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EPL Season Preview: Wolverhampton

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 03:  Current Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C./Future Sounders F.C. keeper Marcus Hahnemann.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 03: Current Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C./Future Sounders F.C. keeper Marcus Hahnemann. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Team Name: Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club

Nickname: Wolves

Location: Wolverhampton, West Midlands

Ground: Molineux Stadium (Capacity: 29,303)

Manager: Mick McCarthy has been with Wolves since 2006. Wolves were in a difficult position upon McCarthy's arrival; after relegation following the 2004/05 season, financial difficulties forced a sell-off of the majority of the team's starting XI. McCarthy put together a piecemeal squad consisting of youth players, shrewd lower-level signings and free transfers. The team ended up very nearly winning the promotion playoff, losing to rivals West Brom in the final in 2005/06. Wolves won the Championship in 2008/09, ensuring a return to the top flight.

Last Year's Record:

Premier League: 15th place

League Cup: Third Round, lost to eventual winners Manchester United.

F.A. Cup: Fourth Round, lost to Crystal Palace after a replay


Brief History: Wolverhampton F.C. was founded in 1877 and were founding members of the Football League. The club was one of the league's strongest for nearly 100 years and were dominant throughout the 1950s under the leadership of Stan Cullis. Wolves won the league in 1953/54, 1957/58 and 1958/59, and the decade was bookended by F.A. Cup wins in 1949 and 1960. The club also won the F.A. Cup in 1893, 1908 and 1949 and the League Cup in 1974 and 1980. The height of Wolves' success in formal European competition came in 1972 when they fell to Spurs in the UEFA Cup Final. However, Wolves success in a series of friendlies against other top European sides and outrage over what many outside of England saw as an overreaction to their victories by the English press were in large part responsible for the formation of the European Cup.

The origins of the classic English style of football can be traced in part to Wolverhampton's use of "Kick and Rush" tactics during the club's most successful years; whether this should be seen as a credit or an indictment is left to the judgment of the reader. In opposition to what was then the English tradition of using a combination of short passing and brute strength to move the ball down the field, Wolves employed long balls, speed, and a shoot-first philosophy. As well as brute force, because some things about the English style are everlasting.

This style of play brought Wolves their greatest success, but as other clubs began to adapt and refine the same tactics, Wolves fortunes declined and ended with relegation in 1965. Wolves were temporarily moved to the United States in 1967 and competed in the United Soccer Association as the Los Angeles Wolves and ended up winning the title. This is, believe it or not, a thing that happened. Upon their "triumphant" return to England, Wolves went through another period of modest success, most notably their aforementioned trip to the UEFA Cup final in 1972 and League Cup victories in 1974 and 1980. Unfortunately these successes were followed by the darkest period in the club's history, including a trip to the fourth division and near financial ruin in the mid-1980s.

Wolverhampton rebounded to return to more respectable standing in the 1990s, coming close to promotion to the Premier League numerous times before finally achieving the goal in 2002/03 after defeating Sheffield United in the promotion playoff final.Their time at the top level would last only one season, however, and Wolves would languish in the Championship until winning the league in 2008/09.

Rivalries: West Bromwich Albion, against whom Wolves contest the Black Country Derby.

Players to Watch: Two time Championship Golden Boot award winner Sylvan Ebanks-Blake was seen as something of the hope for the future at Wolverhampton, and for good reason; Ebanks-Blake followed his breakout 2007/08 season, during which he scored 23 goals between Plymouth Argyle and Wolves, with a star-making 2008/09 season in which he netted 25. And then...nothing. Well, not nothing. Two goals. Which, given expectations, might as well have been nothing. If Wolves wish to move out of the relegation zone, Ebanks-Blake will need to regain some of his prior form.

Karl Henry won't score a great deal of goals, but the Wolves captain is a playmaker in every sense of the word. Henry is excellent in possession and as a distributor of the ball, and as he goes so goes Wolverhampton's attacking game.

Although he is nearing the end of his career, Joey Craddock is a vital member of Wolves' backline and will be a key player this season. Wolverhampton were not known for their scoring prowess last season, so it seems likely that a similarly strong defensive performance will be key to their chances of avoiding relegation.

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