This season at Molineux has been all about rebirth.
Having seemingly struck a glass ceiling at the end of last term, Nuno Santo has taken Wolves in a different direction this year as they continue to try and disrupt the Premier League’s established order.
New blood has come in at the expense of old faces, players once considered crucial have been rotated and there’s even been a daring switch to a back four - a first for Nuno Santo since arriving in the Midlands.
The process has not been without its teething pains, but as Wolves showed with a 2-1 win against Arsenal on Sunday, it’s bearing fruit too.
And perhaps the biggest benefactor of the transition has been Pedro Neto, whose exceptional form this season has largely slipped under the radar outside of Wolves circles. It’s almost as though the rest of the world aren’t aware the Portuguese prodigy is just 20 years of age.
While attacking accomplice Daniel Podence has offered plenty to write home about as well, Neto is surely Wolves’ most improved player of the season after serving as a bit-part member of the squad for much of 2019/20.
He’s already earned as many Premier League starts as during his debut campaign at Molineux, but far more impressive than a mere uplift in game-time is how the former Braga youngster has used it.
Five goal involvements in ten outings speaks for itself, however that return is amplified even more when considering the significance of them.
Neto came off the bench to grab an equaliser against Southampton and netted the winner versus Fulham, while he also opened the scoring at the Emirates Stadium and assisted the second goals in 2-0 wins over Crystal Palace and Sheffield United.
In short, all Neto’s output has significantly shaped results this term and the only points Wolves have picked up without the Portugal international’s direct influence so far have been the win over Leeds and the draw with Newcastle.
More specific attacking metrics have been noteworthy too. Neto ranks top of Wolves’ squad for key passes this term, 18, is third for successful dribbles, 16, second for shots, 18, and second for interceptions, 16, while he also boasts the best pass accuracy from those to have started at least once for the Midlands side in the Premier League.
That is made even more impressive by the fact Nuno Santo’s used him in a variety of capacities. But whether fielded as a left winger, a No.10, a central midfielder or brought on as a substitute, Neto has repeatedly found ways to impact games.
Of course, direct statistical comparisons with last season are difficult because Neto’s game-time was so limited, but that lustrates the point precisely - the 20-year-old has gone from the fringes of a very competitive Premier League squad to being one of its most important players.
And that rise also justifies Nuno Santo’s decision to controversially part with Diogo Jota this summer.
It’s never a great look for teams just outside the Premier League’s elite to sell one of their biggest talents to reigning champions and the Portuguese’s form since has only compounded the question marks, already scoring nine times for Liverpool in the top flight and the Champions League to make his £41m transfer fee look like a snip.
But in fact, Neto has played a hand in as many Premier League goals as Jota has this season, and selling on the latter has given the former the room he needs to grow while pocketing the club some money in the process.
Nuno Santo probably didn’t expect Neto to blossom so quickly in Jota’s absence, but that’s certainly not a bad thing and considering the rate of improvement we’re seeing currently, those two players might well be of comparable stature a few years down the line.
In any case, as far as the here and now is concerned, Neto’s shown the biggest improvements of any player on the books at Molineux.News Now - Sport News