Pedro Neto: Wolves star's assists, solo runs and performances under Gary O'Neil spark inevitable transfer talk

February 22, 2024

Pedro Neto has nine assists in the Premier League this season, particularly impressive given that he missed two months with a hamstring injury. But those bald statistics do not tell the full story about his impact within this Wolves team.

There are assists and there are assists.

Against Liverpool, he darted past three men to set up the opening goal. At home to Aston Villa, he picked up the ball near the touchline just inside their half. There was the solo run at Bournemouth. In the win over Tottenham, he started that run inside his own half.

He did the same for the first goal against Manchester City. That is not included among the nine assists because his cross was turned into the net by Ruben Dias. At Chelsea, only one of the two goals he set up goes down as an assist because the shot was deflected in.

Beyond the Premier League, he scored in the FA Cup win over Black Country rivals West Bromwich Albion having won the extra-time penalty to see off Brentford in the previous round. The point is that Neto is flying, sparking talk of a big move in the summer.

Why has it clicked for him this season?

Neto is still only 23 but it is almost five years now since he emerged at Wolves following his move from Lazio. After impressing in his first two seasons at Molineux, injuries curtailed his impact under Bruno Lage and then Julen Lopetegui. A run of games eluded him.

There was the knee injury at Fulham that robbed him of 10 months of football. He then missed five months of last season with an ankle problem. Without those injuries, he would probably have had his move already. But finding his rhythm has taken time.

That can be an issue for any player but Neto, in particular, struggled to be effective when not fully fit and flowing. He did not score a goal in 18 Premier League appearances last season and looked a shadow of his former self. Lopetegui explained the problem.

"He has been out for a lot of months, and it is not easy when you are talking about this kind of player. One thing is to be fit and start working, another thing is to be 100 per cent in your performance, because this kind of player lives for one against one and his pace."

The benefits of pre-season were immediately obvious this time around. But Neto's improvement is tactical as well as physical. Gary O'Neil has embraced a fast-paced game on the counter-attack and it is clear that this suits the characteristics of his squad.

Neto has had 10 shots from fast breaks this season, more than anyone else. The fact that team-mate Matheus Cunha is next on the list shows that this is by design. Wolves position their runners to play on the transition and focus on getting that first pass right.

Speaking to O'Neil earlier this season, this principle of playing the first pass forward after winning the ball back was something that he mentioned. "We do a lot of work on it. The first thought when we win the ball back is can we score. That is always the first thought."

Joao Gomes played in Neto rather than clear when Yves Bissouma lost possession at Tottenham. That decision was rewarded with the opening goal following a trademark Neto run. He is carrying the ball an average of 22.9 metres this season. That time he went further.

With a top speed approaching 37 kilometres per hour, Neto ranks among the fastest players in the Premier League this season and sprints more than anyone in the competition - covering over 200 metres per game at full pace. Teams just cannot cope with it.

"Pedro has been absolutely magnificent," says O'Neil.

The coach deserves huge credit for that. He started using him on the left, more recently moving him right, but without a natural striker, it has almost been a floating role. Neto has started many of his runs centrally, picking the ball up where he can hurt the opponent.

"We have done a lot of work with him. Last year his performances were probably under what they should have been for a player of his quality, but he has bought into everything we have asked of him and the improvement in him has been incredible.

"His work rate, the way he trains, playing within the shape and taking information on board. He is incredibly talented and physically very gifted as well. He has attacked every training session with 100 per cent commitment and you are starting to see the benefits."

The result is that Neto has been involved in 11 goals in his last 14 Premier League appearances. That is as many goal involvements as in his previous 55 games in the competition. Always entertaining, the end product is undoubtedly there now too.

It is inevitable that there is interest from elsewhere, with a bidding war likely. This is a player who would look at home in any Premier League squad and significantly improve most of them. Wolves understand that his ambition will see him move on eventually.

Neto's mentality is that he wants to reach the very top.

Speaking to him four years ago, he talked of becoming the world's best player even then. "If I do not approach it this way, I do not have the motivation to play football. I want to be the best so I work every day to do it. I will continue to work every day to be the best."

There is more that he can add to his game. One question will be whether a player who is at his best when running into space will be able to show his best qualities when facing low blocks on a more regular basis. But he is skilful enough in tight situations to adjust.

In the meantime, expect Pedro Neto to continue thrilling Molineux.

Watch Wolves vs Sheffield United live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 1.30pm

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