With every new player that arrives at Manchester City, complete with a hefty transfer fee, comes a further slashing of the club’s odds for the title. So it appears rather ironic that Wolves, the Premier League’s second biggest spenders, are strong favourites for the drop. It is not just the media and bookies who are making these predictions either. Fans seem to be sharply divided in their forecasts for this season, optimists suggesting a top ten finish and the pessimists, or realists as they prefer to be known, believing that the Black Country side are in for a real struggle in 2010/11.
Mick McCarthy has reportedly spent around £16m bolstering his squad and pre-season has heralded a number of encouraging results, with five victories from seven matches, last weekend’s 2-1 victory against Athletic Bilbao the pick of the litter. The Wolves manager was especially pleased with the link-up play between Steven Fletcher, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and winger Matt Jarvis and he praised the build up to the Scotsman’s opener, stating: “It was our best bit of play, not just for the finish but the interplay between Jarvis and Sylvan, who linked up well with Fletcher.” With the game in front of the Molineux crowd, and strikers Ebanks-Blake and Fletcher – who could be paired up on Saturday if Kevin Doyle does not regain fitness in time – scoring both goals, there are certainly things to be positive about ahead of the visit of Stoke.
So why do some quarters believe that McCarthy’s side are dead certs for the drop? Much of this appears to be based on second season syndrome. There is a feeling that Wolves will struggle to keep up with the pace this year and looking back to last season, their appalling home form could prove to be an issue. Wolves had two main problems in 2009/10: scoring goals and securing wins at Molineux. Kevin Doyle was the club’s top scorer with nine goals, and second in line was Jody Craddock, a defender , who managed five. The campaign saw only 32 efforts hit the back of the net, the worst in the league, and the Black Country side won only five games at home, the same as Portsmouth. Despite this Wolves still finished 15th, and considering Mick has brought in plenty of attacking reinforcements the side can surely only increase their goal tally. Blake will no doubt build upon his poor return of just two goals and has worked hard in pre-season to regain his fitness. Michael Kightly, who Mick has described as like having a new player, will also look to impress in his first full season in the Premier League.
The decision to shell out £7m on Steven Fletcher might seem foolish at first glance, especially since he also failed to get into double figures last season. Furthermore, there is a fear that the Scottish striker may end up spending the season on the bench if his new boss persists with 4-5-1. Many players have come across the border and failed to make an impact, even though they had been idolised in Scotland. Considering that Liam Miller headed from Celtic to Manchester United and failed to establish himself as a Premier League footballer, and Barry Ferguson managed only three league goals in two years at Blackburn, compared with 16 in 2002/2003 for Rangers, Fletcher’s goal ratio in England so far is in fact rather impressive.
It might be out of fashion at the moment, but 4-4-2 could really serve Wolves well this season if McCarthy opts to go with this more directly attacking formation. Perhaps one thing that has hampered pre-season is the fact that the Yorkshireman has not been able to test out the link-up between Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt. The pair know each other’s game inside out from internationals and their time at Reading, and although the Irish winger may not be the most glamorous of players , he is busy and always ready to dig deep for a victory, and even from the bench can add spark to the side.
Perhaps most surprising about the lack of faith in Wolves this season is the fact that the sides around them have done so little to strengthen. West Ham may be buoyed by new manager Avram Grant but the likes of Bolton and Wigan have not done much to build on last year. The Trotters have apparently only spent £2m and while money does not count for everything, it would be na