When José Sá joined Wolverhampton Wanderers last summer, it wasn’t a move that turned many heads. Former number one Rui Patricio had been a solid servant for the club during his three years in the West Midlands but, approaching his mid-30s, Wolves decided to trade in for a younger model.
With Patricio leaving for Roma, Wolves signed Sá for approximately £6.25m. The transfer slipped under the radar for many, who saw another Portuguese player joining the pack at Wolves, and didn’t think twice about the move.
However, Sá has quickly established himself as a key player for Bruno Lage’s side and, one year on, his transfer fee looks a steal. The Portuguese shot stopper’s ability to keep the ball out of the back of the net has been of vital importance for Lage’s side.
Sá made 120 saves during Wolves’ league campaign — only three goalkeepers managed more in the Premier League (Illan Meslier, Kasper Schmiechel, and David de Gea). Having faced 150 shots on target across the season, Sá’s successful save percentage is 79.3%. The Portuguese is far clear of David Raya, who is second with 76.8%.
Based on expected goals modelling, Sá’s exceptional shot stopping has seen Wolves concede nine goals fewer than would have been expected during the course of the season. Lage’s outfit conceded 43 goals during the season, with only Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur conceding fewer.
Wolves’ resolute defence has been a key feature of their season. Lage’s team proved difficult for opponents to break down, and Sá’s ability to keep the ball out of the net helped the West Midlands side ensure that games didn’t run away from them.
Sá’s impressive performances go beyond his shot stopping. The Portuguese claimed more than one in every 10 crosses that came into his area, a rate bettered only by Brighton’s Robert Sanchez. Sá has also shown a willingness to sweep up behind his defence, comfortable leaving his penalty area when the need arises.
All things considered, Sá was one of the league’s standout goalkeepers in the last campaign, and his performances were crucial in ensuring that Wolves finished comfortably in mid-table. Taking 51 points from the campaign, Wolves finished 10th, ensconced in the mid-table pack of Leicester City, Brighton, Newcastle, and Crystal Palace.
Their final league position means they get good football odds today, but that belies their performances somewhat. Wolves had an inconsistent season. They started poorly, but soon found their rhythm. They were comfortably in the top half for much of their campaign, occupying eighth place before falling away in the final third of the season, when they won only three of their final 14 matches.
Throughout the year, Wolves’ games were low scoring affairs. As well as ranking fifth for clean sheets, only three teams scored fewer goals. With so many games decided by such fine margins, Sá’s ability to make the difference in games is even more important.
Given the way Lage’s side ended the season, there will be concern from some about how the club will fare in their next campaign. While Sá’s performances are a real positive, a club with Wolves’ recent history will not want to be relying on a goalkeeper to see them finish 10th. Finding a way to get more in attack is a must for Lage over the summer. While Sá may well have been the best signing of last summer, Wolves will be hoping that they aren’t reliant on their goalkeeper to be their shining light next season.