Karen Carney column: How Pedro Neto can fill Wolves’ Raul Jimenez void

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Raul Jimenez has been a massive miss for Wolves since he fractured his skull in the victory over Arsenal in November and had to have surgery – ruling him out for most of the season. They have struggled without him, but are starting to find a successful formula.

They have got seven points from their last nine available and will look to extend that improved form when they face Leeds on Friday (20:00 GMT kick-off).

But what Jimenez gave Wolves was guaranteed goals. When you have an attacking line-up that have been together a while and are used to each other, you form a telepathic relationship.

Jimenez had everything and was the focal point for Wolves as everything came through him. He is brilliant in the air, he can score wonder goals, hold the ball up, make runs in behind and just has the all-round game.

Their top goal scorer at the moment is Pedro Neto with five goals. A striker like Jimenez, who has scored double figures in his two previous seasons, lifts morale.

It gives the team a boost because they know they have someone who is guaranteed to deliver. They know he can get you a goal to get you out of a difficult situation. That is massive for the team.

So there is an anxiety when you miss that player because everyone else feels pressure to chip in with goals.

Appearances – 86 Total % of Wolves Premier League goals scored by Jimenez since 2018 – 38% Wolves’ win % with Jimenez – 41.9%
Goals – 34 Chances created – 95 Points per game without Jimenez – 0.9
Assists – 13 Wolves’ win % without Jimenez – 21.4% Points per game with Jimenez – 1.5

There are other factors, of course, which haven’t helped Wolves, who have only picked up three wins from 14 league games since losing Jimenez.

They need time on the training pitch but that has been difficult because of the sheer number of fixtures. New signing Willian Jose’s first real opportunity to get to know his team-mates was probably on his first start against Crystal Palace. He has to figure it out quickly – what do the other players want, what do they need and where do I need to be? That’s quite tricky.

Wolves also lost Diogo Jota, who was brilliant for them, and you have seen the impact he had when he first came to Liverpool. They are missing him now too.

Neto has stepped up to fill that role at least and he has an exciting future. But you are still missing that extra wide player. They lost Matt Doherty too so those key relationships have gone.

The team had been together for so long. Sometimes when you break it up a little, it takes a long time to mould it all back together again.

Neto can fill the void

The hardest thing in football is to score a goal. Wolves have all the creative players but have missed that clinical goalscorer to finish their moves off. They have struggled to find that solution. Jimenez has been such a big player for Wolves for so long. How do you replace that?

I have liked what I have seen of Jose so far but his runs haven’t quite come off yet. He hasn’t been able to read where the ball is going from the wide players. He hasn’t quite been in the right areas.

But he can hold the ball up and bring players in. Jimenez is probably a little bit quicker and looks to have a more natural game understanding, but with work and time Jose could be a good player for Wolves. I don’t think he will be a Jimenez but he doesn’t need to be.

Neto has also got a trick up his sleeve. He can dribble with the ball and that’s really difficult for defenders. You don’t know what you’re going to get from him because he’s raw and unpredictable.

He is agile, quick and strong so he is a nightmare. If you give him space, he can run at you on either wing and if you get tight to him, he has the strength and skill to roll you. He will only get quicker, stronger and better.

Raul Jimenez stats graphic

I thought it suited Wolves better when Neto went over to the right wing in the second half of the 2-1 victory against Southampton and was able to cut inside on to his left foot. He was getting into shooting opportunities more. I would like to see him play more centrally because I think he can cause havoc.

That tactical switch from manager Nuno Espirito Santo worked as full-back Nelson Semedo prefers to stay wide and operates up and down the flank, as does Adama Traore. By bringing Neto infield, it left space for Semedo. You’re actually getting two players higher up the pitch instead of one.

It becomes more of an attacking five than a front three. Your full-backs are playing higher up, your wingers are more central and your centre-forward is being linked. That was the difference in the second half against Southampton.

By allowing the full-backs to get higher, it felt more like the old Wolves. They looked flat when I watched them in that game. The changes added much-needed energy though and the second half was a lot better.

Their Europa League run last year probably took a lot out of them. If you look at the bigger picture, it’s been a bit of a transition period for them.

Nuno had to find that formula and put it all back together again. They are starting to get there now.

Karen Carney was speaking to BBC Sport’s Emma Sanders.

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