Leaving the best ’till last (sorry, I’m a Wolves fan and it’s going to be hard to be unbiased) it’s the Championship winners Wolves.
Wolves were dominant in the Championship last season, coming up with 99 points and the best xG both for and against (as per the @FinerMargins graph below). Their recruitment was incredible for a Championship side, with Jorge Mendes helping out of course, as they brought players like Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and Willy Boly to the Championship.
Don’t think I’ve ever tweeted any Championship stuff before, but since I’ll be watching the playoff final here’s how this season looks in terms of xG for and against.
— Ray Hamill (@FinerMargins) May 26, 2018
While these were the names that caught the headline Wolves also deserve some credit for their other signings. John Ruddy and Ryan Bennett were brought in on free’s from Norwich and played big parts in the campaign, with Bennett eventually making the right centre-back spot his own after new signing Roderick Miranda and captain Danny Batth underwhelmed there, while left-back Barry Douglas also provided great value for £1m – contributing 5 goals and 14 assists with his strong crossing and set piece taking.
Using a graph by @FinerMargins again you can also see the Wolves attackers also had good individual seasons. Despite the goals drying up in the second half of the season Leo Bonatini maintained a strong xG p90, Ivan Cavaleiro led the way in xA p90, while Helder Costa and Diogo Jota contributed both a strong xG and xA p90.
Because why not, here are the most productive attackers in the Championship this season.
— Ray Hamill (@FinerMargins) May 26, 2018
With lots of first team players being either younger than or within their peak years, huge change probably isn’t required in the summer window, rather just a handful of quality additions. Wolves had a dominant performance with many players who will continue to grow in the Premier League. The main problem for Wolves is that of the Championship curse – teams who have won the Championship have never repeated that success the following season.
I’m going to ignore the loan players that Wolves made permanent in the summer and instead just look at players who are new to the club.
Wolves brought in six new players that fit this criteria, starting at the back the, the first was Rui Patricio. While he was signed in controversial circumstances, given what happened at Sporting Lisbon, and Wolves may have to pay a fee later down the line, this is a good addition by Wolves. Ruddy did a fine job for Wolves in goal, but Patricio is a huge upgrade.
Unfortunately I don’t have detailed data on the Portuguese league so can’t look at how he performed compared to how he was expected to, but having been a consistent ‘keeper for both club and country over the years he’s a huge asset for Wolves to have.
Moving into defence saw the addition of Jonny on loan from Atletico Madrid, who signed him from Celta Vigo this summer. Jonny was deemed a defensive upgrade on Barry Douglas, although it’s not encouraging that Celta Vigo’s xG against last season was the 4th worst in La Liga. Of course, this isn’t down to him and Wolves were well drilled defensively last season which could benefit him. It’s also impressive that despite being 24-years-old he already has 15,129 minutes of La Liga football.
Jonny also has some strong attacking numbers from last season in La Liga, attempting the 10th most passes into the box p90 for defenders (2nd for those under 24-years-old, but it seems mostly because there’s not many) and the 13th most attempted take-ons of defenders in La Liga, but a fairly average xG + xA p90. This suggests he’s comfortable carrying the ball and being part of the build up, but is unlikely to get into positions to play the final ball himself.
The hope with Jonny is that the defensive improvement on Douglas outweighs the contribution the Scottish left-back made in the final third. It’ll also be interesting to see if Jonny will be made a permanent signing or whether he’ll be used on loan before getting 19-year-old Ruben Vinagre to take over.
Moving into midfield and Wolves made two ambitious signings. The first being 31-year-old Joao Moutinho from Monaco.
It has to be said that Moutinho doesn’t stand out statistically, his xG + xA p90 numbers don’t really stand out, though 0.157 p90 isn’t terrible for a deep-lying midfielder, he wasn’t hugely active off the ball and his ~3.5 attempted vertical passes p90 are around average (though Monaco didn’t play many vertical passes at all last season). With that being said, he’s a quality addition for Wolves and it seems the job he does just isn’t one that is represented well statistically.
For £5m on a two year deal it’s also good value for Wolves, they get an experienced midfielder to partner Ruben Neves and possibly one who can have the spot for a couple of seasons before youngster Morgan Gibbs-White is brought through to replace him.
The other midfielder to be brought in is 23-year-old Leander Dendoncker, initially on loan, from Anderlecht. I can’t say I’ve seen much of Dendoncker, but he seems to be highly rated and I imagine he’ll be occupying the right centre-back slot rather than playing in midfield – while also offering cover for midfield.
While Ryan Bennett had a good season, it is one area of the eleven that could be improved upon. Nuno played Romain Saiss there in the pre-season friendly against Villarreal but didn’t seem all too comfortable, leading to Bennett being brought on at half-time and eventually getting the nod for the season opener. Dendoncker should be an upgrade on both of them and at just 23-years-old is a great age.
Moving forward and the big signing was the £18m purchase of Adama Traore from Middlesbrough. Lots has been made of Traore’s dribbling, but it really is incredible. The below graph shows attempted take-ons and take-on completion rate for the 2016/17 season in which Middlesbrough were relegated.
The volume is great, but the volume combined with the completion rate is ridiculous – particularly when you take into account he was for a relegated side who didn’t look to dominate possession.
The big criticism was that he didn’t offer anything at the end of his dribbles.
This was certainly true in the Premier League, but last season he began to offer more of a threat, as can be seen in the graph at the top by @FinerMargins where he has a strong xA p90. Not to mention, he’s still only 22-years-old, it seems fairly common for young wingers to get into good areas but squander it with poor decision making.
If he can continue his progression he could be a great player due to how often he is able to get into great areas, while also being some kind of one man counter attack. For this reason a stupid part of me wants to see him play right-wing back for Wolves. He’d not only offer a great option for counter attacks running from deep but also to commit players if a team sits back. Wolves have good options in Cavaleiro, Costa and Jota for the front three, but have no cover for Matt Doherty at right wing-back. If Jonny is more defensive than Douglas, Wolves may be able to afford to be more attacking on the right. I doubt it will happen, as it’ll probably be too risky defensively, but it’d be a fun experiment to try.
The final signing from Wolves was Raul Jimenez on loan from Benfica. @TiagoEstv wrote about Jimenez in his Wolves preview for StatsBomb, stating that he has strong per 90 numbers, particularly for shots inside the box, but mostly because he often comes from the bench. From the very small amount I’ve seen of him he seems as though he’s a similar kind of striker to Leo Bonatini, but an upgraded version. He scored in the pre-season friendly against Villarreal from a Jota ball across the face of goal and scored a header against Leicester, as well as being put through on goal, so hopefully his strong box shot numbers can continue, while in the opener against Everton he also worked the channels well, holding up the ball and trying to bring others into play.
Wolves have left no room for sentimentally with their transfer dealing this summer.
Despite playing a big role in promotion Barry Douglas was deemed not good enough defensively and swiftly moved on to Leeds for a small £2m profit.
Then, in a strange transfer dealing, they signed Benik Afobe permanently with the clause in his loan only to sell him to Stoke for a small profit the following week. The only way this feels as though it can make sense is if they’re accumulating the Afobe money off all his dealings. So they signed him for £2m, sold him for £10m, signed him for £10m and finally sold him for £12m, so they’re up £10m overall – but it’s still weird. It seems as though it would have been more worthwhile to just not sign him back than do what they did.
Should they have done any more business?
The only area that wasn’t really addressed was a back-up option for right wing-back. They’ve addressed other areas they were either weaker or shorter in, but there’s still only Matt Doherty for the right wing-back role.
There’s also some outgoings of fringe players that could have been done, but these are training separately from other players and trying to be moved on, so they may have just not found the right suitors.
Wolves have had a good window, they’ve improved their squad with both younger options and some experience. These are not all new signings, but they have Jota, Costa, Cavaleiro, Traore, Neves, Vinagre, Dendoncker and Gibbs-White who are all 24-years-old or younger and have their best years ahead of them, while the more experienced options have been brought in for good fees and contract lengths.
The aim for Wolves seems to be to get in the top half and based on the talent they both have and have brought in, it’s certainly possible. Of course, lots of other clubs have strengthened well and there may be a Premier League teething period, but it is an exciting time to be a Wolves fan.
This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.