‘Wolves, Fulham and Cardiff: the best-prepared trio of promoted clubs ever?’ was the headline for The Guardian’s season preview. Eight games later, Cardiff are bottom with two points and Fulham are shipping chances like there’s no tomorrow. The dignity of the Championship this season rests on Wolverhampton Wanderers.
They’re certainly doing well enough to shoulder the burden on their own. Seventh in the table, the first team to take points off Manchester City this season, and playing some nice football while doing so.
So, how good are Wolves, and should they be aiming for a seventh-place spot?
‘We go game by game’
Manager Nuno Espírito Santo has waved away this suggestion, saying that it’s just a case of one game at a time.
“It’s the international break, the players who go should enjoy and be with their national teams and play some good football,” he said.
“When they come back we’re working with other aspects of the squad, we go game-by game, no targets.”
Modesty, surely? Only the top three have conceded fewer goals than Wolves (although 11 sides have scored more).
Wolves are also seventh when looking at their expected goals -– which judges the quality of a team or player’s chances – as well.
The difference between the expected goals they’ve had and the expected goals they’ve conceded is also the seventh-best in the league. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that they’re as high up in the league as they are.
Things aren’t always as they seem
Things shift if you take out their match against Burnley, though.
Below is a graph showing how the difference between Wolves’ expected goals and expected goals conceded have looked after each game played. The big jump is the Burnley game, which Football Whispers model put at 3.81 expected goals vs 0.21 expected goals in favour of the Midlands team.
Apart from that, Wolves are pretty average.
Being a mid-table side ‘by the numbers’ would still be very good going for a newly promoted side, particularly considering the sides Wolves have faced so far.
Burnley aside, they’ve faced both Manchester clubs, as well as fellow Europa League chasers Everton and Leicester City, and other decent sides like Southampton and Crystal Palace. Performing as well as they have against these teams is something to be proud of.
The early signs are that Wolves could be good enough to deserve a top-half finish. If they get a few lucky breaks, or a prolonged hot streak, then maybe they really could challenge for seventh-place. But Espírito Santo is probably wise to be taking things one game at a time.