Pre-season, I wrote that Wolves fans don’t really know what to expect this season; a new manager in Ståle Solbakken had already arrived, swiftly followed by a number of changes to the playing staff.
While the general feeling around England appears to be that Wolves did well out of the transfer dealings, with over £23 million brought in for the likes of Steven Fletcher, Matt Jarvis, Adlene Guedioura and Michael Kightly. Yet, despite Steve Morgan’s promise of a ‘treasure chest’, a relatively small amount of £9 million has subsequently been spent. In addition, with every match Fletcher plays for Sunderland, he appears to be more and more of a bargain for the Black Cats. I’ve long argued that he was undervalued, and was very disappointed we didn’t hold out for at least an equivalent fee to the one paid by Tottenham Hotspur to the newly relegated Charlton Athletic for Darren Bent.
But, enough about players who have left; eight players joined the club in the summer, and are taking various amounts of time settling in. The undoubted start so far has been the Malian international Tongo Doumbia. A powerful box to box midfielder whose long legs eat up the pitch, it is disappointing he is only on a season long loan; if he continues with these levels of performances, he will surely have Premier League suitors come next summer. A partnership with Karl Henry could be the platform for the rest of the season.
The rest of the new boys have not settled quite so quickly, with Bakary Sako probably the pick with two goals and two assists in his first three games, from left wing. On the other flank is Polish international Słavomir Peszko, who may not have the explosive pace of Sako or other new winger Razak Boukari, but links up cleverly with Kevin Doyle and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake upfront, who appear to re-finding their feet in the Championship.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect in terms of signing players has been the lack of defensive signings. Solbakken claimed to have seen all 38 Premier League games last season, covering a grand total of 82 goals conceded and just four clean sheets. Yet despite this, just £500,000 has been spent on one defender, Georg Margreitter, whose better half is Austrian tennis player, the world number 35 Tamira Paszek but has played just one League Cup so far. With a defence that is used to conceding goals, it is of no surprise that Carl Ikeme is yet to keep a clean sheet, even if the big Nigerian goalkeeper and rejuvenated Roger Johnson have arguably been the pick of the players so far this season.
The attitude of the players is still important – the players are used to losing, having lost 23 matches last season. In fact, if there’s a stat needed to indicate exactly the problem Solbakken is faced with, it’s that the 3-1 home win against Barnsley on August 21st was the club’s first home win of 2012. Our previous home win (and this includes cup games and friendlies) was on the 4th December against Sunderland, meaning a grand total of 261 days passed without a home win. It is not just a change in personnel that Solbakken has presided over, he needs to change the players heads, and get them believing that games can be won again.
So, has Solbakken made any changes tactically? He is not doing anything overly special, generally favouring a standard 4-4-2 formation with two wingers and two battling central midfielders. The big problem that there has been so far is the integration of the new signings into the squad. Most games have seen three new signings played across the midfield and with two of them not speaking English they are still finding their way in a new league.
Overall, I’ve been reasonably impressed with Ståle Solbakken, who has shown his ruthless side with the recent termination of Terry Connor’s contract. All of his new signings have impressed in bursts, and there is general excitement around the club. But, we have six games to be played in the next 20 days; if we come through that and are still in the top half, many fans will be happy. But, Wolves fans are notoriously fickle, and a few defeats in this period could see the Norwegian under pressure.
Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger
Tom tweets at @toomb306