Stan Cullis

Wolves in November – The Debrief

Wolves 2-1 Everton

After 45 minutes of front-footed intensity, it looked like Wolves were ready to roll through Everton like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Optimistic fans, shivering under the lights on a cold Monday evening at the start of November, could be forgiven for thinking this would be an easy one or that four or five goals were ready to flow.

 

By the final whistle, nerves were starting to shred and Wolves just about held on to claim three points. On the balance of play across two very different halves, both sides could make an argument for deserving something out of the match. At half time it looked like a massacre could be on the cards, until the wise old hand of Rafa Benitez shored up his side, changed tactics and sent his men out in the second half with renewed vigour. 

 

Even with the initial two goal cushion it would be great to see Wolves really shake loose, put these teams to the sword and add that vital cutting edge to the dominant possession. Max Kilman’s header was a long overdue reward for a fantastic start to the season. Raul’s chip was a delightful finish after a bad mistake from Ben Godfrey. Credit to the lads for not letting their heads dip after a marginal offside call ruled out Hwang’s false opener.

 

Hwang’s endeavour was beautifully merged with a masterful midfield mix of Moutinho and Neves pulling the strings, spraying passes across the field.

 

Strangely, as both sets of legs tired, there was once again no sign of the explosive Adama Traore emerging from the bench to terrorise the opposition. Bruno Lage still needs squad additions to bolster his options and add fresh impetus in the New Year. 

 

As Traore’s contract talks rumble on it is becoming increasingly more likely that he soon may ply his trade elsewhere. He remains a viable threat from the bench but at this stage of his career, with lofty ambitions, Traore will want to be a key player moving forward. On this occasion the Spaniard’s services were not required and his current teammates did a sterling job in his absence.

 

Crystal Palace 2-0 Wolves

While Brentford at home was bad, at least the game ended with six forwards on the pitch in a Championship Manager-style formation change to salvage a point. This was just a bit depressing. Little fight, little urgency, tactically exposed. Worse than effort, there was a distinct lack of quality and creativity. Palace ran us ragged and getting in at half-time without conceding was a minor miracle. 

 

So here ends the unbeaten run. Shame really because things were just starting to get exciting. But that’s what mid-table teams do. They fluctuate between highs and lows. They turn in a meek and feeble display just at the point when incentives are high and a win would earn a place in the top six. That’s why Trincao and Semedo are at Wolves not Barcelona. “It is what it is” as the hackneyed modern day phrase reminds us.

 

Palace bullied, attacked in numbers and showed general positivity. Grasping the initiative early on, they never let it slip. In the first half at last Wolves restricted the home side to only a few chances. The referee and VAR provided controversial talking points, with the man in the middle awarding a penalty before changing his mind. Any help from the officials would’ve been welcome. However, Wolves were the architects of their collective downfall and were extremely poor in the second half. 

 

For the first goal, the enigmatic Zaha bottled up his growing frustration, slipped in behind Semedo and finished off a through ball. The defensive reaction was slow. The overall reaction was non-existent as Wolves toiled to stay in the game, while creating little in return. 

 

The Eagles were hungrier, fresher, and wanted it more. Traore came on too late and his wing back positioning didn’t work out. Trincao put in as poor of a performance as any Wolves player in recent games as Palace outnumbered Neves and Moutinho in midfield. 

 

Their higher pressing and energy made the difference. When playing so defensively Traore’s pace on the counter attack is a favourable outlet, rather than seeing him shackled in a more defensive role. Trincao isn’t physical enough for these types of battles, which leads to the question: is the overall squad too thin on quality and quantity?

 

Wolves 1-0 West Ham

 

Saturday afternoon and West Ham roll into town. Not gonna lie, it was a scary thought. They were on form while Wolves’ last outing was a soulless loss to Crystal Palace.

 

Reenergised and reinvigorated after yet another tedious international break, Wolves weathered the early storm and scored a tremendous win over a team in form. Of all the duels taking place across the park, the home side certainly won the midfield battle. The outstanding Neves, situated alongside the cool head of Moutinho, overran Rice and Soucek. Neves is a master of the engine room who makes the team tick when he’s “on it”. The Portuguese international was combative, displayed great passing ability and comprehensively dictated the tempo.

 

Not alone in delivering a stellar performance, he was joined by the sprightly Podence, a diminutive magician who played the killer pass through to Raul who in turn produced a sublime finish on the 58th minute. At the back, Kilman, Saiss and Coady converged to create a rock solid unit that the Hammers could not breach. 

 

Jarrod Bowen should’ve scored. Mikhail Antonio was flown home early at huge expense only to spend the entire duration in Max Kilman’s back pocket. Dropping back deep to defend a lead resulted in a nervy final few minutes, but Wolves held firm and there was no Leeds-style sting in the tail.

 

Now to the difficult stuff. While grabbing a win over Norwich and bogey team Burnley would appear an easier task, these are the teams Wolves have faltered against in the past. Nuno notoriously struggled to prize stubborn teams apart. Can Bruno produce the winning formula and send his team flying into a haunting December schedule?

 

Nestled neatly in sixth position, if the club can keep building and insert some quality squad additions in January then suddenly the garden is looking rosy.

 

Norwich 0-0 Wolves

Imagine travelling all the way over to a team Norwich, revitalised under Dean Smith, in those horrific weather conditions? Massive salute to the resilient souls who braved the trip. Given the lack of options on the bench it seems half the squad didn’t fancy it either. Joking aside, the cheque book needs to come out in January. Let’s bolster the squad and have only one goalkeeper back on the sidelines.

 

Anyone watching from the stands will have witnessed an away side sloppy in possession, with little to no link-up play or fluidity. The gaffer clearly likes Trincao but there have been games this season where he’s offered next to nothing. A freezing afternoon’s work up against a hard press was never likely to be the Portuguese winger’s situation of choice.

 

Norwich got their tactics nailed on. Targeting Ait-Nouri early down the flanks, they seemed happy to allow the young Frenchman to press forward in the knowledge that his final ball was likely to lack efficacy.

 

While the attack was feeble, the defensive remained resolute. Between the sticks Jose Sa is solid and dependable when called upon, while home striker Timo Pukki was guilty of fluffing his lines on more than one occasion. A more clinical striker would have repeatedly punished Wolves for their slackness.

 

Coady marshalled the back line admirably. Saiss got stuck in when required and Kilman….well, it’s King Kilman now. Strong and reliable, yet too unfashionable to gain international recognition, he’s been one of the finds of the season. 

 

When pacey powerhouse Adama Traore finally entered the fray he was once again deployed as a wingback, in what is surely a political move rather than tactical. Looking more and more likely to move in January, Traore’s entire career has been fits and starts. From amazing to frustrating and somewhere in between. Just when he looks set to become a world beater his form tails off. 

 

Yet again South Korean international Hwang was unable to impose himself on the game, despite his usual willingness to chase and run. At least Wolves did not get beaten or concede a late heartbreaker, so there are at some slim positives to be taken home.

 

Steve Wellings is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team

 

Steve Bull Stand

Wolves 0-0 Burnley Match Report

Cold, Wednesday night football against notoriously ‘anti-footballing’ sides have become somewhat of a hallmark within Premier League culture. Wolves discovered this as they played out a 0-0 draw against a struggling Burnley side, following a disappointing display against Norwich over the weekend. A game that provided an opportunity for Wolves to gather points with a difficult Christmas period looming; resulted in another disappointing result for the home side, failing to capitalise upon their chances. 

Burnley, as well as Wolves, were missing key players such as Tarkowski and Westwood as suspensions were carried from their postponement vs Tottenham. COVID isolation for Podence and a poor performance from Trincao created space in the starting eleven for Adama Traore. An addition that was welcomed by many after a game against Norwich lacking offensive creativity.

An attritional first period saw Wolves have a couple of half chances, but nothing that tested Pope of note. Until the ball broke for Traore and Jimenez, a two-on-one situation with only Charlie Taylor to beat. The Spaniard managed to generate an angle and blast his shot onto the underside of the crossbar – rippling the net, but not in the way the deceived South Bank had thought. In hindsight, Raul was in acres of space, and was one square ball from sending us in front, but a Traore determined to prove his worth was understandably hungry for a solo attempt. Chris Wood succeeded in finding himself between Wolves’ centre-halves, sending the Molineux faithful into a claret-coloured nightmare after his last display in Wolverhampton, but nothing came to fruition.

The second half story followed from the first, Wolves holding lots of the possession and working it well into key areas, whilst Burnley sat back and waited for a mistake. The narrative of the game was centred around the defences, as any of Burnley’s threats were cut off at source. Unfortunately, Dyche’s men stood firm too, with many of our attacking moves lacking final product, or blocked come the final ball. Personally, Ait Nouri and Semedo looked fatigued, every time an opportunity to take Taylor or (previously carded) Lowton on, the safer option was favoured, returning responsibility to the midfield duo.

 

Key moments

Bar Adama’s crossbar rocket and two lame attempts on goal from Dendoncker and Hwang, Pope had an easy day at the office, occasionally warming himself up by catching a lazy cross. Since Burnley had two defenders on yellow cards before the break, I was surprised not to see more pressure put on them, either to force a mistake or another foul. Not exactly one for the neutral on Amazon Prime, it was a game lacking key moments, instead, the stadium happened to be praying for one from Traore.

 

Man of the match  – Adama Traore

Considering the contract speculation that Adama has been subject to recently, it would be easy for him to become a passenger in this game and almost force Lage’s hand into a January exit for the winger. Additionally, many fans have their questions for Adama, and they have the right to question background affairs such as wage demands and contract negotiations, but his dedication on the pitch cannot be questioned. We were never going to score today, but he gives the team opportunities, and he gets you off your seat – every single game. He missed our only decent chance, but with every attacking move having him involved, only Podence can keep him out of the starting eleven right now.

 

Improvements 

Onto the nightmare before Christmas. Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea all before the 25th. Liverpool’s press will be relentless on Saturday, which is why having Neves back will be crucial. Wolves kept the ball well against Burnley, but this is no challenge against a side employing time-wasting tactics from the 55th minute. The same must be done against Liverpool, by developing any possession we have into chances on goal, as two shots on target out of 16 isn’t good enough. Our toughest challenge so far, but knowing Wolves like I know I do; we’ll turn them over easily.

 

Sam Beeken is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him here

 

Wolves stadium

Wolves 0-0 Burnley – Player Ratings

Wolves were held to their second successive 0-0 draw in the Premier League after it finished goalless against Burnley at Molineux on Wednesday night. It certainly was not one for the purists and Wolves failed to live up to the heights of their previous home game against West Ham. Despite this, Wolves had the opportunities to win the game, Adama Traore going closest with his effort crashing off the underside of the crossbar.

 

Jose Sa

A comfortable night for the Wolves goalkeeper with just the one major save to make from Dwight McNeil in the second half. His handling and command of the area was superb and gives the defence a huge confidence boost against sides like Burnley who have a dangerous physical presence in the box. 7/10

 

Max Kilman

Yet another excellent defensive display from Kilman who has hardly put a foot wrong all season. Kilman was excellent on the ball too, looking to bring the ball higher up the pitch allowing the midfield and wing backs to push on. Unfortunately  those around him were on a different wavelength at times. 8/10

 

Conor Coady

A faultless defensive display from Coady who organised and leaded the team as we have come to expect. He was unable to start any meaningful attacks from the back due to Burnley’s high press, so was restricted to sideways balls to his fellow defenders or wing backs in deeper positions. 7/10

 

Romain Saiss

Saiss, like the rest of the defence, had a comfortable evening with the visitors offering little threat going forwards. He too tried to play Ait-Nouri down the left flank as often as possible, but Wolves just couldn’t increase the tempo enough to put real pressure on Burnley. 7/10

 

Nelson Semedo

Possibly the pick of the players on the pitch in terms of his effort and endeavour in an attacking sense, but also his hard work tracking back and nullifying any threat Burnley had out wide. Semedo looked to link with Traore and Jimenez but nothing came to fruition. 7/10

 

Joao Moutinho

An increased responsibility on his shoulders with Neves missing out through suspension and Moutinho didn’t really have any impact on the game. He was calm and assured on the ball but never looked to find the pass to break the lines of defence. He was also too easy to get past from a defensive point of view in the midfield. 6/10

 

Leander Dendoncker

Replaced the suspended Neves and didn’t take his opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the starting XI. Dendoncker often slowed play down and had little impact in an offensive sense. Wolves missed Neves, there is no doubt about that. 5/10

 

Rayan Ait-Nouri

Overall, Ait-Nouri put in another good performance as he continues to develop. He was relatively sound defensively and comfortable on the ball. He saw a lot of the ball in the final third but often checked back, slowing the attack down. On the rare occasions he got to the by-line his cross was poor and Wolves could not create a meaningful chance from them. 6/10

 

Adama Traore

Just where to start with Adama Traore. On the one hand, if Traore wasn’t on the pitch Wolves would not have created a single chance all evening. On the other hand, Traore wasted numerous good positions including a break mid-way through the second half where he had acres of space and instead produced an awful, floated cross towards Jimenez which was easily intercepted. His effort that hit the crossbar was unlucky, but Jimenez was in a far better position to his left. It was yet another frustrating night for the Spanish winger. 6/10

 

Raul Jimenez

A quiet evening from Jimenez whose frustration was evident. There were signs of his partnership with Traore developing again, but Traore could not produce the final ball for him. He was often forced wide or deep to get the ball which left Wolves short of numbers in the box. 6/10

 

Hwang Hee-Chan

A typical Hwang performance, full of energy and enthusiasm showing just why he is adored by the Molineux crowd. He had a few half chances and looked to link with Traore and Jimenez where possible, but it was an off night in general for the front three. 6/10

 

Subs:

Francisco Trincao

Replaced Hwang for the final ten minutes and was unable to impact the game. He had one dazzling run through the midfield, but nothing came of the attack. It will be interesting to see whether he is restored to the starting XI for the visit of Liverpool on Saturday. 6/10

 

Ciaran Barker is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.

1024px-Carrow_Road_-_fans_holding_yellow_or_green_fliers

Norwich 0-0 wolves – Player Ratings

Wolves held Norwich to a goalless draw at Carrow road on Saturday and were perhaps fortunate to leave with a point. After a promising first thirty minutes Wolves failed to create any meaningful chances and had goalkeeper Jose Sa to thanks for the clean sheet which ultimately earned the point. Despite the disappointing performance Wolves remain sixth and will look to continue their good form against Burnley at Molineux on Wednesday.

 

Jose Sa

It was yet another faultless display from the new Wolves number one who produced several good saves to earn Wolves a point. His save from Max Aarons late in the first half was particularly important, while his command of area and distribution was once again impressive. 8/10

 

Max Kilman

Wolves’ play of the season so far did not disappoint at Norwich, defending well both aerially and physically. He covered well for Semedo and looked to get on the ball as often as possible. 7/10

 

Conor Coady

An excellent defensive display from the Wolves captain who produced several important blocks and challenges as Norwich looked to find a way through. The lack of movement around him made starting attacks from the back difficult but Coady performed his primary duty to perfection. 8/10

 

Romain Saiss

Saiss, like the rest of the defence, put in an impressive defensive display, dealing with everything that came his way. With the absence of Wily Boly prolonged, Saiss must keep up his good form if Wolves are to pick up results in December. 7/10

 

Nelson Semedo

Semedo failed to live up to the heights of his performance against West Ham but in truths so did everyone who played ahead of him. The right wing back was solid enough defensively but lacked ambition and intensity going forward, opting for the safe pass at every opportunity. 6/10

 

Joao Moutinho

It was a poor performance from Moutinho who failed to have any real impact on the game both defensively and offensively. He struggled to link with the front three and the young Norwich midfield found it far to easy to bypass him. 5/10

 

Ruben Neves

After a promising start to the game, Neves also had little impact on the game after a superb performance against West Ham. He struggled to create and get any meaningful attacks going, with the those ahead of him static and isolated. 6/10

 

Rayan Ait-Nouri

Despite showing vast improvements in recent weeks, Ait-Nouri didn’t have his best display at Carrow Road. He was often caught out of position and lost possession far too easily. He had little effect on the game going forwards, like Semedo, opting for the safe pass too often. 5/10

 

Francisco Trincao

A poor display from Trincao who would only have come into the side at late notice following the news that Daniel Podence had tested positive for COVID-19. Trincao lost possession on far too many occasions and failed to link with his fellow forwards to create meaningful chances. 4/10

 

Raul Jimenez

It wasn’t for the want of trying from Jimenez, but he had an incredibly quiet afternoon, failing to register a shot on target. He was often seen coming deep to get the ball, which is also the fault of those around him, as he tried to get Wolves on the front foot to no avail. 6/10

 

Hwang Hee-Chan

Like Jimenez there was certainly no lack of effort from the latest fans favourite, but Hwang struggled to get into the game and couldn’t link with those around him as Wolves failed to have any real sustained spells of pressure in the game. 5/10

 

Subs:

Adama Traore

Just what is going on with Adama Traore? Came off the bench with half an hour to go and had little to no impact on the game. In his defence he was switched into three different positions during his time on the field. His ineffective cameo will only raise further questions over his future and why Bruno Lage continues to leave him on the bench. 5/10

 

Leander Dendoncker

A much-needed physical presence in the midfield for the closing stages of the game and is likely to start against Burnley on Wednesday evening following Ruben Neves picking up his fifth yellow card of the season. 6/10

 

Ki-Jana Hoever

Played the final minutes of the game allowed Traore to move further forward in case there was a chance for a late counter attack. N/A

Selhurst park

Crystal Palace 2-0 Wolves – Player Ratings

Wolves’ five-game unbeaten run ended abruptly as they were convincingly beaten by Patrick Viera’s Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon. It was a lacklustre performance in which Wolves never really got going, failing to live up to the heights of the performance against Everton on Monday night. Goals from Wilfred Zaha and Connor Gallagher sent Wolves home without a point, giving the home side the win that they deserved. Wolves are back at Molineux after the international break against in form West Ham United.

Raul Jimenez Xmas Cards – Available Now

raul card

 

Jose Sa

Made a mess of a deep cross into the box which ultimately led to the opening goal of the game, but Wolves should have defended the second phase of the attack far better. His distribution was not up to the usual standard, but he did make several saves which ultimately saved Wolves the embarrassment of a heavy defeat at Selhurst Park. 6/10

 

Max Kilman

Was solid defensively with much of what was thrown at him and looked to step out of defence and get Wolves further up the pitch as they failed to create. His passing was poor, and he was caught out of position several times. 6/10

 

Conor Coady

A poor display from the Wolves captain who once again showed his inability to defend against big and physical strikers, this time Christian Benteke. He was far too slow in pushing out the box for the opener, capping off an afternoon to forget before he departs for England duty. 4/10

 

Romain Saiss

Saiss like Coady, had a poor afternoon and was also partly at fault for the first Palace goal, playing Zaha onside. He was poor on the ball too, incapable of dealing with the high press that the home side forced on Wolves. 5/10

 

Nelson Semedo

Not Semedo’s finest afternoon in a Wolves shirt as the wing back struggled defensively for much of the game, Max Kilman often covering for him. He did however, look to get Wolves up the pitch, particularly in the first half, but had little support in doing so as Wolves failed to create a clear cut chance. 5/10

 

Joao Moutinho

Struggled to assert any kind of dominance in the midfield and was in truth, non-existent when Palace on the ball. For his many strengths, Moutinho is far too easy to get past in midfield and this is an issue Wolves must address. He did however go closest to getting a goal with his free kick being tipped round the post by Guaita. 5/10

 

Ruben Neves

Failed to build on his man of the match display against Everton last week with a poor showing in the defeat at Selhurst Park. He was poor on the ball with far too many passes going astray, while he failed to stop many Palace attacks as they drifted through the middle of the park with ease. 5/10

 

Rayan Ait-Nouri

Like Semedo on the opposite flank, Ait-Nouri tried to make things happen but had little support around him, forcing him to go backwards far too often. Wolves’ attacking chemistry just wasn’t quite there and that will be the biggest disappointment for Bruno Lage. 6/10

 

Francisco Trincao

A poor display from Trincao having put in arguably his best performance in gold and black on Monday night. Almost every pass went astray in the final third with the Portuguese winger failing to create a single chance. 4/10

 

Raul Jimenez

Jimenez cut a lonely and frustrated figure for much of the match, failing to link with Hwang and Trincao, and going a full game without mustering a shot for the first time in a Wolves shirt. 5/10

 

Hwang Hee-Chan

Failed to live up to the heights of his impressive start to his Wolves career, on a different wavelength to those around him. A day to forget for those in the front three for Wolves. 5/10

 

Subs:

Adama Traore

Replaced Nelson Semedo with 20 minutes to go and injected some much-needed energy going forwards. He was far more direct than any other player on the day but couldn’t create anything meaningful from the more restrictive wing back position. 6/10

 

Daniel Podence

Came into the front three and failed to improve the movement and creativity that had been lacking all game. Will certainly be in with a chance of starting against West Ham after his impressive start to the season. 5/10

 

Fabio Silva

Played the final few minutes without having any time to make a real impact on the game. N/A

 

Ciaran Barker is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.

Selhurst park

Crystal Palace 2-0 Wolves Match Review

A frustrating afternoon in South London saw Wolves fall 2-0 to Crystal Palace, and a display that demonstrated tactical similarities to the second half of the game on Monday evening. Goals from Wilfried Zaha and Chelsea loanee, Conor Gallagher, sunk Lage’s men in Croydon. Wolves lacked drive, determination and cutting edge, ultimately coming second best to the better side on the day, with no argument over who deserved the victory. 

There’s something about Selhurst Park that causes an uneasiness within me. Over the years, the mixture of the Palace atmosphere and what seems like a smaller pitch never fills me with confidence. An unchanged side was named following the confident first half against Everton, leaving Wolves fans with little room for qualms regarding player selection. From the moment Wolves gained possession though, the floods of blue and red began the swarm, and this was the moment I realised Vieira’s men were not going to roll over, these Eagles came to hunt. 

One key problem many are noticing week in week out (despite the positive results recently), is Wolves’ panic when teams initiate a press. Somehow, even with the abundance of technical ability that our players possess, firing the ball into the channels becomes the adopted tactic. I can accept this if you have payers with the physicality to combat Premier League centre halves, but Francisco Trincao vs Joachim Andersen is a prime example of why weight classes exist in combat sports; it’s simply not a fair matchup. Raul was placed on the graveyard shift, feeding off scraps and praying for an error from Palace’s defensive unit.

Furthermore, an inspired performance from Kouyate prevented many an attempt to progress through the middle of the pitch, highlighting that we need urgent reinforcement in January, particularly someone with energy and dynamism to partner Neves. It’s a must.

Bar Jose Sa with some decent distribution and Kilman shutting out Zaha for much of the game, no one gave a standout performance. Conor Coady and Romain Saiss had a torrid time dealing with Christian Benteke, a pattern that has been reoccurring for four years now. Opposition teams know that pinning a physical striker on Conor will lead to results, and for all his leadership qualities, he will continue to lose important defensive duels in key moments.

 

Key moments  

 

A cagey first half affair saw Joao Moutinho booked after only nine minutes; after Odsonne Edouard dived ahead of him. Similarly, to the Leeds contest, this detracted from our midfield tenacity for the remainder of the afternoon, as Joao would be in no position to make ‘clever’ fouls, or your typical ‘cynical’ challenge in order to break up opposition threat. After half time, it was evident that the home team were keen to stamp their authority upon the contest, and Wilfried Zaha achieved this, slotting home to put the hosts ahead (after a VAR overturn). Wolves had the possibility of a penalty through a rash Joel Ward decision just beyond the penalty box, but again, VAR overturned the decision. One was not enough for the Eagles, as Conor Gallagher’s deflected effort wrongfoots Sa to double Wolves’ troubles.

 

Man of the Match – Max Kilman

 

Kilman’s impressive performances in recent weeks were rewarded midweek with an improved contract for the 24-year-old. Once again though, Wolves’ player of the season (now undeniably) proved exactly why this was his just reward. For the majority of the game, Kilman suppressed Zaha’s threat, and even if Wolves had lost the war at Selhurst Park, Max won his battles (which cannot be said for the rest of the squad). Confidence in tackling the tricky winger, combined with impressive bursts of recovery pace earned Kilman my Man of the Match.

 

Improvements

It’s beyond clear that Bruno will not be satisfied with the performance, with a real lack of intensity throughout, Wolves got exactly what they deserved. The international break will provide time for the management team to find ‘solutions’ to resist pressing teams. We need to be much more confident in our ability to keep the ball under pressure, instead of resorting to route one football. It was a bad day at the office to say the least, but there’s a pattern to the poorer performances, that being against teams with aggressive pressing tactics.

 

Sam Beeken is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him here

Webp.net-resizeimage (4) (1)

Wolves in October: ‘The Debrief’

Wolves 2-1 Newcastle

 

Not long after Jeff Hendrick had slotted home Newcastle’s equalising goal, the dreaded proposition of yet another 1-1 draw loomed large. Hendrick’s smart finish seemed wholly unavoidable. Was it the referee’s fault for not protecting Jose Sa? Was it the fumbling defenders who failed to stick a boot through the ball and “get rid”? Was it Francisco Trincao who, just moments earlier, had rattled the crossbar, passing up on a gilt-edged opportunity to extend Wolves’ lead? Take your pick.

Raul Jimenez Christmas Cards On Sale Now!

raul card

 

Thankfully, Hwang Hee-Chan had other ideas when he slotted the ball home in the second half to send the home side into raptures and help drag Wolves out of their persistent stalemates with the Magpies. Hwang’s energy and work rate was faultless, and he was withdrawn late on as a result. There was barely a blade of grass that he failed to cover as the South Korean’s partnership with a vibrant Raul Jimenez flourished before our eyes.

 

Make no mistake, Newcastle were poor. Steve Bruce cut a forlorn figure on the sidelines as his average side (injuries accepted) toiled fruitlessly to grab a point. Imagine travelling all the way from Tyneside to watch that? No wonder the fans’ frustration is never too far from boiling point. 

 

Meanwhile, the home side’s frustration was aimed mostly at the referee. Being the man in the middle is a thankless task at the best of times. There was an argument to suggest that Sa was fouled for the Newcastle goal. But any fan would want their striker to go for a ball that was there to be won rather than “bottling out” of the challenge. 

 

Should the game have been stopped as Sa lay sprawled on the deck after the challenge? Possibly. The ref was close to blowing until Sa sprang into life in a vain attempt to save the situation. Blowing every time a player hits the deck is a dangerous road to go down as the more streetwise performers will find a reason to collapse each and every time the opposition side attacks.

 

After an indifferent start to a season that has been entertaining, frustrating, and promising all at once, at the close of play on Saturday evening Wolves were above Leicester and Spurs and level on points with Brentford! As the late Jimmy Greaves once remarked: “It’s a funny old game”.

 

Aston Villa 2-3 Wolves

 

Nothing quite erases the memory of the previous 90 minutes and lifts the mood like a last-minute winner. Throw in the fact that you’ve just beaten your local rivals -away from home no less- and it’s all the sweeter. 

 

Any regular Wolves watcher will know that, as gifted as he is, a Ruben Neves dead ball situation is no guarantee of success. Despite the parroted projections of commentators and analysts, the result often hits the assembled wall or floats off into the back row.

 

On this occasion a large deflection left the keeper gloriously wrong footed. As the ball nestled cosily in the net the most unlikely of comebacks was complete. Cue wild celebrations. Regardless of the method, the result is all that matters. Did it paper over the cracks of a wobbly afternoon’s work? Probably. But at five-to-five on October 16 nobody cared. Villa fans took to social media to voice their displeasure, citing unprofessionalism and a tactically inept manager who failed to hold on to a 2-0 lead.

 

Across the entire duration neither team looked amazing. Villa’s graft and endeavor earned them a two-goal advantage, but they looked rickety. As has been the case in a few Wolves games this season, the opposition have been there for the taking. Showing too much deference only encourages these inferior teams to push forward. Which leads nicely on to…

 

Leeds 1-1 Wolves

 

Another occasion where the opposition side arguably grew in confidence as Wolves sat back, retreated further into a shell, and let them play. Of course, holding on to a slender lead is difficult. Naturally, as the clock ticks by, focus wanes and legs become lethargic there is likely to be a retreat into a more defensive mode. But Wolves have plenty of attacking prowess at their disposal. Bruno Lage has so far proven to be a Jekyll and Hyde tactician.

 

At times the reckless, free flowing attacking abandon has appeared, dominating possession and forcing good quality teams on to the back foot. At other times a deeper, more conservative approach has been adopted. Reminiscent of end times Nuno – or current times Nuno if you support Spurs (this one aged badly but I’ll leave it in). It feels like Lage has yet to tweak his tactics quite right or doesn’t have the correct personnel at his disposal.

 

Hanging on desperately to a 1-0 lead, the men in old gold and black were moments away from another nifty three points and a potential spot in the top four no less. Who would’ve expected that after the opening three games? Eager to be the fall guy once again, step forward Nelson Semedo. Slotted into an unconventional left sided role due to Rayan Ait-Nouri’s understated fitness concerns, Nelson had worked diligently up to that point.

 

It’s hard to dislike Semedo. A dedicated grafter who arrived from a premier outfit harbouring a premier price tag, he is not short of honest effort. Unfortunately, he brings along the odd lapse in concentration. Caught out by some quick thinking, a moment of clown car defending ensued as our hero furiously scurried between bodies to make amends.

 

However, we all know how this concludes. Sitting in the ground or at home, watching through fingers, the Portuguese powerhouse bull rushed into action. Time stood still. The game eased into slow motion as an extended left arm gently prodded into the attacker. We all hoped in utmost denial that the referee had maybe seen something different.

 

He hadn’t. The crowd roared for blood. It was a foul. The man in the middle depressingly pointed to the spot. Some Leeds player (who cares which one) stepped forward after the commotion. Perhaps Jose Sa will save it. Nah. 1-1. You turn to your mate and say things like, “We’d have taken a point before the match” to hide the fact that you’re gutted. 

 

A harsh lesson learned. Next time an attacking threat dances fleet-footed into the box, and our Nelson bears down on him…best to close your eyes and pray.

 

Steve Wellings is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team

 

Stan Cullis

Wolves 2-1 Everton Match Report

 

Following an eight-day lay-off for Wolves, we hosted Everton back at Molineux on a windy Monday evening. After the overall feeling of disappointment from the Leeds result, Wolves rectified the lack of intensity with an onslaught of attacking movement, partnered with some of the classiest individual performances to date. This resulted in a 2-1 victory over Rafa Benitez’s men, taking a fourth win from five games, firing us up the table into seventh spot.

 

Once again, with the injury to Marcal, Rayan Ait-Nouri had another opportunity to make the left wing-back position his own, and Trincao was chosen ahead of Adama Traore. Additionally, Ruben Neves entered the fray, replacing Leander Dendoncker after his below par performance against Leeds. A first half of dominance was to come, demonstrating fluidity and threat in attacking portions of the pitch, possibly a product of the high line that Lage opted for. The midfield two oozed class from the first minute, highlighting shades of season 18/19, Neves in particular paying homage to a prime Andrea Pirlo, and not just by his hair. Balance has well and truly been restored with Ait-Nouri’s return, if anyone doubted the Algerian before, best believe they’re hiding now. Another top class display from the 20 year-old, combining progressive runs with stubborn defensive work, utilised perfectly by Bruno Lage, with Semedo to transform our back five into a midfield four within seconds. Hwang and Francisco ran relentlessly during the first 45 minutes, pressing effectively and forcing countless mistakes from the Everton back line. The link up between the front three was sublime, every backheel found a man in old gold, with enough of them to create a five-minute compilation quite comfortably. 

 

However, there is an evident reason as to why there was a stark difference in performance when comparing Everton to Leeds. That difference being pressure, Benitez’s Everton looked like Wolves last season, sitting back, and waiting on a mistake, but built off the foundations of stability and compactness. Compare this to the ‘all guns blazing’ approach that Bielsa drills into his Leeds side, it’s evident that Lage is yet to discover a method to combat a relentless press. Therefore, Everton played into our hands last night, allowing our technically gifted players to place their stamp on the game, pegging the Toffees back for 45 minutes. Despite this, credit must be given to Lage, as Wolves finally look like a team that can break opposition defences, after three great performances to start the season and no goals to show for it, we truly have our tails up now.

 

Key moments

 

Hwang Hee-Chan was denied his fifth goal of the season after a tight VAR call after 15 minutes, but a dominant Wolves remained on top. Ait-Nouri was the one chosen to deliver the corner shortly afterward, and the influential decision to change the style of delivery paid dividends as Kilman netted his first for the Wanderers. No one deserved it more than the player of the season so far (arguably). Five minutes later, a back pass from Godfrey was pounced on by Jimenez, who sumptuously dinked the England number 1, Jordan Pickford, placing Bruno’s men into a commanding position going into half time. The second half saw Iwobi grab an equaliser for Everton following an initial block from Godfrey’s effort, though it wouldn’t be enough to stop Wolves taking all three points. 

 

Man of the match – Raul Jimenez

Possibly the hardest game to choose a man of the match from this season, every player gave 100% and no one made any noticeable errors apart from Sa’s heart attack moment in the second half. He won’t get the plaudits but I thought Romain Saiss was brilliant, when others shy away from 50/50’s, he will fight for the badge every week, without fail. A special mention should go to Ait-Nouri, who was immense too, really cementing his spot in the starting eleven for weeks to come. But my man of the match is Raul Jimenez, his work rate off the ball, delicious link-up play and his first goal back at Molineux is too much to be overlooked. The perfect number 9 performance, Si Senor still has it. 

 

Improvements

It’s impossible to expect any side to sustain the press displayed in the first half, which is why energy levels fell during the second half. Players became tired, and Everton managed to find spaces and opportunities that weren’t available for the first 45 minutes. To battle this problem, the substitutions from Lage must come earlier, making the first change after 79 minutes was too late, and against better sides, we would have been punished. But the first half tactics were perfect and provided a safe cushion. Overall, a cracking night under the lights, more of the same, please.

 

Sam Beeken is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him here

 

elland road

Leeds United 1-1 Wolves – Player Ratings

Wolves continued their impressive unbeaten run with a 1-1 draw against a struggling Leeds United side at Elland Road. Wolves left frustrated having conceded a 93rd minute penalty, just three minutes before full time. However, a poor second half display where Wolve struggled to assert any control and gain any momentum means Leeds’ equaliser was more than deserved. Bruno Lage’s men, therefore, missed out on the chance to move into the top four but are sat comfortably in mid table ahead of returning to Molineux against Everton on Monday.

 

Jose Sa

Yet another superb display from the new Wolves shot stopper who has settled into life in the Premier League with ease. Sa made some good saves in the second half to keep the home side at bay, including an excellent stop from a Gelhardt effort just ten minutes from time. His distribution was once again impressive as he looked to get Wolves up the pitch in the second half to combat the sustained Leeds pressure. 8/10

 

Max Kilman

Kilman put in another assured display away from home and is quickly becoming Wolves’ most consistent and reliable defender. He dealt with almost everything that came his way, particularly in the second half as Leeds asserted their dominance. 7/10

 

Conor Coady

Coady has quickly put his early season slump behind him and is now getting back to his best. He was assured defensively, and he tried to involve the wing backs with his distribution whenever possible. He was comfortable on the ball too, impressive considering the high and intense press that Bielsa’s Leeds side are known for. 7/10

 

Romain Saiss

Did relatively well for most of the game but will be disappointed with his involvement in the penalty that ultimately gave Leeds the equaliser. While he was by no means the only player at fault here, he must improve when players are running at him, especially in the penalty area. 6/10

 

Nelson Semedo

Like Saiss, Semedo played well until his challenge on Gelhadt gave Rodrigo the chance from the spot. He was excellent down the right-hand side in the first half and played a crucial part in Wolves’ goal, crossing for Jimenez whose deflected shot fell to the feet of Hwang. Semedo had little choice but to do something with Gelhardt running through on goal, but the defending was clumsy to say the least. 6/10

 

Joao Moutinho

Did the basics well as we have now come to expect but didn’t have any meaningful impact on the game. Was beaten far too easily in the midfield, a recurring problem. 6/10

 

Leander Dendoncker

A surprise inclusion with the omission of Ruben Neves, and like Moutinho had no real impact on the game in what was a weak Wolves midfield. He misplaced too many of his passes and didn’t break up the swarm of Leeds attacks in the second half. 5/10

 

Rayan Ait-Nouri

A refreshing performance at left wing-back from Ait-Nouri who many fans had called for in recent weeks. He looked to get forward with the ball and linked well with the front line. He was solid defensively and withdrawn late for Ki-Jana Hoever. 7/10

 

Adama Traore

Cut a frustrated figure at times with Leeds clearly working on marking him out of the game. Wolves didn’t have the ball for sustained periods which meant Traore didn’t have many opportunities to run into space on either flank. He linked well with Jimenez when he did have the ball. 6/10

 

Raul Jimenez

A strong performance from Wolves’ number nine despite not getting on the scoresheet. He played a pivotal role in instigating the press from the front which during long spells of Leeds possession, helped prevent the number of clear-cut chances the home side had. 7/10

 

Hwang Hee-Chan

Hwang, like Jimenez, contributed an awful lot defensively with his non-stop running and energy. He also gave Wolves the lead poking home from eight yards after a fortunate deflection in his path. 7/10

 

Subs:

Daniel Podence

Came on with 15 minutes to go and brough some much needed energy and fresh legs. His dazzling runs produced two chances for Wolves late on, one of which he will no doubt feel he should have done better with. 6/10

 

Ki-Jana Hoever

Came on at right wing-back for the final ten minutes and looked comfortable, dealing with anything that came his way. 6/10

 

Ruben Neves

Played the final few minutes but should have done better in the build-up to the Leeds penalty, failing to put pressure on Gelhardt before he got into the penalty area. He was passed far too easily as were Moutinho and Dendoncker throughout the game, which must be addressed in the January window. N/A

 

Ciaran Barker is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.

elland road

Leeds United 1-1 Wolves Match Report

An afternoon of initial excitement crumbles into a sorry situation for Bruno Lage’s men, conceding to a penalty in the final moments of the game. Wolves looked to create history at Elland Road, by achieving a fourth consecutive win in the Premier League. The possibility was then enhanced with key figures of the Whites squad were missing (Bamford, Phillips and Ayling). Combined with Leeds’ poor beginning to the season, an opportunity was there for the taking.

 

Embed from Getty Images

A couple of changes were made by Lage after the last gasp win against Villa, seeing Marcal replaced by Rayan Ait-Nouri. A welcome change for many fans, as we have often seemed imbalanced when progressing forward with the makeshift left wing-back. In addition, Neves lost his spot in the starting eleven to Leander Dendoncker, seeing the Belgian begin the match in a midfield two, partnered by Joao, the seasoned vet. And the return of RJ9 provided a much-needed focal point which was missing during last week’s affair. Despite Leeds missing players in key areas, their main threat, Raphinha started on the right-hand side. A cause for some concern against Rayan who has barely touched a ball competitively since his stint at left-midfield during pre-season.

As expected, the Wolves left-hand side was targeted by Bielsa, seeing many of the Leeds attacks finishing with their beloved Brazilian. Following a couple of half-chances for the Yorkshiremen, Wolves managed to break forward into the final third after a missed sliding challenge from Harrison allowed Semedo to deliver a cutback into Raul, with a mishit shot falling fortuitously into Hwang, and the Korean king pounced to push the ball past Meslier. Wolves struggled to gain much momentum following the goal, winning the ball effectively but unforced errors became a common theme surrounding the first half, conceding possession with many a wayward pass and aimless headers. 

Seasons prior demonstrated Wolves’ superiority in the second half of games, today was different. Succeeding a cagey beginning to the second half, Romain Saiss caught Raphinha, capping the Brazilians frustrating afternoon off with injury. What seemed like Wolves’ main concern turned out not to be the problem, instead, it was 19-year-old Joe Gelhardt who replaced Mateusz Klich for the hosts. The youngster was progressive and confident with his runs, forcing the Wolves back five into sustained amounts of pressure. A barrage of attacking pressure was invited by Wolves’ negative setup, with Nelson Semedo bringing Gelhardt down in the penalty area in the dying minutes, and Rodrigo confidently sent Sa the wrong direction.

Shop Wolves FC Christmas Cards

raul card

Two points dropped, considering the hosts were missing key players and had a single win in eight. Wolves gave themselves a hard afternoon up north, Joao Moutinho saw yellow in the fourth minute, joined early in the second half by Saiss and Kilman. All three had decent games considering their cautions, yet Moutinho looked tired from half time. Neves almost certainly would have controlled the tempo in what became a very nervous final 30 minutes but wasn’t introduced until the 90th. Many fans hold firm with their belief that if Adama isn’t on it, Wolves aren’t on it, today provided some truth to that belief. We missed his ability to move 100 yards up the pitch in a flash, although credit must be placed to Dallas and Cooper who had the Spaniard pocketed all afternoon. 

Considering the threat that opposed him in his first Premier League start this season, a man of the match performance from Rayan Ait-Nouri saw him look extremely confident at Elland Road. He struggled defensively at times in the first half against Raphinha, but even the best the Prem has to offer have been sent into retirement homes by the Brazilian. It’s what he provides offensively that was more than exciting to see. Marcal delivers defensive solidity, but he can’t cross his T’s, let alone a football. RAN gave Shackleton nightmares at times in the second half, offering a balance that Lage’s men had needed in attacking areas this season.

One key aspect is missing for Wolves, an assertiveness in possession and attacking position, that was apparent against sides arguably better on paper. Perhaps there’s an element of complacency creeping in against sides we ‘expect’ to beat, but that same assertiveness must be reinstated, as today’s performance looked alarmingly like one of Nuno’s disaster classes. I believe that if Neves is fit, he must be the first name on the team sheet, his ability to control a game on his own cannot be ignored. Yet, no player today was particularly poor, more so a case of negative tactics that a desperate Leeds side managed to capitalise on, disappointing, but by no means alarming. 

 

Sam Beeken is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him here