We begin our in-depth coverage of the newly promoted teams with analysis of EFL Championship winners Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Wolves dominated the division from an early stage, having reached the Championship summit for the first time in mid-October. They remained there for the entirety of the season, except for one round of fixtures later that month.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side sealed promotion with four matches to spare, following third-placed Fulham’s 1-1 draw with Brentford, and were crowned champions two games later after a 4-0 win over Bolton Wanderers.
Next season will be Wolves’ fifth in the Premier League and their first since the 2011/12 campaign when they were relegated under Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor’s stewardship.
CS = Clean sheets
Wolves boasted the best home and away records in the Championship. Only Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest came away from Molineux with three points in 2017/18, while Santo’s troops were defeated on just five occasions on their travels.
A total of 47 goals at home – scored at a rate of 2.04 per game – was a league-high, while their tally of 35 away goals was bettered only by Fulham (39).
Along with runners-up Cardiff, Wolves had the tightest defensive record (39 goals conceded in 46 games) in last term’s Championship. An impressive total of 24 clean sheets (12 at home, 12 away) was also top for the division, with John Ruddy between the sticks for all of those shutouts.
Wolves were the only second-tier side to concede less than a goal a game away from home (21 goals in 23 games), though their home defensive record was only the Championship’s fourth best.
Over a quarter (21) of their 82 goals came from set-pieces, a league-high they shared with Cardiff, with a further five goals coming from the penalty spot.
A goalkeeper in his playing days, Santo began his managerial career in 2012 with a two-year stint at Rio Ave. Having led the Portuguese side to two domestic cup finals and UEFA Europa League qualification (their first participation in European club football), he departed for a 16-month spell in charge of Valencia.
Leading Los Che to a fourth-place finish in his first season in charge at the Mestalla, Santo resigned as Valencia’s head coach in November 2015 after a poor start on both the domestic and European fronts. A trophy-less season as Porto manager then preceded his appointment as Wolves head coach, with the Portuguese giants finishing runners-up to Benfica in Primeira Liga and bowing out of both domestic cup competitions at an early stage.
Santo has resolutely stuck with his favoured 3-4-3 formation since taking charge of Wolves in May 2017 and has intimated that he intends to continue with his tried-and-tested philosophy when the club makes the step up to the Premier League next season.
In terms of playing style, the Wolves manager likes his wing-backs to play high up the field, putting pressure on the opposition wide men.
The Midlands outfit are comfortable playing out from the back and keeping possession, which looks promising for their three centre-halves when it comes to earning points in the Bonus Points System (BPS) for passing.
The distribution of deep-lying playmaker Ruben Neves and centre-half Conor Coady are key weapons, as both can switch play quickly. Indeed, they were ranked first and third for successful long balls in last season’s Championship.
The Promoted Squad
With an average age of just under 25 years, Wolves’ Championship-winning squad was one of the division’s youngest – only Barnsley and Brentford had a more youthful set-up in the English second tier this season.
Fifteen players made more than ten league starts under Santo, four of whom were loan signings at the beginning of 2017/18.
A spine of John Ruddy, Willy Boly, Coady, Roman Saiss, Neves and Diogo Jota all made at least 36 starts, as did wing-backs Barry Douglas and Matt Doherty.
John Ruddy (45 starts, 24 clean sheets)
Signed on a free following his release from Norwich City last summer, Ruddy was an ever-present until the final game of the season, when youngster Will Norris was given a run-out in the 3-0 defeat at Sunderland.
Ruddy made a total of 100 saves and 358 recoveries in his 45 appearances, and a modest saves-per-game average (2.2) reflects Wolves’ title-winning status and defensive solidity – indeed, Manchester City’s Ederson has an identical record this season. Ruddy will, of course, be expected to rack up more saves, and thus save points, next term. In his last season as a Premier League goalkeeper for Norwich in 2015/16, Ruddy recorded 69 saves in 27 appearances at a rate of 2.6 per games.
It remains to be seen whether he will still be Wolves’ number one, however, with Santo likely to add a new goalkeeper to his squad over the summer. With 118 top-flight appearances to Ruddy’s name, though, no current team-mate has more Premier League experience.
Willy Boly (36 starts, 3 goals, 2 assists)
One of a raft of signings from Portugal last summer, Boly was initially brought in on loan from Porto but is expected to make his move to Molineux permanent ahead of the new season.
The French centre-half was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year, and the underlying statistics highlight his potential appeal to Fantasy managers. In 36 appearances, Boly made 279 Clearances, Blocks and Interceptions (CBI), some 43 more than fellow centre-half Conor Coady, despite playing nine games fewer.
At a rate of 11.5 minutes per CBI, Boly is not quite in the same bracket as Shane Duffy – who leads the way this season with a CBI every 7.6 minutes – but can surely expect his defensive workload and BPS prospects to increase exponentially in 2018/19.
An average of 61.2 passes was substantially more than any other Wolves defender, with 83% of those finding their target. Boly also chipped in with three goals – all headers – and two assists to underline his attacking threat from set-piece situations.
Conor Coady (45 starts, 1 goal, 2 assists)
Like Ruddy, the midfielder-turned-sweeper played in all but one of his team’s league matches this season and made twice as many blocks (32) as any team-mate.
Coady’s pass completion rate of 90.3% was also a club-high among regular starters, with an average of 45 passes per appearance looking good for passing points in the BPS, at least.
But his attacking threat appears to be minimal, however. After three goalless years at the club, Coady finally scored his first goal for Wolves after being handed the chance to take a penalty in the title-clinching match at Bolton. That converted spot-kick was, in fact, his only attempt on goal in the entire season.
Ryan Bennett (27 starts, 2 substitute appearances, 1 goal, 1 assist)
Another former Norwich player with considerable Premier League experience (61 top-flight appearances for the Canaries across four seasons), Bennett’s centre-back position is almost certainly most at threat should Wolves bolster their defensive ranks over the next three months.
Like Ruddy, Bennett was an astute capture by Santo – his first as Wolves manager – on a free transfer last summer and has largely been the favoured option alongside Boly and Coady in a back three.
Neither leading the way in the CBI stakes nor a credible threat in attack, his appeal from a Fantasy perspective would seem to be limited, particularly with a rotation risk status that will likely increase with expected investment in defence.
Danny Batth (15 starts, 1 substitute appearance, 1 goal)
Club captain and nine-year servant, Batth’s Wolves career may be approaching its twilight. Starting less than a third of Wolves’ matches in 2017/18, Batth drew particularly strong criticism for his performance in a 4-1 hiding at Villa Park in March.
The underlying statistics fail to reflect the supporters’ lack of confidence in the long-serving stopper, however, with Batth’s rate of a CBI every 10.7 minutes better than the three centre-backs ahead of him in the pecking order. Batth’s 4.1 aerials duels won per match is also a figure only matched Boly.
Roderick Miranda (16 starts, 1 substitute appearance)
Despite penning a four-year deal when signing from Rio Ave in July 2017, Miranda struggled to adapt to playing in a back three and is surely on borrowed time at Molineux. Reported to be seeking a return to Portugal due to a lack of starts this season, the centre-back will likely depart the West Midlands over the summer.
Barry Douglas (38 starts, 1 substitute appearance, 5 goals, 14 assists)
The wing-back appears to be one of the most exciting prospects for Fantasy managers. Douglas made his Scotland debut in March as a substitute for Andrew Robertson, and the parallels between the attacking, left-sided defenders are manifold.
A key figure on corner kicks, his delivery is key to their set-piece threat. A total of 14 assists was a league-high (shared with Robert Snodgrass), while 72 chances created was better than any team-mate. With five goals from 28 attempts, he looks an intriguing prospect, particularly if – as expected – he’s listed as an FPL defender.
Matt Doherty (45 starts, 4 goals, 4 assists)
Patrolling the opposite flank to Douglas, Doherty is not quite the creative outlet that his fellow wing-back has proven to be. A total of 45 chances created in as many fixtures is someway short of Douglas’ haul, as is his 23 attempts on goal.
Missing only one match all season, Doherty’s permanency was in as much part thanks to the lack of competition for places on the right flank as it was his admirable form. His position will, therefore, be one that Santo is looking to reinforce this summer.
Romain Saiss (37 starts, 5 substitute appearances, 4 goals)
A tenacious midfield enforcer who allows his central midfield partner Ruben Neves license to roam, the Moroccan international’s Fantasy appeal will be limited next season.
With Wolves likely to invest heavily over the coming three months, Saiss may be another of the Championship-winning regulars who sees his minutes restricted, too.
Four goals matched his best tally for a season, though the France-born midfield spoiler also racked up 11 yellow cards.
Ruben Neves (42 starts, 6 goals, 1 assist)
A superb debut season for the £15.8m capture from Porto led to much acclaim, several accolades and a call-up to Portugal’s 35-man provisional World Cup squad.
Speculation persists on whether Wolves will be able to retain his services, with Liverpool said to be circling, but the noises have been positive from both player and manager over his willingness to stay at the club.
Despite Neves’ undoubted talent, the underlying statistics from a Fantasy perspective are a little underwhelming.
A total of 37 chances created (at a rate of one every 97.8 minutes) was only sixth best across the Wolves squad and just six more than his defensive-minded midfield partner Saiss.
For a player of his calibre, one assist all season is remarkably low and suggests that Neves’ “quarterback” role – similar to Jonjo Shelvey at Newcastle – means he’s more likely to assist the assister.
While a total of 93 shots (at a rate of one every 38.9 minutes) was second only to that of Diogo Jota (120), only three of those efforts were from inside the box.
A 6.4% goal conversion rate highlights that he is a scorer of great goals – all six of his strikes came from outside the box this season – rather than a great scorer of goals.
Neves’ fondness for a tackle (his total of 96 was a club-high) also meant he was the recipient of more cards (11 cautions and one dismissal) than any other Wolves player last season.
Alfred N’Diaye (13 starts, 20 substitute appearances, 3 goals, 2 assists)
A deadline day signing from Villarreal last year, defensive midfielder N’Diaye is keen to make the move to Molineux permanent this summer. Used predominantly as a substitute by Santo, the Senegalese international will likely be a sub-£5.0m Fantasy asset next year if he does indeed put pen to paper on a long-term deal.
Helder Costa (21 starts, 15 substitute appearances, 5 goals, 6 assists)
Having missed the start of the season following ankle surgery, Costa’s second season at Molineux has not quite ignited in the same way as his first, when he was crowned Wolves’ Player of the Year.
The Portuguese winger ranked behind all other Wolves forwards in shots per minute (one every 41.7 minutes). Creating a chance every 48.7 minutes, Costa only trails teammates Ivan Cavaleiro (39) and Barry Douglas (47.1).
A full pre-season under Santo could prove to be crucial in recapturing that debut season form.
Ivan Cavaleiro (31 starts, 11 substitute appearances, 9 goals, 12 assists)
Yet another signing of Portuguese stock, Cavaleiro is chiefly a winger but can play across the front three including as a false nine.
Creator of 66 goal-scoring opportunities and 12 assists, the former Monaco forward laid on a chance every 39 minutes – a better average than any of his club colleagues. To put that in some context, though, Mesut Ozil and Cesc Fabregas created a chance every 26 minutes in 2017/18.
He also fired a respectable nine goals, but it remains to be seen whether he can retain a starting berth by the time Wolves have finished their dealings in the summer transfer window.
Diogo Jota (43 starts, 1 substitute appearance, 17 goals, 5 assists)
The 21-year-old is one loan signing who will definitely be making his switch to Wolverhampton permanent, arriving on a deal from Atletico Madrid this July 1.
Last season’s chief goal-getter, Jota finished fifth in the Championship top scorers list. An attacking midfielder who plays mainly on the left of a front three, rather than an out-and-out striker, his total of 120 goal attempts was unsurpassed by any other Wolves player, as was his shots-per-minute average of 30.3.
Likely to be listed as a midfielder, the former Atletico Madrid may well be the go-to option in their attack if he comes in around the 6.0-mark.
Leo Bonatini (29 starts, 14 substitute appearance, 12 goals, 5 assists)
Wolves’ second-highest goalscorer, the on-loan Al-Hilal forward had a season of two contrasting halves. After registering his 12th league goal of 2017/18 in a 1-0 win over Birmingham in early December, Bonatini endured a five-month barren spell without a goal.
While it looked likely that the Brazilian would make his move to Molineux permanent earlier in the season, question marks remain over whether Wolves will exercise the option to buy Bonatini for a price of around £4.4m, given his dearth of goals in 2018.
Even if he did make the move across from Saudi Arabia, it is doubtful whether he would be Wolves’ sole striking acquisition this summer. Nevertheless, Bonatini’s shots-per-minute ratio of 31.4 compared favourably with the Championship’s best, including Jota (30.3).
The Potential Targets
Portuguese starlets, clients of Jorge Mendes and out-of-favour Premier League players: this summer is set to be a busy one in the West Midlands, as Wolves flex their financial muscle to compete at top-flight level.
Jack Butland and Sporting CP goalkeeper Rui Patricio have both been heavily linked with a move to Molineux, with either of their signatures expected to cost more than £30m. Butland recorded more saves (144) than any other Premier League goalkeeper this season and, similarly, no other shot-stopper bettered his average of 5.1 minutes per baseline BPS.
Manchester United defender Victor Lindelof is also a reported target with Mendes’ ties to Jose Mourinho a key component in that possible transfer. Lindelof only made 13 starts for United this season following his £31m move from Benfica.
Rumours of a move for AC Milan forward Andre Silva are resurfacing again following Wolves’ reported approach in January. Silva has scored only two Serie A goals this season, after a breakthrough year at Porto in 2016/17 in which he registered 16 goals in 32 league appearances.
Ahmed Musa is a leftfield name linked with a move to Wanderers, with the Nigerian international deemed surplus to requirement at Leicester City. Musa has six goals in ten games since returning to CSKA Moscow on loan in January.
Talk of a move for Jack Wilshere appears to be subsiding, though a possible move for attacking midfielder Talisca, on-loan at Besiktas from Benfica, is said to be in the offing.
Rio Ave midfielder Pele is rumoured to be close to signing, with reports in the Portuguese press stating that a £9m deal has been agreed between the two clubs. The Guinea-Bissau international scored seven goals in 31 Primeira Liga appearances last season.