Wolverhampton Wanderers 2023/24 Premier League Season Preview | The Hard Tackle

Wolverhampton Wanderers will hope that the post-Julen Lopetegui era will bring them reasons to cheer following an uninspiring summer transfer window.

Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers have become the first club to sack a manager this season, even before a ball was kicked as Julen Lopetegui vacated his position at the Molineux on Tuesday.

The Spaniard’s exit was on the cards for a while. But it happening so close to their opener against Manchester United leaves the club in a very precarious position. The new manager will not just need to get the ball rolling soon but also get points on the board to not get sucked into the relegation dogfight.

Gary O’Neil has since been brought in and the former Bournemouth boss will need to work his magic once again while being put in a difficult situation. He did well to take over mid-season from Scott Parker last season, eventually helping the Cherries retain their top flight status. More of the same will be a welcome sight at the Molineux.

One can argue that O’Neil lacks the tactical nous of Lopetegui and is an inferior manager. But he should relish the new challenge and should not be found lacking fire in his belly. In many ways, expectations from the Molineux side are so low that it could ease the pressure on O’Neil and the players, giving them the opportunity to play with more freedom.

Wolves still have a decent side and have three weeks to bring in fresh faces. Having fought relegation for a large portion of the 2022/23 campaign, the onus will be on them to put early points on the board.ย 

The Prelude

Wolves have now spent five full seasons in the Premier League but boast of an impotent frontline that has failed to score more than a goal a game since the 2019/20 campaign. They had the most clean sheets of any side in the bottom half last season, offering some sort of comfort for a side that now needs inspiration.

Julen Lopetegui’s arrival last season was a ray of sunshine for a club whose investment has hit rock bottom this summer. The Spaniard has arguably done the club a favour by moving on rather than try to adapt to the club’s situation that he isn’t convinced by.

Gary O’Neil’s commitment to the cause cannot be faulted but his ability as a manager will be severely tested, starting with the season opener against Manchester United. Erik ten Hag’s side have strengthened in the summer and will have settled in better into his methods, giving the pack something to be concerned about.

While the club’s first XI have what it takes to finish mid-table, the lack of strength in depth is truly a concern. With investment non-existent this summer, another relegation battle appears to be on the cards. The onus will be on O’Neil to inculcate a fighting spirit that can give his side the edge when it comes to pitched battles against sides around them.ย Rekindling belief and hope will be key for the new boss and the quicker he can engineer favourable results, the better.

Squad Update

It has been a dismal summer transfer window at the Molineux, with the departures garnering more attention than reinforcements. Midfield lynchpin Ruben Neves left for the riches of the Saudi Arabian league, while Nathan Collins, Conor Coady and Raul Jimenez have also moved to Brentford, Leicester City and Fulham, respectively.

The loss of Diego Costa, Adama Traore and Joao Moutinho on free transfers is another blow, impacting the squad’s experience and leadership depth.ย ย 

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2023/24 Premier League Season Preview.
Ruben Neves left Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers this summer. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

This has resulted in little reinvestment, however, as only former Wolves ace Matt Doherty has arrived at the club on a free transfer. The Irishman left the Molineux as a dynamic full-back. But one can argue that the veteran’s best days are behind him.

Matheus Cunha and Boubacar Traore have also made their stints at the Molineux permanent following loan spells last season. Neither player particularly stood out and cannot be termed as difference-making additions to the roster.ย There is a little over three weeks left this summer before the summer window slams shut. As things stand, it appears unlikely that O’Neil will be backed with reinforcements.

Key Fixtures

Kicking off the season against Manchester United at Old Trafford will not be easy. But it should give us a clear idea of Wolves’ prospects next season. Given the negativity at the club right now, Gary O’Neil can potentially rally his troops and spring a surprise at the Theatre of Dreams. Anything apart from a loss on opening night should give the pack some momentum to work with.

The task does not get any easier with Brighton visiting the Molineux the following week. The trip to Goodison Park on the 26th gives them a good chance to put points on the board. Liverpool and Manchester City await in September but clashes against Crystal Palace and Luton Town should prove to be an opportunity to secure points.

December, in particular, will be key with games against Everton, Nottingham Forest, Burnley, West Ham United coming up. Clashes against Arsenal, Chelsea and Brentford will be tougher. But any points garnered from the trio of games could help boost confidence and momentum.

April will be another key month with clashes against Burnley, West Ham United, Nottingham Forest and Luton Town all in the schedule.ย  With trips to the Etihad and Anfield awaiting on matchdays 36 and 38, securing maximum points in April could decide Wolves’s Premier League status.

Wolves should aim to get the maximum points for games against Everton, Burnley, Forest, Sheffield United, Luton Town, Bournemouth and West Ham United. At the very least, it should keep them out of trouble in terms of the relegation battle.

Key Players

Matheus Nunes

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With Ruben Neves now gone, Nunes will become the club’s lynchpin in the middle of the park. Alongside Mario Lemina, the 24-year-old will be tasked with holding the fort in the midfield, helping Wolves secure a foothold in games.

An able dribbler and passer, the Portuguese international is arguably Wolves’ most important player and their driving force on the field. His ability to progress the ball will be key given the club’s lack of inspiration going forward. With Liverpool linked with a late summer move, it remains to be seen if Wolves will retain him come September.

Pablo Sarabia

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2023/24 Premier League Season Preview.
Pablo Sarabia to reingite the Wolverhampton Wanderers attack? (Photo by Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)

The Spanish international arrived from PSG last January but did not quite set the ball rolling in the Premier League. With Diego Costa and Raul Jimenez both gone, Sarabia will need to take stock as the senior attacker and rally the troops.

The attack has failed to average more than a goal for three seasons now and with no new players to account for, the veterans will need to step up. Sarabia proved himself to be a capable player in Ligue 1 and translating the same form in a Wolves jersey will help take the heat off O’Neil.

Season Expectations

While finishing mid-table will be the aim, Wolves will be glad to stave off relegation come May. Given their difficult set of closing fixtures, a strong start is needed with points on the board a priority heading into the final two months of the campaign.

The lack of reinforcements coupled with several high-profile exits has impacted both morale and momentum at the Molineux. Lopetegui’s departure has done little to inspire confidence, leaving the jury out on O’Neil. The time is nigh for the manager, players and fans to rally together and turn the adversity into opportunity.ย 

Wolves have enough about them to beat the drop and The Hard Tackle they will do just that, barely. A 17th placed finish appears to be on the cards for the Molineux side next season.ย 

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