ideal forward to kickstart new era at Wolves

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According to reports in Spain, Wolverhampton Wanderers ‘have an agreement’ in place to complete the signing of Brazilian international and Atletico Madrid forward Matheus Cunha.

Since his move to the Wanda Metropolitano in August 2021, Cunha has struggled to nail down a regular place in Diego Simeone’s setup in La Liga, appearing in 54 games in all competitions for Atletico and registering just seven goals and eight assists.

So far this campaign, he’s only started two games in the Spanish La Liga ultimately affecting his dream opportunity of a spot in Brazil’s extremely talented squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

According to Spanish outlet Cadena SER, the Spanish giants have an agreement with Wolves over the transfer of the talented forward in January, with Simeone and the club resigned to losing him to accumulate transfer funds of their own. Italian Journalist Fabrizio Romano has confirmed the reports stating that Wolves are ‘discussing details of the official proposal to sign’ the former Leipzig forward.

Various other reports have suggested that Wolves aren’t the only club scouring for his services, fellow Premier League sides Everton, Leeds United and Aston Villa are also keen on his signature but the Old Gold are currently leading the race.

Who is Matheus Cunha? How has his career gone?

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Born in João Pessoa, Brazil. Cunha started out his career in his native homeland, with Brasileirão league outfit Coritiba, before embarking on an unconventional move to the Swiss League with FC Sion in 2017, before he’d even made a senior appearance in Brazil.

A tremendous single season at Sion was all it took for data-driven and recruitment-smart RB Leipzig to take notice, with the German outfit snapping him up for a fairly substantial fee somewhere in the region of €15 million (£12.9m). The Brazilian immediately showed his talents and potential when called upon, especially that sensational individual goal against Bayer Leverkusen which famously broke the internet in 2019:

However, as a result of Leipzig’s decorated attacking weaponry, Cunha found his game-time unfortunately limited, which led to a transfer to fellow Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin for a fee of roughly around €19 million (£16.3m).

It was there where he eventually made his name, rewarded with a regular place in the team but more crucially contributing to goals in his first half-season at the club. However, Cunha struggled to build on from there in his first and only full campaign in Berlin, in a team that battled with relegation only beating the drop by a meager two points. During his time there, he registered a decent 13 goals and 10 assists from 40 games in all competitions for Hertha Berlin.

It was still enough for Atletico Madrid to come calling in the summer of 2021, splashing out €27million (£23.2m) on him. In truth, he spent 2021/22 as 5th choice striker in Diego Simeone’s 4-4-2 setup, but still managed to outshine his competitors for a starting place registering six goals and six assists from 29 La Liga appearances with most of them from the bench, becoming somewhat of an unsung hero amongst the Atletico fanbase.

However, his struggles in Spain has continued in which he’s only made just the two starts from Atletico Madrid’s 14 league games before the World Cup break, but still managed to register two assists. For a player of Cunha’s unheralded talents, he’s simply too good to be a benchwarmer and a move to join new manager Julen Lopetegui’s revolution at Wolves may represent the ideal opportunity for the Brazilian to kick-start his career.

What could Matheus Cunha bring to the Molineux? 

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If you’re attentive to Matheus Cunha’s career story, you’d find he’s become an unfortunate victim of unmitigated circumstances throughout his career, despite showing so much promise.

At Leipzig, he simply had to contend with Timo Werner, Youssouf Poulsen, Marcel Sabitzer, and co. for a starting spot, ultimately leading to him finding opportunities elsewhere. That came in the form of Hertha Berlin where he impressed for much of his time there, but their battle with relegation during the 2020/21 campaign meant Cunha simply couldn’t acclimatise to the huge pressures of a relegation battle.

Atletico Madrid brought him on, and it seemed the perfect move for him to make an impression on the big stage, but again he’s failed to consistently nail down a place in the team due to the plethora of attacking talents alongside him, such as the likes of Joao Felix, Antoine Griezmann, Alvaro Morata, and Angel Correa. The same can be said in the international context too, with so many attacking talents around him to contend with.

Such circumstances have been no fault of his own, but down to the unfortunate various situations at the clubs he’s represented.

With Wolverhampton Wanderers looking to kick off a new era under former Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui, Cunha could well finally discover a new lease of life under a manager who knows him well. The Midlands club have seriously struggled in front of goal so far this campaign, scoring just eight goals in 15 games – the worst record in the Premier League and the second worst in all of England’s all four professional divisions, after Gillingham FC who have only recorded six.

Such stats have been further compounded with various injuries and lack of fitness, especially in the attacking department with new signing Sasa Kalajdzic and Pedro Neto’s long-term injuries and Raul Jimenez struggling for form and fitness for the best part of over a year. Diego Costa, brought in as an emergency forward, has so far failed to provide the Wolves with the impetus they need.

However, in Lopetegui, Wolves will possess a manager capable of finding a formula to get their attack gelling again, and he’ll certainly have an abundance of talent to work with in summer signing Goncalo Guedes, Adama Traore, Daniel Podence, and Matheus Nunes. Adding the qualities of Matheus Cunha to the mix could well represent a stroke of genius.

Despite his struggles to nail down a regular place at Atletico Madrid, Cunha has more than proved his worth and potential, to become an elite attacker if provided with the opportunity. It’s also important to note that the 23 y/o has eight Brazil caps to his name, but before that was a devastating goal-scorer for the U23s, registering 15 goals from 16 caps.

Before his move to Spain, Cunha stood out as a perfect candidate for Simeone’s high-intensity and rigid formula. Standing at 6’0” and 76kg, he possesses the stature to keep the ball and hold off defenders, whilst also possessing an electric burst of pace, acceleration, and agility to stretch the pitch if necessary. He’s a hybrid forward, capable of playing anywhere across the attack, whether as a right or left winger, a striker, a second striker or even at no.10. Whatever role he’s given, he’ll perform with great aplomb and responsibility.

What stands out about him is his sensational work ethic and willing attitude. He’s a selfless and tireless worker, which can be shown not only in his pressing but his willingness to drop deep to act as a link-man enabling the team to use him as a reference point to create goal-scoring opportunities. Lopetegui has been known to use such a striker in his own system, a player well-versed in defending from the front but also acting as an influential cog to aid others around him – Cunha is that man.

Much of his time at Atletico Madrid in Simeone’s 4-4-2 formation, was spent operating in deeper spaces, acting as the link-man between midfield and attack in transition, often picking up nice pockets in between the lines, driving through the centre of the pitch adeptly, shown by his high ranking amongst forwards in Europe’s top five divisions, in the 99th percentile for successful dribble % per 90 (68%), before offering a nicely weighted through ball to one of his attacking teammates, which meant he’d be the one providing an assist or the pass for an assist.

Wolves are desperately going to need unique operators in the final third, players capable of operating in tight spaces just outside the penalty box, and Cunha possesses those qualities in abundance, owing to his positional versatility and technical excellence. He ranks well amongst forwards in Europe’s top five leagues over the past year; 95th percentile for assists per 90, 82nd percentile for xAG (expected assisted goals) per 90, and 84th and 85th percentile for shot-creating actions and through balls per90, respectively.

It doesn’t mean Cunha lacks the instincts to score too. He’s intelligent enough to time his runs well and create separation from his markers as well as possessing the capabilities to be at the right place at the right time in the penalty area. Most of his shots do originate inside the box, either from pull-backs or from runs in behind which are spotted by a deeper playmaker. When in clear goalscoring scenarios, Cunha can finish either choosing placement or power, although he can be guilty of the odd wayward shot.

But the Brazilian does have a serious finish on him. One of his three goals at the 2021 Olympics for Brazil highlighted as much, edge-of-the-box territory, slotting the ball into the bottom left corner effortlessly.

But what will most endear Cunha to Lopetegui and the Wolves faithful is his tremendous defensive work. He’s a pressing machine – a committed, combative, and effective presser against the ball. And the stats show it, ranking within the top 10% of forwards in Europe’s top divisions for tackles, interceptions, and blocks, tackles in the attacking third, and dribblers contested per90.

The former Leipzig man doesn’t restrict his defensive work to just the top of the pitch but in the middle third, and when defending around his box too, ranking in the 72nd percentile for tackles in the defensive third and 94th for the middle third of the pitch. Cunha is willing to chase runners, leave his attacking position and help out his deeper midfielders. With his imposing figure and size but also tireless energy, he’s well capable of roughing up his opponents and pressing them into submission.

There’s a lot to like about Matheus Cunha, despite his early unfortunate career circumstances. With enough opportunities, conditions to thrive, and confidence from his potential new manager and those around him, he could well morph into one of the complete forwards of his generation, and Wolverhampton Wanderers and Julen Lopetegui will be dreaming that it’s them granting him his new lease of life.

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