Liam Keen comment: Wolves take big strides under Julen Lopetegui but old troubles still exist
Wolves’ loss to Manchester City highlighted the ongoing problems facing Julen Lopetegui.
The new head coach has made progress with this team in a short space of time, made good January additions and has restored some hope among the Molineux faithful.
But, on Sunday, some issues reared their ugly heads again and Wolves are in need of solutions.
If recent games were anything to go by, a mix-up at the back was always in the offing.
By attempting to play out from defence Wolves have had some close calls of late and it always felt that a major mistake was on the way.
Against City, Jose Sa’s poor attempted pass into midfield was intercepted by Riyad Mahrez and Erling Haaland helped himself to a hat-trick.
Sa has been erratic of late and given his defence little reason to be confident. Last season’s player of the year, who deservedly won the award for a superb campaign, is currently struggling.
As reported in December, Wolves would be keen to bring in more competition for Sa this month if possible, but it would rely on getting Matija Sarkic a move elsewhere.
Bristol City skipper Daniel Bentley remains a genuine target and he could still come in before the end of the window.
Sa would benefit from some competition and Wolves are eager to provide it – a key mission they have worked on for the whole squad in recent weeks.
With just 12 goals in 20 Premier League games, Wolves are easily the lowest scorers in the top flight – three less than closest club Everton.
Against City, Wolves hardly looked likely to find the back of the net. In some ways that is a reflection of the opposition and Wolves’ counter-attack game plan, but the bigger picture shows Wolves simply do not threaten.
The last time a Wolves striker scored in the Premier League? Raul Jimenez’s strike against Watford on March 10 last year. That means the club are closing in on a whole year without a striker scoring in the league.
That statistic says it all and against City, Jimenez, Adama Traore and Hwang Hee-chan all failed to deliver.
Daniel Podence was far more dangerous when he came on, while Matheus Cunha and Pablo Sarabia at least gave Wolves more shape and conviction.
Wolves also do not create enough chances for their strikers or wingers, but the goalscoring statistic is still very poor.
A new striker this month is unlikely, as it would likely require someone to move on, meaning the hope remains with players such as Podence and Sarabia to create.
Cunha arrived in a big money deal and has looked bright. The jury is out on whether he is a number nine or not, but Wolves currently see him as the big hope to find the goals needed to survive.
Crucial February fixtures
It is easy to say after a defeat, but losing to the reigning champions will not define Wolves’ season.
Instead, February’s schedule could be crucial to the club’s hopes.
Liverpool arrive first on February 4 and while they are certainly not an easy prospect, these days it is a game Wolves should aim to take some points from – particularly when you take into account how Wolves’ second team should have won in the FA Cup at Anfield.
After that, a trip to Southampton and a home clash with Bournemouth await, and these two fixtures against relegation rivals are incredibly important.
It is games like these that define seasons, in Wolves’ league position. We could look back on these two games as a turning point, either positively or negatively.
To end February, Wolves make a Friday evening trip to Fulham. The newly-promoted side are enjoying a stellar season in seventh, but Wolves are certainly capable of getting a result.
These four games will go a long way to Wolves achieving their ultimate aim of staying in the Premier League.
Even if you extend the telescope to March and early April, home games with Spurs and Leeds and visits to Newcastle and Nottingham Forest, are all games where Wolves can take points.
The next two months will be very telling as Wolves look to avoid the disaster of relegation.