that time where all of their hard work was undone. Despite away wins at the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, letting slip a lead at Arsenal derailed Wolves, who would eventually win just three of their final 14 league games.
Wolves twice suffered three defeats in succession from February 20 onwards, and losing 3-0 at home to Brighton & Hove Albion on April 30 led to a backlash from the club's supporters.
In the following game, Wolves came from two goals adrift to earn a 2-2 draw at Chelsea, but they ended the campaign on a seven-game winless streak, seeing them lose grip of eighth spot on the final day of the season to finish in 10th position.
Where Wolves will finish in the upcoming Premier League campaign is anyone's guess. They will have ambitions of finishing in the top seven, potentially earning a return to Europe, but a battle to avoid relegation is also not out of the question.
The speed in which Wolves lost momentum during the final three months of last season was extreme, and how they fare this time around could depend on whether they can get back on track during the early weeks of the campaign.
All things considered, Wolves have a favourable start before playing Liverpool and Man City in back-to-back matches. It goes without saying that they can ill-afford to enter that double-header after a below-par return from their first six matches.
The signs are positive that Wolves can make a successful transition to a back four, and keeping the likes of Collins and Kilman will be key if they want to aim for the top half as a bare minimum.
Nevertheless, this feels like a season where Wolves fans may have to be content with surviving in the top flight with minimal fuss ahead of potentially waving goodbye to numerous long-serving players in the summer of 2023.
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