It has been a long time since Wolverhampton Wanderers fans have seen the best from Daniel Podence.
In a season in which the diminutive Portugal international may want to forget, he will hope to finish it with a flourish to cap off a sub-par campaign.
The calls for Podence to step up have amplified following Wolves’ 4-0 home defeat to Burnley on Sunday. Podence was one of two outfield players who managed fewer touches (28) than goalkeeper Rui Patricio (33) in the humiliating defeat, according to SofaScore.
Although this may have been understandable were it against a top team in the league, Burnley had come into this fixture off the back of three consecutive defeats and were 17th in the Premier League table.
Following the season-ending injury to fellow Portuguese wide-man Pedro Neto, the creative emphasis has shifted more onto 25-year-old Podence, but in the subsequent games against Sheffield United and Burnley, he has failed to deliver.
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A vast improvement is needed. Podence, signed from Olympiakos in January 2020, has not provided either a goal or an assist in 2021. It should be said that he has missed 10 out of the 17 games this year through injury. Nevertheless, for a player who cost almost £20 million, it is quite perplexing how little he has contributed.
Part of this can be attributed to confidence. Podence’s three league goals all came in the space of seven games last Autumn. This was over a period where the player was able to start 11 consecutive games. It emphasises the impact lack of continuity can have on his consistency.
However, upon his return from his most recent injury, an abductor muscle tear, coach Nuno Espirito Santo has been stubborn on his deployment.
Initially featuring as a number 10, this made sense with Neto and Adama Traore either side of him. As these were his first two games back, a lack of impact and the process of easing him back by substituting him early was understandable.
Bizarrely, following Neto’s injury, Nuno has been reluctant to change his front-line. This means that Wolves are playing with Podence behind striker Willian Jose, with Traore out on the right.
The caveat of this is that it has left a glaring hole in Wolves’ attack down the left-hand side with nobody featuring there. It was on show in the Burnley game with Wolves not managing any shots from the left-hand side, according to WhoScored.
Although Nuno’s long-term plans may be to persevere with Podence in this role, unless Wolves find a player to play on the left-wing before the end of the season their attack will be very lopsided and easy to telegraph, just as it was on Sunday.
With his goals against Arsenal and Chelsea coming from the left-hand side last year, keeping him central appears to be only to the detriment of the team for the end of season run-in.