This year, though, Wolves are not only much better equipped than the three promoted clubs, they also like their chances against the Newcastle Uniteds, West Bromwich Albions, Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletics and Bolton Wanderers of the world.
McCarthy likes to get his transfer business done early, and this summer he spent £12m on Jamie O'Hara and Roger Johnson. More importantly, he has held on to his best players such as Matt Jarvis and Kevin Doyle.
McCarthy usually favours a 4-5-1 formation with Doyle (when fit) or Steven Fletcher as the ‘1’, featuring attacking-wing-play from Stephen Hunt, Matt Jarvis, and Kevin Foley, along with the hard-working pairing of Jamie O’Hara and Karl Henry in the middle. Last season Wolves attempted 900 crosses – the most in the Premier League.
Steven Fletcher finished last season on a high, scoring six goals that were crucial in lifting Wolves to the 40-point mark. He will partner Doyle in a front two more often this season.
Clean sheets were scarce, making it no surprise that McCarthy moved for Johnson. He has been appointed as the new Wolves captain, in place of Karl Henry, and has the ability to be a commanding central defender, but he will need to avoid the inconsistency that plagued all of Birmingham City’s defence after their Carling Cup triumph last season. Richard Stearman has never seemed comfortable at Premiership level, and Jody Craddock is 36, so expect the Scot, Christophe Berra, to partner Johnson in the middle.
Jaime O’Hara became a fan favourite during a successful loan spell last season. Comfortable on the ball and with a good long-range shot, he will settle the Wolves offence and help keep possession. He will be in a slightly deeper role this season, if McCarthy sticks with the 4-4-2 formation.
Michael Kightly, who has made only two starts in the last 22 months, has bags of potential, and if the winger can avoid injury and regain his form of 2009, Wolves will have a formidable (and all-British) duo switching off on the wings.
Keys to the season
It’s simple, really: play better defence, score more goals and beat the teams around you. Last season, Wolves conceded 66 goals, scored only 46, and managed just three clean sheets.
Some consistency will cement their place in the Premier League, at least a place of the mid-table variety, because financially Wolves have been a model of prudence – they were one of only four Premier League clubs not in the red for this past financial year – and they have no debt to speak of. Their wage bill is only 49% of turnover and Molineux is currently undergoing an extensive rebuilding programme that will greatly increase the overall capacity and the number of corporate boxes, which will further improve the bottom line.
McCarthy and the board realize, however, that they are not quite there yet. If Wolves are relegated this season, it won’t be the end of the world, but, if they proved anything last season it’s that they play their best when the pressure is greatest. This is a testament of the character the squad members and the belief McCarthy has instilled in them. Can they repeat their superb results against the top teams? Can they stop being a ‘yo-yo’ club? So far, so good.
Significant Ins & Outs
In: Roger Johnson (Birmingham, £7m), Jamie O’Hara (Tottenham, £5m), Dorus de Vries (Swansea, free)
Out: Greg Halford (Portsmouth, £1m), David Jones (Wigan, free), Steven Mouyokolo (Sochaux, loan), Marcus Hahnemann (released)
Jamie O’Hara; Matt Jarvis
Opening fixtures and results
@Blackburn (2-1), Fulham (2-0), @Aston Villa (0-0), Tottenham (Sept. 10), QPR (Sept. 17), @Liverpool (Sept. 24)
Wolves kicked off the season with an away win against the team they played on the final day of last season’s relegation battle – Blackburn Rovers. Seven points after three matches is a very good start.
Where will they finish?
OMI is "Odd Man !n", our football column.