Why men in the middle are key to getting Wolves firing

There has been a great deal of focus, and rightfully so, on Wolves’ lack of goals so far this season.

Midfield maestro Ruben Neves has been trying to hit the target but his last top flight goal came against Villa more than a year ago (AMA)
Midfield maestro Ruben Neves has been trying to hit the target but his last top flight goal came against Villa more than a year ago (AMA)

Points-wise, it has been a decent start to 2020/21, with Nuno Espirito Santo’s side picking up 13 points from eight games.

The performances, though, have not been the most enthralling and eight goals from as many matches – only the bottom four sides of Fulham (seven), Albion (six), Burnley (three) and Sheffield United (four) coming up with fewer – is not what they wanted.

It begs the question, why are Wolves not scoring freely at the moment?

Well, you could certainly argue the midfielders should be doing more.

Looking at those who have netted so far, it is no surprise to see Raul Jimenez leading the way, with four goals.

Daniel Podence, Pedro Neto, Rayan Ait-Nouri and Romain Saiss have then managed one each.

And that means no midfielder has managed to open their account yet.

Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that none of Ruben Neves, Leander Dendoncker or Joao Moutinho have chipped in with an assist either.

It very much seems they are not doing enough.

Of course, you cannot only measure midfielders by the goals they score and set up, but we have not seen the best of either Neves or Moutinho recently.

Neves – averaging two shots per game and coming up with nine key passes in total – has at least been trying, but his last goal in the top flight came against Villa more than a year ago.

The Portuguese is on a 34-match Premier League barren run.

Moutinho’s goalless streak has gone on almost as long, too, as his last goal was a free-kick at Bournemouth on November 23 last year.

That means he has gone 33 games without scoring, and the fact he played no part in proceedings against Leicester last time out was significant as it was his first time not featuring in a league game since arriving from Monaco in the summer of 2018.

Joao Moutinho is on a barren run (AMA)

Dendoncker, in fairness, appears to have nailed down a starting spot and has impressed with energetic and efficient displays in the middle of the park.

But the Belgian will also be keen to improve on the goal front, having gone 11 without finding the net.

Delving a bit deeper, the midfield trio have only come up with two assists in 2020 – Moutinho in the 2-1 loss at Watford on New Year’s Day, and Neves in the 3-0 victory against Everton towards the end of last season.

Dendoncker, meanwhile, does not have a Premier League assist to his name after 64 games.

So, with summer signing Vitinha – on loan from Porto with an £18million option – being left out of squads as of late, the onus is on those players to step up amid a tough run of fixtures over the coming weeks. They have the quality to do so, too.

Moutinho, for example, has just become Portugal’s second most capped player, surpassing Luis Figo.

The many of moments of pure artistry from Neves – the cracker against Derby the prime example – have been highlights of the Fosun era.

Dendoncker has become a favourite among fans for his immense application as well.

Ultimately, though, the three of them definitely have to contribute more moving forward and ease the burden on Jimenez.

After all, Wolves have tightened up at the back since the horror show at West Ham, with Max Kilman coming into the back three and looking at home.

And despite the lack of goals, many would agree that Neto and Podence have been two of the top performers over the past several weeks – keeping Adama Traore out of the side.

Knowing what Neves and Moutinho, in particular, are capable of – those exquisite defence-splitting passes, spotting a run before it has even been made – it has been a frustrating period.

Hopefully, that delightful play returns and Wolves’ midfield starts to flex its muscles again, starting against Southampton at Molineux on Monday.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News