Let’s continue where we left off, shall we. One more club to surprise you, one more club to… flop you.
Many in the West Midlands are expecting a period close to that of their top flight successes in the 1970s and early 80s. In fact, 1972 and 1973 was the last time Wolves strung together successive top half finishes in the top flight. This will only be their seventh season in the top flight since the League Cup win in 1980.
Things are changing. Nuno Espirito Santo (and Jorge Mendes) ran amok in the Championship last season and Santo (and Mendes) is fully expectant of Premier League survival this season.
July 8th, 2017. Santo (Mendes) brings Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves into Wolves for a fee in excess of £15million. Since Wolves were relegated from the top flight in 2012 with a measly points total of 25, they yo-yo’d between tiers 2 and 3 before solidifying themselves as a mid-table Championship team. Then Paul Lambert left and Nuno Santo came in.
Headlines may go to Jorge Mendes and the Portuguese influx, with Ruben Neves being the centrepiece of this sudden rise back into the Premier League, but they have made solid additions of other nationalities. Yes you can point to Rui Patricio and Diogo Jota and Joao Moutinho and Ruben Vinagre this season and—okay fair enough, there’s a lot of Portuguese players here.
There’s seven of them currently on the books of the first team. But there has been the signings of Willy Boly in defence and Benik Afobe up front (yes, okay he then went immediately out on loan to Stoke).
In a transfer window that, probably in Jim White’s opinion, has been marred by the overlapping of that pesky FIFA World Cup, Wolves have blossomed. They have just one outfield player that is over the age of 30 and that is new signing Joao Moutinho who was bought in for an eye-watering £5million. Bargain.
They are top-heavy, of course, and maybe it’ll all end up like QPR’s explosive top flight demise or maybe they’ll be the entertainers of Blackpool—both ended in swift relegations.
But maybe the hype is to be believed. Maybe there is method to Santo’s (Mendes’) madness. They destroyed the Championship and only the likes of West Ham, Leicester and Everton outside the top 6 have longer relegation odds with the bookies. That leaves a predicted 10th place finish (as pooled together by Oddschecker) with 7/1 odds to be relegated.
Our ‘flop’ club has much shorter odds than that, and they’re in Europe.
In a league where so much transfer business is conducted, standing still in the transfer market is effectively going backwards. This has been a seminal pre-season for Burnley, it marks their first venture into Europe since 1967 with their Europa League qualification against Aberdeen.
But there hasn’t been a right lot of activity on East Lancashire. Youngsters and reserve players have gone with just players from the youth academy being brought in. Scott Arfield resembles the only major piece of business done at Turf Moor and that was a departure to Rangers on a free transfer.
Sean Dyche has complained in the shrunken down pre-season that his team is a little bit thin. It was thin last season when they were competing on three fronts. When you take into account that they were dumped out of both cups by the third round stage, Burnley played just 41 matches and just 19 players featured 10 or more times.
There is an over-abundance of players in the midfield with the likes of Defour, Gudmonsson, Brady, Cork, Hendrick, Westwood and Aaron Lennon but outside of that, the defence needs to be relieved occasionally in a gruelling Thursday-Sunday schedule.
The impressive defensive record of 39 goals conceded was the sixth best in the league and was Burnley’s best defensive record (per game) in the top flight since 1950 (40 conceded in 42). The emergence of Charlie Taylor last season will be much needed given the defensive core of James Tarkowski, Ben Mee and Kevin Long centrally.
Nick Pope and Tom Heaton will enjoy regular rotation due to Heaton’s return from injury. Should Jonathan Walters return from injury that will feel like a new signing and will leave five Premier League quality strikers with Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes expected to bang goals in. Sam Vokes and Nakhi Wells will take up more of a role in cup and European games.
It is clear to see that the European fulfilments will take pride of place at Turf Moor but they could come rue them should additions not be made in the transfer market.
It sounds silly for a club playing in Europe, but due to their overachievement last year, given the size of the club and the fact that Dyche’s process in transforming the infrastructure of Burnley has only just begun, Burnley should be happy with a bottom half finish.