Wolves preview: True grit from Mick's men
On February 5th, Manchester United travelled to Molineux. Unbeaten and perhaps in position to match Arsenal's famous Invincibles, United looked at Wolves as easy pickings. But after 90 unbelievable minutes, the relegation candidates ended all Untied's dreams, with goals from George Elokobi and Kevin Doyle in the first half laying the foundation for a 2-1 victory.
Optimists will suggest that the victory gave struggling Wolves the confidence needed to stay up. Realists will point out that there was no such psychological boost, but those three points ultimately were the ones which saved Premier League football for the West Midlands club. In fact, Wolves only survived by virtue of other results around the league on the final day.
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
FOX Soccer's editors and writers expect Wolves to escape relegation slightly easier than they did last year when their survival was only guaranteed on the final day. In 2010-11, Wolves finished 17th - one point ahead of relegated Birmingham.
The wild scenes at Molineux that followed close of play on May 22nd were an expression of sheer luck and utter relief. Regardless, Mick McCarthy's club has survived a second successive Premier League campaign, if only barely.
By remaining in the Premier League, Wolves can carry on an ambitious plan that includes a $75 million cash infusion into its training facilities and youth academy, a sure sign that manager Mick McCarthy's team will have the resources to continue to build.
WOLVES SQUAD WATCH
|MOST EXCITING||Matt Jarvis|
|MOST VALUABLE||Kevin Doyle|
|BEST ACQUISITION||Roger Johnson|
Jamie O’Hara (Tottenham), Dorus de Vries
|LOSSES||Marcus Hahnemann (released), Greg Halford (Portsmouth), David Jones (released, Wigan)|
|PROSPECT TO WATCH||Ashley Hemmings|
But it will take more than development plans to fundamentally change a Wolverhampton roster that has been comprised mainly of average talent and has depended upon grit and home support to remain in the top rank.
In fact, it can be argued that Wolves' survival in the BPL owed more to the collapse of Birmingham City than to anything the Molineux side accomplished. On the final day, with relegation staring them in the face, Wolves fell to Blackburn Rovers and would have made the drop had not both Blackpool and Birmingham also suffered defeats. That's called escaping relegation, not preventing it.
West Brom are their main historic rivals, but a better measuring stick for
this side will be how they fare against QPR, Swansea and Wigan.
Two major additions may provide McCarthy with more options this season, though the overall side isn’t much different from the recent past. By luring goalkeeper Dorus DeVries away from Swansea, Wolves gained depth in goal where Wayne Hennessey took the starting job away from American Marcus Hahnemann last season, never giving it up.
Hahnemann was released by Wolves, so DeVries figures to challenge Hennessey for then number one job.
Central defender Roger Johnson, signed from relegated Birmingham, will also step into a starting role, but arguably the bigger deal was in keeping their own attacker Doyle, who has been linked with Arsenal.
The Republic of Ireland international has been a consistent, if not prolific goalscorer, but his all-round game makes him the fulcrum of a team not expected to be big hitters in the Premier League.
|August 13||10:00 A.M. ET||at Blackburn|
|August 21||09:00 A.M. ET||Fulham (live, FOX Soccer)|
|August 27||07:05 A.M. ET||at Aston Villa|
Also significant could be the decision to keep midfielder Jamie O'Hara, who played the second half of last season on loan from Spurs, then signed with Wolves in a $7.5 million deal.
There are questions over whether England winger Matt Jarvis will stay. He was once thought to be an Aston Villa target - but McCarthy has Stephen Hunt, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Nenad Milijas to provide midfield/attacking depth.
Even though Wolves have some players with technical skills, nobody watching Wolves will have any difficulty recognizing the "old" English game.
McCarthy was a hard, dependable player during his career and he carries that approach into his side's game.
Wolves don't sit on the ball, and they aren't afraid to use the long ball to relieve pressure and defend with tenacity. That's a formula which many of the mid-level Premier sides employ, but it can be argued that Wolves play that style better than many.
The problem has been scoring enough goals, and that will remain the issue this season. Guys like Hunt will poach goals, and Ebanks-Blake has the ability to bedevil defenses, but Wolves don't really have a 20-goals-a-season striker and depend primarily on work rate to break down defenses.
Unless the addition of DeVries radically improves things at the back or a bona fide striker shows up and produces a special season, Wolves will spend this season just as they did last - trying to stay out of the bottom three.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.