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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Wolves need to show more teeth in front of goal if they are to threaten Man City

The promoted club enjoyed more possession and shots than their first two opponents back in the Premier League, but only have a point to show for their efforts

On loan striker Raul Jimenez opened his Wolves account with a goal against Everton on the opening day of the season. Reuters
On loan striker Raul Jimenez opened his Wolves account with a goal against Everton on the opening day of the season. Reuters

After the aggressive push for promotion and the posturing, Wolverhampton Wanderers woke to the harsh realities of the Premier League.

In their two matches this season, they dominated the ball and offered more attempts at goal than their opponents, yet have a solitary point to show for it.

They opened with a 2-2 draw at home to Everton, requiring a late goal from Raul Jimenez. Although they twice came from behind, the visitors had played the majority of the match with 10 men. Wolves enjoyed 57 per cent of possession, while they had almost twice as many shots as Everton.

On Saturday, they lost 2-0 at Leicester City. There, they were thwarted by the woodwork, three times and twice with the game goalless. In between, Matt Doherty missed a sitter. Not long after, he did convert, although into his own net.

Again, Wolves enjoyed a numerical advantage, once Jamie Vardy was sent off midway through the second half. But once more they failed to make it count. Boasting 61 per cent of possession, and having 11 attempts to Leicester’s six, Wolves came away with nothing. The search for a first Premier League victory since 2012 sustains.

Nuno Esparto Santo, their Portuguese manager, recognised his side need to be more “ruthless and clinical”. “It’s disappointing," he said. "We started totally in control, creating chances. But we should score; we had chances. We have to work on that.”

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For Nuno and Wolves, it has been a rude introduction to the Premier League. However, there have been plenty of positives.

Wolves look far from a promoted team struggling to get to grips with England’s top flight. In Portuguese pair Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho, they possess classy compatriots, composed and capable of controlling matches. While Neves is the team’s creative fulcrum – against Everton he scored and assisted the other – and was Porto’s captain age 18, Moutinho is substantially more experienced, 10 years Neves’ senior and a midfielder of 113 international caps. Two years ago, he won the European Championship.

Yet for all the twin playmakers’ ability, and the heavy investment from Chinese owners Fosun, Wolves appear to lack a Premier League-grade goalscorer. Mexico international Jimenez arrived this summer on loan, but he was never prolific at Benfica and spent much of the past three season’s warming their bench.

Against Everton, he squandered a presentable chance to put Wolves 2-1 up. At Leicester, he was unlucky to strike a post. Nevertheless, Wolves will hope for a greater output. Meanwhile, Leo Bonatini managed only 12 goals in 43 Championship appearances before the step up this season.

Ruben Neves, in white, had plenty of possession but could not prevent a Wolves defeat against Leicester City. Reuters
Ruben Neves, in white, had plenty of possession but could not prevent a Wolves defeat against Leicester City. Reuters

Optimism, though, lies in the flair fostered by Neves and Moutinho, that it will continue to carve open opportunities, and in the unpredictable Adama Traore, who signed from Middlesbrough on the penultimate day of the transfer window for a club-record £18 million (Dh85.1m). On Saturday, he supplied a bright cameo. With Jimenez not yet reliable enough, a wildcard will be welcome.

This weekend, Wolves welcome to Molineux Manchester City. Dominating the ball against the rampant Premier League champions seems unlikely, so, with chances at a premium, the emphasis on capitalising will be even greater. With a midfield set up chiefly to construct, devising a way to strangle the invention and incision of David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva, or whichever of Pep Guardiola’s crack creators feature, offers another test of Wolves' Premier League pedigree.

Then again, this is exactly the fixture Fosun envisioned when funnelling their money into the club, or super-agent Jorge Mendes when mining his considerable contacts book. With the early kick off on Saturday, Wolves lead this round of England's premier division, hosting the current title-holders and most people’s favourites to again seal the trophy.

This is where they wanted to be. This is why they represent one of the best-equipped teams to have ever graduated from the Championship. Striking deficiencies or not, and they will have to be overcome should Nuno’s men deliver on their ambition of a top-half finish, City on Saturday confirms Wolves are back in the big time.

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