Wolves have struggled in the Premier League this season

Are Wolves still a good team? Raul Jimenez, Fabio Silva, Willian Jose, Diego Costa; the causes and solutions to recent struggles


Wolves have been on a generally upward trajectory since Nuno Espirito Santo arrived in the summer of 2017, but a poor run this season sees them languishing in the bottom-half of the table and without a Premier League win since December 15.

He made an immediate impact, transforming a team who had finished 15th in the Sky Bet Championship into title winners. Nuno was, of course, aided by a transfer policy that put Wolves streets ahead of their promotion rivals, but their success was not simply down to signings.

A seventh-placed finish in 2018/19 made them one of the best performing promoted sides in Premier League history and they followed that up by matching that last season.

Such consistent progress, combined with a lack of potential congestion that taking part in European football brings, had many believing Wolves could break into the top-six this term. But at the halfway point, Nuno's side are languishing in 14th and without a Premier League win since December 15.

A spot in the top-half has become a more realistic ambition.

The effect of Raul Jimenez's absence by numbers

Raul Jimenez fractured his skull in a clash with David Luiz

The fractured skull suffered by Raul Jimenez against Arsenal in November turned Wolves' season upside down.

Last term, with a fit Jimenez, their expected points total was 1.67 per game. Since their main source of goals was sidelined, others have failed to step up and fill the void, and that expected points has fallen to 1.10.

But even before that, Wolves' attack had struggled this term.

They enjoyed an expected goals for (xGF) rate of 1.59 last season; this has dropped sharply to 1.19.

Their total xGF this season is 22.7 and they have scored 21 goals. That puts them 13th in the Premier League, with their actual goals scored figure leaving them 15th - both creating and taking chances are problems, with the former the glaring issue.

That is demonstrated by Wolves' major decline in non-penalty big chances, from 1.5 per game last season to 0.84 this.

With penalties themselves sitting around the 0.75 mark on the xG scale, Nuno's side are effectively down by close to a penalty per match, a stark illustration of how far their creativity has fallen.

Raul Jimenez: 2019/20 Premier League stats

Back to Wolves' main main, and Jimenez's absence is of course of great significance, as would be the case with any team missing their best player and figurehead striker. But he is crucial at both ends of the pitch.

The team's non-penalty xGF with the Mexican forward in the side is 1.17, without him it drops to 1.01. His goalscoring threat is shown by the fact non-penalty big chances drops from 1.00 to just 0.44.

On the defensive side, the xGA jumps up from 1.37 to 1.53. Last season to this, it's gone from 1.08 to 1.46.

It shows Jimenez's importance to the team and the need for someone to come in and replicate his role as soon as possible.

And they might have found him.

Diego Costa or Willian Jose can buy Fabio Silva time

Wolves have the option to turn Willian Jose's loan into a permanent deal

Wolves have been known for their ability to attract players from Europe's elite to join their project. Raul Jimenez, Ruben Neves and Rui Patricio are three examples of successful additions who have made a noticeable impact.

Their most noteworthy summer signing was club-record £35m Fabio Silva, an exciting forward who, at just 18 years old, has a huge future ahead of him. At that price, he should be viewed as both a long-term asset and someone who can make an impact in the short-term.

But Silva has netted just twice in the Premier League, and only one of those goals came from open play. Performances so far hint that Wolves will see a return on their investment in the years to come, but that doesn't solve their pressing issues.

Jimenez's season-ending injury means Wolves have to find a solution - the transfer window provides a chance to save their season.

Three years ago, Wolves suffered a mid-season slump and were brought out of it by the January signing of Benik Afobe.

How they need an Afobe-type signing now. A short-term fix for a significant problem before addressing the issue again when the summer arrives.

Diego Costa has been linked with Wolves all month

Wolves are 10/11 with Sky Bet to sign free agent Diego Costa this month.

Given the former Chelsea and Atletico Madrid striker's experience, knowledge of the league and similar profile to Jimenez, it's a move that makes sense perfect sense.

But that door may have already closed following the loan signing of Brazilian striker Willian Jose from Real Sociedad.

Yes his 62 goals in 170 Real Sociedad appearances is encouraging, but his Jimenez/Costa profile is what should excite Wolves fans more.

Defence and formation a problem for Wolves

Wolves captain Conor Coady has seen his team's defensive record crumble

Wolves have built a reputation of being a defensively secure side during their time in the Premier League. They conceded 46 goals in their first campaign and improved on that with just 40 last term.

At the halfway point of this season, the figure is already 29.

We've seen them shift away from three centre-backs, too. In an effort to unlock their attacking potential, Nuno has switched to a centre-half pairing and, in the early stages, it looked like a move that would pay off.

The Portuguese coach had played with a back three in every single game as Wolves boss up to that point.

While they were scoring, four at the back also saw them concede plenty - three against both Brighton and West Brom, hardly attacking behemoths.

In a bid to solve his attacking problems, Nuno had created a new one in defence; eight conceded in three fixtures, scoring six.

The 3-3 draw at Brighton also exposed a significant area of weakness at set-pieces.

Only Leeds (10) have conceded more from corners and free-kicks than Wolves this season. The big concern here is that last term, it was a major strength. The nine they have already let in is equal to the number for the entirety of 2019/20.

Nuno's side have conceded a large number of goals against from penalties too (6), having quite incredibly only conceded from the spot once in the Premier League last season.

Wolves appear to have what would seem a fundamental football problem - how to gain creativity without giving away their defensive solidity. It is the sport's Rubik's Cube, and at this time of year, the simplest route to cracking it is to fill the obvious void.

They'll hope that if Willian Jose doesn't turn out to be Raul Jimenez, or even Diego Costa, he can at least be Benik Afobe.


Odds correct at 1500 GMT (26/01/21)

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