There’s no doubt about it, Pedro Neto is back.
The dazzling Portuguese winger is once again the driving force of the Wolverhampton Wanderers attack. He has five direct goal contributions already this season (one goal, four assists), an incredible feat considering we’re only six games in and Wolves have only scored six goals in total.
His return to form after a severe ankle injury last season has been one of the feel-good stories of the Premier League campaign so far. It officially saw him miss five months of football, but given that his March return was so unsteady, he basically missed a full season. It wasn’t until the summer where he started to re-find his groove, impressing for the Portugal Under-21s at the European Championships.
Often that tournament creates a delayed return and disrupts players’ rhythms, but if you’ve spent months out, then months trying to find sharpness and form, it can be just what you need to get going again. Perhaps that was the launchpad that has sparked this incredible, hot start to 2023-24.
His confidence in carrying and dribbling with the ball is back, a trait manager Gary O’Neil has latched onto in a flash, leaning on him both to bring Wolves up the pitch after sustained defensive periods and engineer good goalscoring situations when in the final third.
Some incredible statistics illustrate those points further: He’s already carried the ball a whopping 1,630 yards this term, the third-most of any attacker and behind only Dejan Kulusevski and Bukayo Saka; and he’s carried the ball into the opposing penalty box 15 times, with only Marcus Rashford (18), Kulusevski (21) and Raheem Sterling (23) managing more.
No matter where Wolves are on the pitch, they look to Neto - and he produces the goods.
⚽️ Pedro Neto has had a direct hand in each of Wolves' last 5 goals this season (1 goal, 4 assists) pic.twitter.com/oSyLEP239H— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) September 26, 2023
He’s a genuinely wonderful player to watch in full flow, combining power and agility to form a near-unique dribbling style. Aiding both the aesthetic and effectiveness of his movements is the fact he’s fully two-footed, a rare trait in football that makes you incredibly hard to defend against.
In order to use that two-footedness effectively while dribbling, you need to be able to shift your body weight from side to side and be comfortable either way. It’s understandable that you’d be less effective at that if you’d come through a major injury in one of your ankles, so Neto taking a bit of time to get back to his best shouldn’t really surprise.
He’s back to top form now, though. Left, right, left, right; he’s just waiting for the defender to bite and commit one way, then he goes the other. If they drop off and give him a few yards, he swings in a wicked cross and threatens in a different way - a method that’s already led to goals against Crystal Palace and Everton.
The quality of his delivery has seen him promoted to chief set piece taker at the club in 2023, his inswinging corners and free-kicks just ripe for heading home - and in Saša Kalajdžić, he has a 6’7” target. The fact he’s on four assists is testament to the quality of chance he’s creating, given the profligacy of Wolves’ forwards has been a major topic this season.
In the post-Ruben Neves world, Neto is Wolves’ MVP, their crown jewel at a time of major squad upheaval, the true attacking X-factor that can turn zero points into one, or even one into three. His creative numbers are some of the best in the league early on, while his dribbling prowess is hard to match.
His fitness and form is the key to survival and, therefore, stability in 2024 for the west Midlands club.