Wolves haven’t played in the European Cup since 1959 but their recent form gives them a chance to return after more than 60 years away.
And all without Raul Jimenez, who missed the game with a calf injury. Events at Brentford Community Stadium that had little to do with football may have stolen the headlines from the clash between Brentford and Wolverhampton Wanderersbut that seems entirely appropriate for a team whose rise to prominence for a Champions League spot next year has largely slipped under the radar.
There are four points between Manchester United in fourth place and Wolves in eighth place, but of the five clubs who could still consider themselves in a position to challenge for a Champions League place, Wolves are at their best. form. They have won four of their last five games and scored five goals in their last two hints that manager Bruno Lage could finally win the biggest fight.
For much of the first half of this season, Wolves’ biggest problem has been scoring goals. Defensively, they were tight. The 16 goals they conceded in the league remain the second lowest in the division behind Manchester City. But even now Wolves have scored just 19 Premier League goals, just one a game, and one of the most curious statistics in the Premier League this season is that, in the six weeks from November 20 to January 3, a Wolves fan goes to all eight of their Premier League matches have seen no more than one goal per game.
That’s not to say it was a “bad run”. Wolves have played eight Premier League games during this period, a fixture streak which contained five games against teams above them in the table, including away wins over Manchester United and Brighton, a win at home to West Ham, a goalless draw at home to Chelsea and narrow defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool. It certainly hasn’t been an “easy” dating series.
But at the same time, the lack of goals was something of a concern. In two successive matches at the very end of November, Wolves faced Norwich City and Burnley, and they could only claim two scoreless draws against two of the division’s weaker sides. Had they won those two games by a goal each, they would now be fifth in the Premier League, level on points with Manchester United and with games fewer on the teams above them. Had they won each of those games 2-0, they would be above United on goal difference and seven points behind third-placed Chelsea, but three games behind them too.
Their next league matches may well define just how disruptive they can be to this particular apple basket. On their return from the international break, Wolves face Arsenal, Spurs, Leicester and West Ham in successive fixtures, and continuing their recent form would bolster belief that they could push this through to the end of the season. As such, the upcoming break could even be seen as a kind of interruption of a rhythm that has developed well over the past two months. It’s a tough series of matches, but qualifying for the Champions League is one of the toughest tests a club can face. If Wolves want to be in contention for a place, these are the kinds of games where they need to get results,
This is not guaranteed in simple navigation. Jimenez’s injury adds to a growing list as the stresses and strains of the schedule begin to catch up with the team. Wolves currently also have Willy Boly, Jonny Castro Otto, Yerson Mosquera, Pedro Neto and Hwang Hee-chan all on the injured list, and although Jiminez’s absence from the squad for the Brentford game was described by Bruno Lage as ‘cautious’ Wolves can ill afford too many more injuries, especially not when it looks as likely as not that winger Adama Traore will leave for Spurs before the end of the January transfer window.
Should Wolves return to the Champions League, it would be their first appearance in the competition since the 1959/60 season, when they were beaten in the quarter-finals by Barcelona. But this particular club has a very special bond with this competition.
In the 1953/54 season, the England national team suffered two punishing defeats at the hands of Hungary which would finally extinguish the last remaining vestiges of the idea that the English were somehow the masters of world football. But despite all the acceptance that that illusion had been undone by a 6-3 loss at Wembley in October 1953 and a 7-1 thrashing at Budapest six months later, there was still a desire to redress that somewhat. When Hungarian club Honved embarked on a European tour at the end of 1954, Molineux was one of their stops and the match – or at least the second half of it – was picked up for live television coverage. by the BBC, at a time when there was almost no televised football. Honved took a two-goal lead into the opening 15 minutes, but Wolves fought back to win 3-2, and post-match excitement soon led to them being crowned “unofficial world champions” in the hurry.
One unimpressed observer was Gabriel Hanot, editor of the French newspaper L’Equipe. After the match he wrote: “Before declaring Wolverhampton invincible let them go to Moscow and Budapest. And there are other internationally renowned clubs: Milan and Real Madrid to name but two. A world club championship, or at least a European one – bigger, more meaningful and more prestigious than the Mitropa Cup and more original than a competition for national teams – should be launched. After a trip to South America to see the Copa Sudamericana played, the idea of a pan-European competition was presented at a UEFA conference in March 1955 and the European Cup began at the start of the following season. .
It may be over 60 years since they last played in Europe’s premier club competition, but Wolves have an opportunity this season if the clubs just above them in the table continue to lose points, and there’s little to suggest that won’t be the case. happen. They have a slim squad and have used fewer players than any other Premier League club, and Traore’s departure would be a clear success, but the club are heading into the international break still in the FA Cup and looking for a place in a competition. they helped create.
Brentford Community Stadium’s aerial drones couldn’t deter Wolves from beating Brentford. Hard to break down and with goals just starting to sink in, they now look like real contenders. Don’t tell anyone, because flying under that radar seems to suit them just fine.