‘The Pack is Back.’
Wolves will return to the Premier League next season.
The Championship league leaders sealed a return to the English top flight without even playing yesterday, and added to their joy with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Birmingham at Molineux today.
“We’re going to to Man City, You’re going to Shrewsbury!” the home fans chanted as goals from Diogo Jota and Benik Afobe sealed a comfortable win.
There were euphoric scenes at full time as the players popped champagne on the pitch and hoisted manager Nuno Espírito Santo into the air.
Automatic promotion is Wolves’ award for a fantastic season in the Championship, and a draw at relegation-threatened Bolton Wanderers next Saturday will be enough to seal the title.
It has been six years since Wolves played in the Premier League, and the club have been to League One and back in the intervening period.
Champagne poppin’ 🍾
— EFL (@EFL) April 15, 2018
However, something special is happening at Molineux.
Wolves have attained 95 points to date, and two wins from their final three matches would see the league leaders surpass the 100 points mark.
They have led the chasing pack since November 18th, and have been lauded as one of the best Championship sides of recent years.
“They are the best team that has been in this division for a long time,” Derby boss Gary Rowett claimed on Wednesday.
“We changed formation about four times within the game because we just could not get close enough to them.”
Wolves have amassed more points than the club has ever achieved in a single season in England’s top two divisions.
Nuno Espírito Santo has done a wonderful job with the Birmingham club, and has improved the players already at the club as well as making some astute signings.
The 44 year old has brought stability to a club who have had six different managers in the last six years.
John Ruddy – brought in on a free transfer from Norwich – has been a reliable presence between the posts, and Wolves boast the second best defensive record in the Championship.
Wolves have kept 22 clean sheets, and Nuno’s successful implementation of his favoured 3-4-3 formation has been a large factor in their defensive solidity.
Conor Coady, who was once tipped for big things at Liverpool, has excelled after being converted into a centre back by the Portuguese boss, and is currently Wolves’ captain.
He has played alongside the impressive Willy Boly and Ryan Bennett in a back three, with Republic of Ireland right back Matt Doherty and Barry Douglas acting as wing backs.
Doherty has been superb as an attacking wing back – providing the assist for Jota’s opener today – and Douglas has registered an amazing 14 assists this season from the left flank.
Neves, signed from Porto in the summer, has been a revelation in midfield. The 21 year old holds the record for the youngest ever captain in the Champions League, and was brought to England in a Championship-record £15.8 million.
The Portuguese midfielder dictated games with his excellent range of passing, and has scored a league high six goals from outside the box, earning a nomination for the EFL’s Championship player of the year award.
Wolves have the best attacking stats in the division, and have plenty of options in the final third. Jota (on loan from Atletico Madrid), Bonatini (on loan from Al-Hilal), Helder Costa, and Ivan Cavaleiro are all capable of creating and converting chances, and Benik Afobe’s return has given Wolves an extra attacking dimension.
The league leaders must focus first and foremost on sealing the title over their remaining three games, but managing director Laurie Dalrymple is already looking ahead.
“It’s just one step on the long-term plan to take this club where we want to take it,” he claimed yesterday.
“As a managing group, we have to be in the Premier League and we’ve delivered that for now.”
Whether the Wolverhampton club can hold on to their star loanees could have a large influence on how well they are equipped for life in the unforgiving Premier League.
They have faced Manchester City already this season, forcing Pep Guardiola’s runaway league leaders to penalties after a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup.
Wolves’ relationship with super agent Jorge Mendes has raised eyebrows, but it appears that no rules or regulations have been broken.
This alliance allowed Wolves to sign exciting players such as Ruben Neves, Diego Jota, and Leo Bonatini last summer, and could prove important next summer if Mendes can help the club to lure similar quality to the midlands ahead of the Premier League season.
The club are owned by Chinese consortium Fosun International, and will likely have plenty to money to spend in the Premier League season, where they will be aiming to stay for some time.
Mick McCarthy guided the club to promotion in 2003, but was largely working off a shoe-string budget, making Premier League survival extremely difficult.
The purse strings are likely to be far looser this time around.
David is the editor of The Season Ticket.
He is a qualified journalist, and a long-suffering Meath and Liverpool supporter.