- Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Gary O'Neil's lack of use for a summer signing has been a surprise this season.
- His arrival could put a number of starters' regular places at risk this season.
- The experienced international will hope to make an impression at Molineux soon.
Wolverhampton Wanderers full-back Matt Doherty’s lack of appearances on his return to Molineux has been “surprising”, as journalist Dean Jones provides GIVEMESPORT with his verdict on the star’s role in the team.
Gary O’Neil is yet to hand the experienced Wolves minutes in the Premier League this season.
Wolves news – Matt Doherty
Doherty represented the second signing of a difficult summer transfer window for Wolves in the off-season. The right-back followed third-choice goalkeeper Tom King through the door at Molineux, having previously played for the club for over a decade.
In August 2020, Tottenham completed the signing of Doherty on a four-year deal for a fee of £14.7m. Wanderers replaced the Republic of Ireland international with Barcelona and Portugal full-back Nelson Semedo, who has established himself as the first-choice option on the right side of defence. Doherty could never nail down a spot in the Spurs starting XI over the following two-and-a-half years and signed for Atletico Madrid in January.
However, after being released by the Spanish giants this summer, Wolves were interested in re-signing the full-back on a free transfer, providing senior cover and an alternative option for Semedo. Jones told GIVEMESPORT in July that the 31-year-old could make a difference in the Wolves dressing room, which could still be reeling following the departure of former head coach Julen Lopetegui last month, less than a week before the Premier League season’s kick-off.
But Doherty hasn’t played a minute of Premier League football this season, having been restricted to a Carabao Cup appearance against League One outfit Blackpool, where he scored two goals in a 5-0 victory.
Matt Doherty - Wolves
Stats according to Transfermarkt
What has Jones said about Wolves and Doherty?
Jones is surprised at Doherty’s lack of minutes under O’Neil but suggests the club are waiting to “give him more time” to get games under his belt deeper into the season. The journalist told GIVEMESPORT:
“I think it is surprising because he always gave the intention that he wouldn't come back to Wolves. Then, when he came back, he said it was something he had to think long and hard about. You felt at that point, there must be a specific plan for him within this team. If he was going to return, he knew where he was fitting in, but he hasn’t had that many minutes. I think that that is quite a surprise, to be honest. That won't remain the case throughout the season. There's no doubt that he's going to be getting more games. I think the Blackpool game was a time for him to get settled in this team. Maybe it's just a phasing-in period, and Wolves are waiting to give him more time as we get deeper into the season after the break.”
Where could Doherty feature for Wolves this season?
Doherty’s best performances of his career came in Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves side when he played a right wing-back role in a back five. The veteran defender, who reportedly earned £74,000 per-week at Tottenham, made 142 appearances under the Portuguese head coach at Molineux, hitting the back of the net 19 times and registering 20 assists. But the Irishman has struggled to find success since, though enjoyed a strong period under Antonio Conte at Tottenham during the 2021/22 season before a medial collateral ligament tear cruelly ended his campaign.
Interestingly, in his sole appearance against Blackpool this season, O’Neil started Doherty as a right-sided centre-back in a back five, an unusual position for the experienced defender. However, it didn’t deter the Wolves returnee, who kept a clean sheet and bagged a brace as the Molineux outfit set up a third-round Carabao Cup tie with Ipswich Town later this month.
Doherty was even utilised at left-back for the best part of two seasons between 2015-17 under Kenny Jackett, Walter Zenga and Paul Lambert. The Bohemians academy product has displayed a willingness to play in several positions throughout his career and you would back O’Neil to find a role for him should Wanderers continue to struggle in the top flight.
What players are at risk of dropping out of the team this season?
Doherty’s arrival will put several defensive options at Molineux on high alert as they aim to retain their place in O’Neil’s starting XI. Semedo is the obvious choice to be sweating on the Irishman’s return, having been initially signed to replace the experienced defender over three years ago.
However, Hugo Bueno, Rayan Ait-Nouri and Jonny Castro Otto also know they have competition on the left side of defence after the former Atletico man displayed his versatility on both sides in his previous spell with Wolves and Tottenham. Should O’Neil revert to a back five after the international break, Doherty has proven he can play on the right side at centre-back, offering Craig Dawson, Max Kilman, Toti Gomes and Santiago Bueno competition in the Black Country giants’ backline.