Wolves are gearing up for their first Premier League season since 2011/12 and the mood around the club is as optimistic as anywhere in the country.
During their last top flight stint, under Mick McCarthy and then briefly Terry Connor, Wolves were a workmanlike, functional team who planned to scrape survival with a solid, boring gameplan.
The situation this time couldn’t be more different. Nuno Santo, aided by Fosun’s deep pockets and Jorge Mendes’ huge contact book, has assembled a free-scoring, entertaining side who many expect to finish in the top ten.
But how are they shaping up? Here’s our Preseason Report to answer some of the questions…
FC Basel 1-2 Wolves
BSC Young Boys 0-4 Wolves
Ajax 1-1 Wolves
Stoke 0-0 Wolves
In the opening pre-season game against Basel, Santo’s men secured an impressive victory despite changing their entire eleven at half-time, thanks to goals either side of the interval from Rafa Mir – who has since gone on loan to Las Palmas – and Diogo Jota.
That was followed up by an impressive thumping win over Young Boys, with an experienced Wolves side setting a frantic pace that didn’t drop when youngsters were introduced later on. Mir struck again, after goals from Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Leo Bonatini.
Ajax provided a tougher test, and it took a Ruben Neves penalty to level the game in Wolves’ first pre-season outing on English soil, at the Banks’s Stadium, home of Walsall.
The 0-0 draw at the Bet365 Stadium was a tepid affair, with a raft of Under-23 players introduced in the second half to get a taste of life with the first team.
Derby County vs Wolves
Wolves vs Villarreal
Wolves will play on the two remaining Saturdays before the Premier League season kicks off with the visit of Everton.
First, yet another away match and another tough test up against a big-spending Championship outfit keen to make a return to the top flight in Frank Lampard’s Derby County. The Rams beat Southampton 3-0 recently and will exploit any signs of complacency in the Wolves’ ranks.
Then, Santo’s men finally return to Molineux by hosting Spanish outfit Villarreal, rounding off their preparations in front of their home fans exactly one week before the big kick off.
As expected, Wolves have done some impressive summer business, securing the futures of Jota and Willy Boly, as well as securing Raul Jimenez and Rui Patricio, who have both already featured in preseason.
Portuguese international goalkeeper Patricio produced two smart saves against Stoke, which is as exciting an impression as a new stopper can make, while Jimenez was also given a runout at the Bet365 Stadium.
Two other impressive summer captures have been made – Joao Moutinho and Jonny Castro – but both are yet to feature in the Old Gold.
Santo has a glut of central defenders – Ryan Bennett, Dominic Iorfa, Kortney Hause and Danny Batth – who all need to prove that they can be relied upon at the higher level, after all failing to convince last season.
Further forward, Bright Enobakhare needs to do a lot more to prove he is worthy of a spot among the star-studded attacking options available to Santo, especially in light of intensifying rumours that Adama Traore will arrive to add yet more pace and invention to the frontline.
As already mentioned, new man Patricio is already showing why he was such a shrewd signing and can only be expected to improve from here.
Mir’s departure is maybe a tad surprising given his goalscoring form, although perhaps he was just playing for a move – which he was duly awarded – in light of limited gametime in the top flight this season.
Youngster Ryan Giles has also seized his opportunity well and may well be granted more gametime with Barry Douglas reportedly set to leave for Leeds.
It appears that Santo will stick with the three-man backline that got Wolves out of the Championship, with wing-backs and three roaming attackers.
The sale of Douglas may cast some doubt over that but new-boy Castro should be able to fill in immediately.
The major change looks set to be moving 28-year-old Romain Saiss into the back three alongside Boly and Conor Coady, after he played as a central defender for Morocco at this summer’s World Cup.
That should allow Moutinho to slot in alongside Neves in the centre of the park, with the two Portuguese playmakers charged with getting Wolves on the front foot wherever possible.