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Wolves Are in Serious Danger of Losing Their Healthy Premier League Status

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Jimenez's absence could have lasting effects

Since gaining promotion in 2018, Wolverhampton Wanderers have taken the Premier League by storm. Back-to-back seventh-place finishes have threatened to break up the idea of the ‘Big Six’, with Wolves finishing above Arsenal last season.

This season, however, has been very different for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, as they currently sit in 14th, winning just once in their last 10 league games. With the talent that their squad possesses, the standards they have set themselves, this is far from the Wolves that we have become to know and their top talent may seek to leave the Midlands club if their form doesn’t turn around soon. The main issue for Wolves this season has been their inability to cope without their star striker, Raul Jimenez, and it has been a problem that has spread onto everybody else in the team.

The Mexican suffered a horrific fractured skull against Arsenal in November and Wolves have seen their form nosedive since. Fabio Silva had been signed from Porto for £35m as a replacement for Liverpool-bound Diogo Jota, but the 18-year-old would not have expected to be called upon so frequently by this stage of his Premier League career. The plan would have been for Silva to be slowly integrated into the side, with Jimenez approaching his 30th birthday. Since his injury, Wolves have managed just nine out of a possible 42 points – far below the high standards that they have set for themselves.

They have addressed their striking issue in January, with Willian Jose arriving on loan from Real Sociedad, but the 29-year-old has barely looked a threat in his four Premier League appearances so far, and it is clear right now he does not have the capabilities to match what Jimenez was doing.

The system change isn't working and the players aren't responding

This slippery slope that Wolves appear to be going down must be dealt with quickly, or they risk disaster. Players such as Ruben Neves, Pedro Neto, Adama Traore and Daniel Podence will all be attracting interest from other clubs, with the 20-year-old Neto especially looking like the brightest spark from a gloomy season at the Molineux. At the same time, the likes of Neves have been wanted by top clubs in Europe for many years and at 23, the Portuguese surely won't struggle to find himself at a Champions League club in the summer.

Wolves should, however, be safe from relegation this season as they are currently 12 points clear of the drop, but they will need to look at themselves in the summer and strengthen like never before. At times this season, they have looked lost without their focal point in attack and have even experimented with a new system and rather than hope this is a fix, they need strength in numbers and not just another Portuguese flag in the changing room.

Ever since taking charge of Wolves in 2017, Santo has persisted with his 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formations, but a loss of form has tempted the Portuguese manager to try a more advantageous 4-2-3-1. This has performed with mixed results, with many of their players more accustomed to a back three, perhaps most notably, Conor Coady. One of the staples of Wolves’ system has been the ability of Coady to sit in the middle of a back three and spray 40-yard passes to either wing.

In a back four, Coady does not have the same space and is more off centre, reducing his passing options significantly. Despite the service that the England international has offered Wolves over the years, and if Santo is serious about pursuing a back four, then he may have to reassess his centre back options in the summer and add another figure alongside the club captain in defence.

They must bulk up in the summer

For now, Wolves will be looking to take this season game-by-game. They are not in the hunt for the European places, as they are 12 points from safety and 12 points from the Europa League, but with the teams in the top half considerably better, it's clear where Wolves are heading this season and that's mid-table at best.

The upcoming summer transfer window will be huge for the club, both in keeping players on and signings some new ones themselves as they appear to have been struggling with an identity crisis at times this season with the loss of Jimenez. While it is good to have the option of switching between a back three and a back four, Wolves may need to bring in recruits this summer who are more well suited to a different system and can come in and confidently take the roles of the Mexican and others and make it their own, because right now, they are perhaps one more injury form disaster.

The return of Jimenez offers their fans something to look forward to, but the players on the pitch must improve, or risk spiralling out of control which could mean their star players finally look further up the table and at other options around Europe.

By Luke Feather